The female role in video games

If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I am all for equality between men and women. When I was younger I could be quite fierce about emancipation, arguing about it with anyone who thought differently. Nowadays to be honest, I take it much more as a given. In my little world, at work and at home, I feel as if a good balance between the sexes had been reached.

It’s not that way in video gaming though. To begin with, there’s the matter of a choice of the male or female protagonist. I found an interesting article in from August 2014:

Video gaming is no longer niche: According to the latest ESA statistics, 59 percent of Americans play games — and women make up 48 percent of that figure. It’s been argued that the number has been inflated by mobile games, which may well be the case; but when it comes to console and PC games, women still make up around a third of users — which is still quite a sizeable chunk. Yet only around 15 percent of games have playable female characters, and those that do receive only 50 percent of the marketing budget given to games with male protagonists.

Very strange when you consider that women over 18 are now the fastest-growing gamer demographic. We have come a long way of course, with a lot of games giving the player the choice, but I still remember the first Harvest Moon games on the DS and the Wii, where you could only be a boy. Awkward for a dating sim! Fact is that most game developers still use a male protagonist as default and think of adding a women protagonist as something special. It seems that it’s mostly in action games and shooters that you don’t get the choice, but even in the all time favorite Mario games we see a stereotype role for the ladies: for years now Mario has been saving Peach, only to see her abducted again. And what does Peach do? Well, aside from screaming and being pretty that is? She is being the perfect damsel in distress. 

Then there’s the way the ladies are portrayed in video games. Lets say you can choose to play a girl. Did you ever notice that the male goes dressed in sturdy clothing, making sure that he will not be hindered when he is doing what he does best: slay monsters. But that the female is often clothed in an attire that not only seems to be very cold, but also seems totally unsuitable to go out and fight the baddies in? Let’s face it, form a group of adventurers to go questing, like in Bravely Default, and you’ll see Edea and Agnes clothed in a way that really makes me wonder if she’s not going to catch a severe cold at the very least. So why are girls portrayed that way? Could it be because developers don’t want to take chances to alienate their main player base as in “young male adults?”

Edea, girls gaming, Ladiesgamers, costume, Agnes, bravely default, hero, ladies, girls


  1. All i can say is that in most cases i like Samus Aran as a female protagonist (i have to play Other M again someday though).
    And even though she’s only playing second fiddle Zelda ain’t too bad of a character either.
    When it comes to Mario portraying Peach as a typical damsel in distress works the best for a game meant to be played by everybody imo. It gets the hero part and the personal involvement of Mario across very well.

    1. I know, and the Mario observation you make is true of course. But how cool would it be if Peach would all of a sudden stand up for herself, and we’d see her rescuing Mario or Luigi instead! They did get it right in Samus though!

      1. With Luigi i don’t see a problem. He’s basically made for being rescued.
        Also i don’t know the story of Super Mario 3D World, but you can play as her there, so i don’t think she’s kidnapped.
        PS: Super Princess Peach might be worth a look for you. I don’t know a lot about this game but if i had more time i’d play it by now.

  2. Yo! Want to mention I’ve been lurking your blog after finding it from Japanese 3DS (Tumblr), and enjoyed a lot of your entries! 😀

    I love Agnes and Edea as characters, but I agree some of the female job costumes are less modest than the male ones. Part of it is probably due to catering to a younger male audience. The Performer one I can say at least is based around Japan’s idol culture and since it’s more a supporting job dealing with buffs, kinda understandable the female (and male) costumes for that particular job won’t be most practical for combat.

    1. Hi there, nice to have you lurking around my blog, glad you’re enjoying it!
      Well, it’s not that I have a problem with the skimpy clothing, it just bothers me that the guys never seem to have need of skimpy clothes, lol. That having been said, I do think the developers of Bravely Default did a great job of putting in a lot of detail in the costumes.

      1. Doesn’t that make ’em even more heroic? 😮
        I mean the guys have to be equipped with all kind of heavy armor and weaponry while the ladies kick ass with much less gear overkill and even cumbersome stuff. 😉

        Also wanted to mention the Paper Mario games as an example of Peach being more than a shallow damsel in distress. 🙂

  3. Thank you for bringing this topic up!
    It’s interesting to see things with the eyes of someone else.In this case the female perspective.

    Equality is something that is very, very dear to me.

    Creating video games takes skill, you need to be smart and creative, and pretty much everybody working on them is.
    This is one of the reason that baffles me when it comes to stories and the portrayal of characters.
    If you decide to include a female character in your game and you decide to have her dressed in a “sexy” manner for whatever reason, that does certainly have to reflect the character’s mindset in a way, doesn’t it.
    It could portray great confidence, not being ordinary, looking for confrontation with standards set by society, etc.
    Be smart about it and work it into the story and give the character some depth.

    If the character design or costume is just “fanservice” I find it incredibly hard to swallow personally (and I’m thinking about worse examples than Bravely Default here).

    You could give a new angle to Peach if you were to play as her in a level where she’s trying to escape and kick some ass on the way. After all she’s a fighter in Super Smash Bros. and can hold her own there as well. There could still be some reason why she can’t escape, but mix up the old formula.

    Just some ideas from the top of my head, but I’m not one of the skilled, smart and creative people and I don’t know if it would be even interesting or good at all.

    There’s a lot of room for improvement though, I think we can agree on that.

    Again thanks for bringing this up.

    1. Oh yes, I can definitely think of worse examples then the Bravely Default costumes, but I didn’t want those images on my blog, because then I’d do the same! I agree, the people who make those games are intelligent and creative , and I think nowadays there are quite a few girls working on the games too. So, I can only think that perhaps it’s the people that decide about which games will cater to what audience. Maybe the people at the top still believe that they have to keep their largest consumer market happy.
      But, looking at the positive side: it’s been worse in that you could never play as a girl at all. So maybe, in ten years time I will write a blog at how it used to be, and how male or female characters in the game go dressed in the same way!

  4. I’m glad to see you think a good balance between sexes has been reached in your own world. I’ve always felt that too, which is why I struggle to really follow these people who want to tell big scare stories about how terrible the world is for women in the west. I’ve just never seen any evidence for it.

    I do have a bit of a disagreement about the data you quote from Cnet though. They need to really break it down much more to get a proper understanding of what’s going on. A huge number of games are just from a single character’s perspective. So if they’re working with a male majority demographic, chances are that character’s going to be male. You can’t really portray that as a bias, it’s just a rational business decision.
    I think if you look at just the games that have parties or customisable characters, you’ll find the pro-male bias is much much smaller, although I agree it does still exist and we need to work on that.

  5. A topic worth so much controversy. My family is more “traditional” (not asian lol) so being allowed to get a video game was a hard thing to do. And even then I was only allowed to purchase girly games. When I was able to get into actual good games, I was disgusted with the fact that my choice of a female avatar was dressed to look like she belonged in a strip club rather than for slaying monsters. There’s nothing wrong with fluanting your sexuality or being proud of it. However, when as you pointed out, the women are only scantily clad while their male counterparts are fit for battle, I feel frustrated. Fire Emblem at least gave their women armor lol. And a lot of games geared for girls are soooo sexist. Pink, girly and friendship…shouldnt’ we all be trying to include friendship and good morals in our games? Yes, but when it’s so heavily emphasized in a game for girls it makes me mad. Are we only props, love interests, damsels, or cold hearted sexy women?

    I don’t mind not having the option to be a girl. SOme games don’t have that and that’s fine. What I don’t like is when the females in the game are worth nothing more than a piece of meat and male gamers won’t understand this feeling. It sounds dumb to some of them, but really, it’s a frustrating thing to deal with. And while I am a fan of otome games, I don’t want a meek protagonist. If she can kick butt and handle herself and isn’t just there for eyecandy, awesome.

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