Women and Video Games Survey Results

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image courtesy of pixabay.com

We frequently share our opinions on gender equality in video games here at Gamer Equality, but recently we ran a survey to find out what the general gaming public’s attitude to woman and video games really is. Here are the results…

Open to both genders, a whopping 63% of survey participants were female. This may seem strange given that more men play games (we were certainly expecting a male majority) but it goes to show just how passionate women are about the subject and judging by the answers both sexes are for change.

The majority of respondents were aged 22-30 reflecting the much-documented evidence that gaming is now no longer a pastime almost exclusively engaged in by young males. Contrary to the stereotype of the juvenile gamer, the majority who venture to virtual realms are now mature, professional people that have grown up alongside the medium. Interestingly, the lowest category was actually the under 16, what would have been the overwhelming majority just a generation ago.

Most participants responded that they engage with games every day or almost every day, given the female majority taking the survey it’s hard to support the assumption that women don’t participate in gaming as often as men do.

When asked about the types of games that they play Adventure and RPGs had the clear majority with over three-quarters of participants claiming to engage with those genres. Action followed close behind with 62.63% of the vote. Puzzle and Casual games were next with over 50%. This reflects the already established data that women traditionally tend to enjoy more casual mobile experiences, but the popularity of other genres indicates that that’s far from all that they enjoy.

6% of those surveyed said they frequently witnessed or personally experienced, harassment based on gender during online sessions. 13% noted this behaviour occasionally. Encouragingly 23% said they never witness or receive this kind of abuse online and a quarter of the people survey said it only happened rarely. Of course in reality, statistics are likely to be higher given that 32% of people asked said that they don’t play online.

There’s a clear call for more female players, with 74% saying they’d like to see more women taking up gaming as a hobby and it turns out female developers are even more in demand. 79% admitted that they think more women should be employed in the industry. Female game characters are also wanted, with 61% saying they’d like more games to starring the fairer sex. And that’s not surprising given that 58% of those surveyed tend to play as a female when given the choice. There’s a clear demand for revolution regarding the portrayal of those female characters however, with 74% of respondents claiming that they think females are over-sexualised or portrayed inappropriately. Only 10% prefer female characters to be sexy and scantily clad rather than strong and serious, meaning both men and women alike want to see more playable Aloy and Lara types rather than secondary eye-candy characters.

A worrying 43% avoid disclosing their gender during online matches out of fear of receiving abuse. 6% admitted to exhibiting negative behaviour towards female players in the past, while only 2% agreed that they dislike playing with female players. 3% of those surveyed said that they didn’t think that women were as competent as men at games while a much larger 20% said that they feel many women fake their interest in games just to get attention.

A big thank you to all who participated in the survey, it’s reassuring to see the high demand for participation that it received showing that it’s an area that gamers are interested in. The mostly positive responses show that although there are issues of intolerance, the majority of gamers are an accepting and friendly bunch who want gaming to be inclusive for everyone. Through raising awareness and changing the out-dated attitudes in both women’s treatment and portrayal we can achieve just that.

 

Game Developer Spotlight – Brenda Romero

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image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Games industry veteran Brenda Romero was presented with the Special Award at this year’s British Academy Games Awards. The BAFTA Special Award recognises individuals for their creative contribution to the games industry. For her endless talent and tireless passion and dedication to the medium Brenda is a more than worthy recipient and it’s heartening to see her work in the games industry celebrated in such a way. With that, let’s take a look back at her career and celebrate one of gaming’s most prominent and gifted females.

Formally known as Brenda Brathwaite, before her marriage to Doom creator John Romero in 2012, her lofty career in video games spans back to 1981. She has been credited as the longest-serving female game developer in the business and in that time has contributed her talents to an impressive 49 game titles. Brenda started out as a tester and manual writer for the Wizardry series before going on to become a fully-fledged games writer, penning Jagged Alliance 2 and Wizardry 8. She then progressed to designer roles, acting as lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes and more recently was the director and lead designer on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Commander. It’s an impressive resume, we think you’ll agree.

Brenda is also widely recognised for her non-digital series of games collectively known as The Mechanic is the Message. This series attempts to express difficult emotions through game mechanics. Just how difficult these emotions are is no more apparent than in the game Train. A deliberately obscure game where players blindly follow instructions and try to complete their objective, only to discover their goal is to deliver the train’s passengers to Auschwitz. This alone shows not only Brenda’s acute creativity but her bravery in tackling such sensitive and controversial issues.

Her work as lead designer on Playboy: The Mansion inspired Brenda to explore the topic of adult content in video games and she has penned a book on the subject entitled Sex in Video Games. Today she is an advocate for gender equality and frequently openly criticises sexist and misogynistic content in video games. She has since regretted her contribution to the game and has admitted it is not something she would make now. Speaking to Kotaku she said:

“I understand that posing the human body to capture its beauty can be beautiful. But that’s quite different to reducing an entire gender into an ornament for pleasure.”

Her current focus is on educating and inspiring a new generation of games developers. She currently resides in Limerick, Ireland, where she is the Program Director of the Master of Science program in Game Design and Development at the University of Limerick.

The BAFTA Special Award is, of course, far from the first time Brenda Romero has been recognised for her significant contribution to the industry. Among her previous accolades is the Ambassador Award, presented to her at the 2015 Game Developer’s conference in 2015. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the GDC Women in Gaming Awards in 2013. Next Generation named her on of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Game Industry, while in 2008 Gamasutra included her in its list of the Top 20 Women in Games.

Speaking about being presented with the BAFTA Special Award, Brenda said:

“I am first and foremost grateful to BAFTA for recognising the artistic potential and power of games. This recognition is culturally critical for games overall. So for that, I am profoundly thankful.”

Congratulations Brenda. You’re an inspiration.

Dishonored 2 – Review

Dishonored somewhat broke the mould upon release back in 2012, flying in the face of AAA games that increasingly value visual spectacle over gameplay. With its lack of set pieces and Hollywood-esque theatrics, Arkane’s stealth action series scaled things back and focused on crafting a game that was simple in concept yet clever in design and massively capitalised on what is a game’s unique and defining quality – the freedom for the player to experiment and craft their own experience.

Those that have played through the original will be familiar with masked assassin Corvo Attano and his daughter Emily Kaldwin. Taking place 15 years after the original, we’re introduced to a grown-up Emily. Now Empress, she is disillusioned and discontent with palace life – while endless royal ceremonies may be a drag, she could show a little more enthusiasm given all poor Corvo went through in the original game to put her there! Things start to unravel when antagonist Delilah shows up claiming to be the late empress’ older sister and rightful heir to the throne. She proceeds to overthrow Emily in the game’s opening moments and from here players are given to  go about settings things right as either Emily or Corvo. Whoever they don’t choose gets turned to stone by Delilah’s witchcraft and doesn’t feature in the game.

Delilah isn’t a nobody who’s suddenly swanned in and made her theatrically evil self at home, she’s actually a key character in both chapters of the original’s story DLC – The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. While it’s fine to have recurring characters, introducing such a major character through additional content leaves those that only played through the main game at something of a loss. The game follows the same path whichever character is chosen, with differences occurring in the narrative and the abilities at the player’s disposal.

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For many, the original Dishonored was the definite stealth action experience thanks to those nifty powers that could be used to violently eradicate or cunningly bypass enemies. Playing as Emily offers a completely new set of powers this time around. Using Far Reach Emily can propel herself across long distances or grab enemies and items. Others, like Domino, allow Emily to link multiple enemies together and wipe them out simultaneously. Shadow sees her to transform into super stealthy demon form to whisk around levels unseen or sneak up and enact some arcane-infused justice. Abilities can be upgraded adding extra benefits and new ones are unlocked using Runes. These are found scattered throughout each level making exploration essential to building your power collection and increasing your odds of survival. You can also tackle the game completely stripped of your powers if you’re feeling brave, or particularly masochistic.

The addition of both characters is disconcerting; one the one hand it’s great to have the option of playing as either male or female, one the other hand it’s hard not to wonder if Arkane’s choice of also having Corvo as a playable character was a lack of faith that Emily could carry the title on her own. It makes more sense from a narrative perspective to have Emily restore her honour -much like Corvo did in the first – rather than have her Daddy swooping in to save her yet again. Also, Corvo’s repertoire of powers remains largely unchanged from the original, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – teleporting through environments using the Blink ability or unleashing Devouring Swarm to subject your enemies to some ravenous rats is as fun as ever – but an overhaul of his skill set would have better warranted his role as a playable character. Instead he feels like an unnecessary inclusion, added simply to ensure the game didn’t succumb to the decline in sales that sadly befalls many games featuring a solo female lead.

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The level of freedom offered here goes beyond combat and gender as there are multiple ways to approach just about every situation and obstacle in the game. Dishonored 2 transports players from the darkened Victorian streets of Dunwall to the vibrant and robust southern city of Karnaca. Dubbed ‘The Jewel of the South’, this sunny setting showcases expansive areas which offer remarkable detail and depth. The intuitive level design allows for objectives to be reached in a number of ways. Need to get through a locked door? You can take the thorough approach, carefully checking guard’s desks and pockets, or a more adventurous route by scaling rooftops to find an open window. This freedom also cleverly lends itself to the game’s bosses. There’s always the opportunity to attack key figures from behind the shadows, exploring levels to find the means to negate their power. It’s clever, intuitive and entirely optional as you can always boldly attack them head on if that’s more your style.

A word of caution for those that enjoy a deadly approach however, like the first Dishonored 2 will punish players for pursuing the violent path with what it describes as a ‘cynical ending’. It’s not unreasonable to want a good ending for characters you’ve spent considerable time and effort aiding, but following the low chaos route – rendering enemies unconscious or avoiding them completely – means missing out on some of the game’s best powers. Powers and choice are what sets Dishonored apart from other stealth action series so it’s disappointing to see Arkane chastising players who opt for a lethal approach. The lethal or non-lethal element should serve exclusively as a gameplay mechanic, but instead it’s a banal attempt to introduce some sort of morality aspect that’s completely absent from the rest of the narrative.

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Unfortunately granting players the choice of customising the game to their own playstyle inevitably comes with its own drawbacks. No more so is this evident than in the game’s difficulty balancing. Levels are littered with legions of guards with very little indication of their whereabouts until it’s too late, meaning playing stealthy can often turn into a monotonous game of trial and error. They also react to the presence of your character with inhuman reflexes and pursue relentlessly – the limited view afforded by the first person view doing little to help spot them or execute an efficient escape. But of course, the game needs lots of enemies with quick reactions because it’s also an action game. Fortunately, this is only a pressing issue for the early missions of the game, before you have helpful abilities – like being able to light enemies up like Christmas trees – to aid in stealth tactics. However, unlocking these powers does involve a rather time consuming hunt for Runes in each of the game’s levels, meaning those that don’t put the time into finding them will find their combat choices rather stunted throughout.

That said the game’s issues don’t wildly deter from its intelligence and often elaborate brilliance. Cleverly combining powers to escape or eradicate foes is thrilling and exploration is a joy thanks to the game’s exquisitely detailed levels rich with character and history. Few games in recent memory offer the lavish intricacy of master inventor Kirin Jindosh’s mansion, patrolled by the intriguing yet deadly Clockwork Soldiers, or the technical brilliance of the Timepiece – a gadget that allows you to instantly flip the entire level between the past and present at will. Dishonored 2 successfully builds on the foundations of the first, providing a stealth action experience that’s memorable, strategic and satisfying, with the kind of freedom that liberates the player more than any of those expansive, yet painfully dull, open words that seem almost obligatory in today’s AAA releases.

8/10

(all images courtesy of press.bethsoft.com)

Online Abuse is the Hardest Battle for Female Gamers

Being a woman interested in games and on the internet is a frighteningly hostile place to be. It’s a toxic environment where sexual harassment is widespread and threats of rape and murder are commonplace. This attitude doesn’t stem from women being vastly outnumbered on the playing field – according to the latest statistics from Entertainment Software Association 41 percent of gamers in the U.S. are female – rather it’s the attitude of some who wish gaming to be a space where being openly misogynistic is accepted, normal even, and women aren’t welcome. But what these misguided individuals fail to understand is that the world has moved on; women have left the kitchen, found the living room, turned on a games console and liked it.

This attitude reflects pre-pubescent behaviour where boys don’t want to associate with girls – they have ‘cooties’. It may have been more accepted when video games were a pastime mainly engaged in by immature boys who didn’t yet grasp the concept of gender equality, but gaming has grown up and so should the attitudes of the men that now play them.

With the vast availability and popularity of online gaming, the situation is worse than ever.  If you’re a female gamer, verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment are an unavoidable part of the experience whatever way you interact with the medium. From the developers and journalists working in the industry to those that play online or broadcast via game streaming services like Twitch, all face scrutiny and abuse simply for being female.

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image courtesy of flicker.com

The internet, it seems, is a free-for-all where people can say whatever threatening or lewd thing they like. A man wouldn’t walk up to a woman in the street and threaten to rape her without consequence and nor should he be free to do so online. These are real women, not verbal punch bags for spineless men who feel the need to convey their obvious contempt for women through the anonymity of an online persona. The problem is that very little is done to discourage such behaviour because the sheer scale of offences committed is too high for law enforcement to effectively police.

Even if they don’t actively participate in the abuse there are many that see it as no big deal. Abuse and sexual harassment of female players doesn’t affect the average male’s gaming experience and while some simply choose to ignore the issue, others see woman objecting to their treatment as an overreaction. They theorise that if you can’t take the insults then you shouldn’t be playing, or be on the internet at all for that matter. Forgoing what is supposed to be an enjoyable activity simply because people can’t help but be nasty is frankly ludicrous and not an effective solution to the problem.

Fortunately, there are those that would stand up against the abuse directed at women, both in the games industry and the internet as a whole, often at the risk of being exposed to even more criticism. Ashley Judd is one such woman. A few days before making the headlines for standing up for women’s rights at the women’s march against Trump in Washington D.C, Ashley made a speech at a TED conference calling for an end to sexual harassment and threats against women on the internet. “Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends,” said an impassioned Judd.

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image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With regard to the games industry, she went further than berating it for the harassment directed at women online and openly accused it of “profiteering off misogyny”.

“I’m so tired of hearing you talk to me about how deplorable #GamerGate was when you’re still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport,” she said.

Judd’s comments are seemingly aimed at games like Grand Theft Auto, a series that allows players to utilise the services of prostitutes, kill them and reclaim their money, but has never had a female lead or any female character of particular note for that matter.

Judd is far from alone in her condemnation of the treatment of women. Prominent women like Brenda Romero, credited by the Game Developers Conference as “the longest continuously serving woman in the video game industry” has publicly spoken out on numerous occasions against the gender inequality that has infested the industry. Other women like Julia Hardy take on misogyny one vulgar message at a time. In her blog Misogyny Monday, Julia shares the obscene and abusive things said to her online, as well as her witty response to these trolls. It’s a fresh and entertaining approach to a very serious subject.

Prominent industry professionals can, of course, gain more attention for the issue, but it’s also up to each individual to help stamp out this horrible trend. Gaming is a fun, social and enjoyable activity and it should be so for everyone regardless of their gender. Women should not be afraid to speak out against the abuse they receive and should have the support of players who witness it. Those that get their kicks by hurling abuse at female gamers need to do some serious growing up and realise that this isn’t a game. They’re part of the real world – a world they’ll go a lot further in once they learn to have some respect for others

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)

2017’s Games Featuring Female Protagonists

2016 was viewed as a bad year for a number of reasons, but thankfully not for its lack of notable female characters. Lara celebrated her 20th birthday in style with the long-awaited launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, a grown-up Emily Kaldwin more than proved she can hold her own in Dishonored 2 and Faith returned for more awe inducing  parkour in the unnaturally pristine world of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, to name but a few.

2017 brings with it another strong line-up of leading ladies ready to blast their way onto the gaming scene. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the characters on this list are making their gaming debut, a promising sign that developers are keen on creating intriguing new female characters to help balance the usual influx of testosterone-heavy titles.

Gravity Rush 2

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Image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: SIE Japan Studio and Project Siren
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 18 January (US) 20 January (UK)

Kat is back to turn your world upside down with the direct sequel to PS Vita’s Gravity Rush. While the original received positive reviews the decision to release it on a Sony’s handheld platform meant simplifying the graphics and AI and a rather hefty audience reduction. Thankfully, Gravity Rush 2 is getting the full console treatment with the vastly superior processing capabilities of the PS4 bringing the beautifully vibrant anime world to life.

In stark defiance of Newton and his laws, Kat manipulates gravity to traverse the world and rid it of the evil Nevi. Gravity Rush 2 won’t have one heroine, but two, as Kat joins forces with former rival Raven – who appears as an AI controlled ally in combat. Boasting a map two and a half times the size of the original offering 3 times the content as well as enhanced mechanics and new powers, it’s a no-brainer for those that enjoy an action adventure with a twist (pun fully intended). Not only does Gravity Rush get female representation right, its approach to DLC is also something that many developers could learn from. Releasing in March, the 5-hour long episode will star sidekick Raven and cost you the grand total of nothing – forget defying gravity, that’s true madness!

Tales of Berseria

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image courtesy of namcobandaigames-press.com

Developer: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 24 January (US) 27 January (UK)

Considering how much games nowadays struggle to get even one follow up title the Tales series should be commended for reaching an impressive sixteenth entry with Berseria. Despite enjoying regular releases since the mid-nineties, this latest entry marks the first time the franchise will feature a solo lead female. According to the game’s producer, this is due to a rise in demand for female protagonists, particularly in Western countries. This new direction for the series is also thanks to the popularity of Tales of Xillia’s female protagonist Milla Maxwell, who shared the spotlight with male hero Jude Mathis.

The lady leading the usual mix of offbeat characters is Velvet Crowe. Far from the colourful airy fairy type, some might expect, Velvet displays a distinctly icy demeanour. Imbued with the powers of a Deamon, she fights using a fierce werewolf claw. Her shredded attire – that makes it look like she’s just had a battle with said werewolf – leaves little to the imagination and has come under some scrutiny. Berseria’s producer Yasuhiro Fukaya explained that “players will see why she wears that costume during the course of the game”. Let’s just hope it’s a better excuse than she has to breathe through her skin à la Metal Gear V’s Quiet, sigh…

Horizon Zero Dawn

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image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 28 February (US) 3 March (UK)

Horizon is an unexpected yet highly welcome change of pace for Guerrilla Games, a developer who’ve cut their gaming chops on FPS series Killzone. Although Killzone has always remained somewhat in the shadow of other shooters, Guerrilla has a real chance to shine here as it’s developed something that truly stands on its own. The team’s first foray into the action RPG genre, Horizon provides the perfect blend of past and present with a prehistoric world that’s teeming with deadly robotic enemies known as “Machines”.Like a female Tarzan, Aloy fearlessly sweeps into battle; bow in hand, ready to deal some serious damage to the mechanized invaders.

The likes of Far Cry and Tomb Raider have already proven the bow to be an extremely enjoyable and satisfying weapon to wield, but Horizon looks set to improve on this with an altogether smarter, more tactical and considered approach to combat. That brainless method of tapping a single button to unleash a fury of combos and bring an enemy to the ground with ease, that modern games love so much, just won’t work here. Aloy has a multitude of ways to get one over on her foes including electric arrows to stun and rope arrows to render them immobile, giving her the opportunity to destroy them and loot their frazzled remains for those all-important crafting resources.

Nier: Automata

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image courtesy of square-enix-press.com

Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 7 March (US) 10 March (UK)

Scalebound, Platinum’s DMC-like Dragon title may be dead in the water, but never fear as Nier: Automata promises to cure that itch for stupidly stylish, fast-paced action. Set after the events of 2010’s Nier, the surprising sequel puts you in the wickedly destructive boots of female protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B or, rather mercifully, ‘2B’ for short. Automata shares the grim atmosphere and branching narrative structure of its predecessor, but doesn’t directly expand upon any of its story elements.

2B is an android tasked with ridding Earth of killer robots – a rather unwelcome gift courtesy of some anti-human extra-terrestrial beings. Luckily 2B can more than hold her own and makes quick work of legions of mechs using all manner of slick sword combos and gunplay. Developers nowadays have a tendency to want to develop characters, particularly female ones, that players can relate to, making 2B’s lack of emotional hang-ups, inhuman finesse and all-round badassery delightfully refreshing.  While action is the order of the day Platinum hasn’t forsaken the series’ RPG roots as Nier: Automata promises to fuse the developer’s unique action style with the familiar progression elements of the original.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: Ninja Theory
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 2017

Ninja Theory not only develop great games, they develop great games with highly adept female characters. From the combat abilities of Heavenly Sword’s Nariko to the tech skills of Enslaved’s Trip and mystical abilities of DmC’s Kat, each female created by Ninja Theory has serious skills. These women don’t exist to be rescued by a male, nor are they created for titillation – they are interesting characters that happen to be female, not interesting because they are female. Thankfully Ninja Theory looks set to continue this admirable trend with protagonist Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Bridging the gap between indie and AAA, Ninja Theory has described their approach to creating Hellblade as independent AAA. This allows them to retain creative freedom without sacrificing the spectacle that comes with high budget titles. This freedom has led the team to explore something more hellish than all the shuffling zombies and sharp clawed creatures of other games – mental illness. A victim of psychosis, the demons that Celtic Warrior Senua faces are manifestations of her own troubled mind. It’s experimental development model and serious subject matter marks Hellblade as one of the most  important and progressive prospects to grace gaming in years.

This is in no way a complete list of all the female game characters we will see this year, nor does include titles such as Mass Effect Andromeda and Prey – which allow you choose the gender of your character. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the best taken from the most high profile releases that 2017 has to offer. If your favourite upcoming gaming heroine has been missed off the list feel free to add them in the comments below.

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)

Nier: Automata’s Director Encourages Objectification of Game’s Female Protagonist

Instead of having fans excited over its stylish action or fascinating premise, Nier: Automata is currently making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Gamers were recently sent into a tizzy over a screenshot of the game’s protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B (or 2B for short). The image in question is apparently an upskirt shot from the recently released PlayStation 4 demo that goes into far more anatomical detail than necessary – especially considering the character in question is an android.

To make things worse the game’s director, Yoko Taro has waded in and, instead of claiming the screenshot to be the result of some sad individual with too much time on their hands, has encouraged fans to come forth with their own lewd artwork of the character for his viewing pleasure.

According to Kotaku, this translates to:

“Because of the brouhaha over 2B’s butt, there are loads of rude drawings and whatnot being uploaded [online]. And since going around and collecting them is a pain, I’d like it if I could get them sent in a zip file every week.”

Naturally, fans indulged the request and have created a plethora of explicit artwork featuring 2B, to which Taro replied, “The internet is great.”

Disregarding the artwork that so unashamedly sexualises her, the character herself is, for the most part, very well designed. It’s disappointing then, to witness this intriguing new female character degraded like this and even more disheartening to see a creator have such little respect for his character that he encourages her objectification and even revels in it.

For anyone interested in more than what’s up 2B’s skirt, Nier: Automata is the follow-up to 2010’s Nier. Following on from the events of its predecessor, the game shares the same dark and atmospheric, post-apocalyptic setting where machines from another world wage war with humans.

The open-world game is being developed by action masters Platinum Games, so expect to see the developer’s unique brand of intense action blended with the RPG elements of the original.

Nier Automata will be released in Europe on March 10 for PS4. You can also download the demo here.

(featured image courtesy of square-enix-press.com)

Final Fantasy XV’s Poor Female Representation

Square Enix’s latest is a boys only party

Having undergone various changes in terms of design, platform, and even name over the last decade, Final Fantasy XV is finally here. It’s clear from the off that Square Enix has crafted something that’s far removed from the painfully restrictive Final Fantasy XIII in a bid to propel the 29-year-old series into the current gen. The darkened colour palette, lack of cuddly creatures and reworked combat demonstrate a conscious effort to reform the series and produce something that feels entirely new. However, what most notably distinguishes this entry from the series norm is its unusually predominant masculine presence.

Final Fantasy has a long and commendable history of iconic female characters such as XIII’s leading lady Lightning, and let’s not forget the all-female line-up of Final Fantasy X-2 – you most likely couldn’t forget those zany pop performances even if you wanted to. It comes as something of a surprise then that FFXV boasts an exclusively male core party line-up.

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Explaining the omission of female main characters, director Hajime Tabata said:

“Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they’ll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way.”

While it’s a shame we don’t get any badass female warriors as playable characters this time around, the all-male road trip is entirely forgivable as it’s a creative decision that makes sense in the context of the narrative rather than a sexist statement on the part of the developer. Final Fantasy XV’s crime isn’t its lack of playable female characters rather it’s portrayal of those it does include.

Firstly there’s Lunafreya, an Oracle with the power to commune with Gods and heal the suffering and afflicted. Despite having powers comparable to Jesus, Lunafreya seems more concerned with her marriage to Noctis than aiding the troubled world of Eos. She is largely underused and has very little character of her own. Her presence seemingly serves to bolster the female character numbers rather than add anything meaningful to the story and even though her magical abilities are vastly more interesting and effective than Noctis’ she never features outside of cutscenes.

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Aside from Lunafreya, the game’s most notable female presence is Cindy. Thanks to a spot of car trouble, players are introduced to Cindy within minutes of the game’s opening. Granddaughter of Cid, a character who’s appeared in almost every instalment to date, she takes over car repair duties from her ‘Paw-paw’. This could be seen as a really progressive step and a middle finger to the stereotype that mechanics always have to be men, and it would be if it weren’t for the fact she looks like a stripper impersonating a mechanic rather than the real deal.

Tabata describes Cindy as “a very important part of the story because by keeping the car running she makes the entire journey possible.” However, her helpfulness and skills are completely undermined by her gratuitous sexualisation. Not once in all the years of playing Final Fantasy have we ever witnessed Cid servicing our car in his long johns, that would be ridiculous, and nor is it appropriate to have a female mechanic clad in denim hotpants, underwear fully on show and sporting unnecessary levels of cleavage.

After the original demo for the game was released, Tabata revealed that players, particularly those from Europe, complained that Cindy’s attire was “too sexy”. This didn’t propel the team to change the character design, but rather defend it by saying “she’s actually not meant to be an erotic character”. Instead Cindy is described as an outgoing character. Fellow party member Prompto is outgoing, but portrays his extrovert behaviour through his personality, why isn’t this the same for a female character?

Tabata also spoke of “moderating the way she is presented” to eliminate the sexual themes. So, judging by the final product, having scantily clad women bent over cars isn’t sexualizing them.

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Omitting females as playable characters was meant to make the game more approachable for players of both genders. But Square Enix obviously didn’t have this in mind with Cindy’s portrayal. She was designed for the benefit of men at the risk of offending and alienating female players. It’s a disappointing move for a series that has a strong female fanbase and sends out the message that despite a woman’s skills she is fundamentally an object for men to ogle – something that’s further reinforced by Prompto’s constantly voiced desire for Cindy.

The remaining female cast features only briefly in the game. There’s Lunafreya’s mysterious lady-in-waiting Gentiana, as well as Gladiolus’ little sister Iris – who’s most remarkable deeds amount to fawning over Noctis and offering a sidequest that involves planting carrots, compelling stuff. There’s also a lady with an unhealthy frog obsession and that’s pretty much every female in the game apart from mercenary Aranea. She’s the only female warrior in the entire game and, aside from Gentiana, the only one that doesn’t seem to base her value on her ability to win the affections of men… or frogs.

Final Fantasy XV was marketed as “a Fantasy based in reality” alas, the grim reality that FFXV drives home more than any other is the continued misogynistic nature of video games. Here’s hoping Final Fantasy XVI makes considerable strides back towards the equal representation of genders it’s commendably exhibited in previous efforts.

(images courtesy of square-enix-press.com)