Don’t simply ‘ask’ for more female characters
When I got into game development it was because I found it to be a very cool way to tell stories. However, I have always been interested in any form of storytelling. A few years ago I spent a long long time writing a (roughly 500 pages) book, a second and a third draft, based on a short story that I wrote based on a dream I had. The story was about a robot girl and how she would deal with being the only one in a world of humans, where some hated her and others liked her.
I also wrote a script for a short film, about a young girl who met a tormented ghost girl. That script went through nearly 30 different drafts, and then with a group of friends we made the film. It was actually cool to see the film made it to a few film festivals and we even got an award.
At some point I was working on a script about a princess who didn’t want to be a princess because she didn’t like the idea of “a woman in a men’s world.” One day she would escape with a sailor/adventurer she met (but never got emotionally involved with), because she wanted to see the world and find an island she had read about in books. The project was canned because that’s when I began to walk away from filmmaking.
At roughly the same time I wrote a story about a young woman and her struggle to deal with her divorce. That one was very surreal, because half of the story took place in a dream world.
After I finish Enola I have the basic treatment for the story of 2 different games. One of them is for a sequel to Enola, and it will be from a different girl’s perspective. The second game is about a girl who meets an older woman and helps her solve a problem. That’s all I can say about either project so far.
But before all of this, I wrote a story about a man who went to the desert because he wanted to solve the mystery of his best friend’s suicide. By the way, some people consider some of these stories to be good, others to be not so good (or very bad).
Some people like “stats” and whatever, so I will share some “stats” of these stories with you: The character count for the first one was 5 women and 5 men. The second one featured 3 females and 1 male. The one about the princess only had one girl, the princess, and roughly 8 men. The next one had 2 women and 1 man. Enola features 6 women and 2 men. The next 2 are kept under wraps so I won’t say. The one about the man featured one character: the man.
If you’ve paid enough attention, you will notice all of the stories, except for one, feature a woman as the main character. I did that because it made sense, and because the stories needed a woman, not a man, as the main character. Some of them feel emotionally or sexually attracted to someone else, and some of them don’t develop any kind of emotional bond to anybody because they don’t need it. Basically I find female characters more interesting. Also, none of them falls into the category of “she kicks ass” because they are not fighters, martial artists, warriors or anything like that.
IMO it’s all cool and all, but I have to be honest about something. I NEVER wrote a story with a female lead because I wanted to be inclusive, because people were talking about the need of more women in this or that, or because I wanted to help solve any problem with the current state of whatever. I wrote all the stories because I wanted. I’m making a game with a female lead because I want to, and I plan to do more games with female leads because I want to. Because I care too much about them to make them “just for the stats or so that the male is no longer the default.”
By the way, I could also mention the videogame characters I’ve cared about the most, but I want to finish this blog post sometime today…
I say one does not simply “ask” or more female characters for two reasons:
Reason number one…
We have “enough is enough” response in our country that goes like “te voy a decir que sí para que te callés/para que ya no jodás.” I’m sure most of you don’t understand spanish, so I’ll explain it to you. It is something you say to imply “I’ll do it because I’m tired of your requests” but in a very rude way. I mention this because I think we’re lucky we don’t have people with the “I’m fed up” attitude, but I can’t help to wonder if we’ll see the day when we will get more female characters “because devs are fed up if the requests, so they make female leads so people asking for them will shut up.
On top of that, every time a woman makes it into a game, we get a million of critics dissecting them just to check if they are strong enough. I can already see what would happen, because I wouldn’t expect much from a female character that was added just for the sake of adding her.
Personally I don’t want to see that day.
I want to see more games with female characters, but I want those characters to mean something more than stats or ideological agendas (or whatever they are called). I certainly don’t want more females “so that the male is not the default character.” I’m not interested because that means that instead of the male dude running around killing dudes I’ll see the female running around killing dudes. Certainly, if I got “Princess of Persia” I would only care if the story was good (I was going to say “Assasin’s Creed but that was too obvious, as that’s the reason why I’m writing this), because “male-emulating-badassery” is the cheapest way of making a strong female lead.
So yeah, Anita’s idea about the princess that escapes by her own means and then levels up and fights whoever sent her to jail is not interesting to me because I could swap the woman for a man and the story would be pretty much the same. If she added the “this and that and what it means because she’s a woman” then I would find it interesting (and no, the simple “she no longer needs rescuing is not enough, at least not to me).
I want more female characters in games, because they are the ones I find more interesting. However, I want characters like Alyx, April Ryan, Heather Mason, Mio Amakura and such. I certainly don’t want empty-vessel female characters or “skin swaps.” I find them interesting not because “they can do the same things a man can do,” because “they really kick ass because they kill everything that moves” or because “this girl is tougher than Chuck Norris.” I want to see more women in games because, as I’ve said before, many times, they can bring a different perspective into something, and because they can be heroines in their own way.
Reason number two…
We have another saying in our country that… is way too rude, so I won’t write it here, but I will tell you what it implies: talk is useless without action.
Here’s a crazy and maybe stupid idea: maybe stop asking others to do something and just DIY? Maybe, instead of going into Twitter and ranting all day about some dev not making a female lead, you can put together a team and work on a simple game with a female protagonist. I say “simple game” because you don’t need to make the next Halo or Star Citizen to do something meaningful. Something with simple graphics and simple mechanics can do a lot. What if you’re not a developer? Well, if you are an artist or a writer, just gather a team as well.
If more of those teams “going indie” opted to make their games with a female protagonist AS LONG AS IT’S MEANINGFUL, it would also help.
Hell, if Anita Sarkeesian decided to put a team together and work on that game about the princess, I would definitely buy it if the game was good. At least IMO, that helps more than just posting videos about “how things with female characters ought to be” on Youtube.
People from countries with established videogame industries are lucky because they have something we don’t: you are A LOT of people and it’s very easy for you to get small teams of devs together. Here in El Salvador we are around 25 game developers in the whole country (I mean 25 people, not 25 teams of people). Now ask me how many have a game with a female protagonist as their first option: less than 10…
I say maybe it’s stupid because I don’t really know how difficult it would be for people working on those big companies to develop another game as a weekend/side project, so I don’t know if my crazy idea would be too much. Devs “going indie” would certainly find it easier.
But when I see “risks” being taken in many areas except protagonist gender, I can only ask how interested people really are.
Hell, I’m even willing to put up with the “generic female that kicks ass and kills zombies” if she has a good story to tell. I should clarify I don’t mean I want them to write a story so good it’s at least comparable to The Lord of the Flies. I just need something that’s engaging enough, like Fatal Frame or even Diablo.
And who knows. Maybe if female protagonists were not so rare, we wouldn’t have all those critics dissecting female protagonists over and over…
In my mind, action helps more than words. I’ve seen many gaming-industry-related people discussing talking about why we need more female characters for some time. However, for some reason I haven’t seen many games featuring female characters being announced. So here’s my final stupid question (and it’s sorta stupid because I don’t know how the industry works in your countries, because we don’t even have an industry here): Why are there so many industry-related-people talking about wanting more female leads in games, but yet so few people making games with a female lead? So maybe I could say “don’t ask for more female characters; make them.”
Just some final thoughts…
Note: All this was written by a guy living in a country with zero game development industry; who may or may not be a decent writer; who is NOT a programmer but is able to make games because Unreal Kismet is extremely easy to use but didn’t know how to make a game until 3 years ago; who has zero first-hand experience in the videogames industry. If I managed to come up with a story with a female lead and put together a small team to make a game, I’m pretty sure those of you who are far better writers, who are real programmers and artists, can do a far better work.
When I got back from PAX this April (we were showing Enola there), I read an article, but what I remember the most was one of the comments. The guy had wrote “the devs’ mistake was to make a game with a female protagonist.” However, experience has showed me that for every guy complaining that the main character is a girl, there are hundreds who are happy that the main character is a girl.
It turns out “the risk” of making a female lead is not “as risky” as people think.