I've been gaming for a long time. I know what happens when you score past 999 on a handheld Donkey Kong (clue: there's no room for the extra digits). My enlightened stepfather bought my brother and I a ZX Spectrum each, and we soon mastered the secrets beneath its sweaty rubber keys (while I wrote text adventures in BASIC, my brother developed art programs with dolphin-sleek code; never ten lines where one would do).
My compunction to play video games has grown even as have (and I admit this is an inelegant way of introducing my gender) my boobies. And I'm not alone in this.
As the co-founder of a mighty feminist website called Mookychick, gender equality is pretty important to me. And I can't help taking a step back at the recent Twitterstorm that gathered and burst as E3 unveiled the upcoming games for the Xbox One.
A genuinely cool organisation mistakenly tweeted that none of the games unveiled at E3 featured female protagonists. I empathised with the main thrust of their statement and shook my fist weakly like Mister Burns at the vindictive spite hurled in their direction. Whoah. So much spite.
But on the other hand I felt a bit wounded that the industry I love was being held up as not fighting the good fight.
On the downside, the majority of games have male protagonists. I can still relate to them; I've had more fun playing moralising ex-criminal Lee in Walking Dead than I've ever experienced as FemShep in Mass Effect. And, yep, some games are not my flavour, partly because Gameplay and partly because I Draw A Line At That Sort of Thing. Vice City is definitely not my flavour.
But I feel a need to focus on the positives in the game industry. Positives that, if lauded and HYPED TO THE VERY HEAVENS, can help make a commercial and social difference.
1). E3 GAMES FEATURED FEMALE PROTAGONISTS.
One of the flagship games unveiled at E3 was Mirror's Edge 2, starring a female parkeur expert who defeats gun-toting men. And quite a few blockbuster games with female protags are coming our way. Like... Beyond! Yes, the upcoming game from the creators of Heavy Rain, starring Ellen Page of Juno/Inception fame. ELLEN PAGE IN A GAME, PEOPLE. UNITE IN JOY.
2) ABOUT HALF OF GAMERS ARE WOMEN.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of all game players in 2012 were women. I'm presuming it hasn't all gone tits-up in 2013 and we've dropped off the face of the earth. This number may not solely reflect console games, it's still the kind of number I like to see.
3) IT'S ABOUT QUALITY AS WELL AS QUANTITY.
The list of female protagonists in successful games is as long as a snake's arse - half of Final Fantasy, Claire Redfield in Resident Evil, Samus in Metroid, Bayonetta... sure, the list could be longer in a perfect world, but that's what we're aiming for, right? What is extremely important to me is that female characters in video games are STRONG. That they are BELIEVABLE, with CHARACTER and DEPTH. If we think along those lines, suddenly the list is pretty much endless. Most games nowadays feature strong scripts and characters, and genders are flying all over the place in a great big inclusive genderswarm. Speaking of which...
4) THE RISE AND RISE OF CHOICE GAMES.
Mass Effect. Dragon Age. Skyrim. Fallout. Massive, massive games where you get to choose who you are and how you relate to your environment, whether it's relationships you want or breeding game-glitch cabbages in a town square. Choice tree games are really flexing their muscles now with increased options for same-sex and exospecies romance, and the deal is YOU PLAY WHO AND HOW YOU WANT. These games are commercially sound, increasingly inclusive, and beloved of gamers of all genders. Choice trees'll have a fine harvest for years to come.
5) WOMEN MAKING GAMES.
A-list women in the games industry are given more than just lip service. Laura Fryer, advisor for Women in Games International, has been solidly involved in Crimson Skies and Gears of War. You know, Gears of War. That girly game with the cleaning and the cooking and preening. Oh, I do love a good Gears of War preen. Or there's Nicole Lazzaro, the first person to use facial expressions to measure player reactions. I can't leave out Susan O'Connor, a top-tier games writer with titles like Gears of War, Bioshock and Far Cry 2 under her belt. I could go on down the long road of forever with this one, but I'll end with Rhianna Pratchett. Famous surname and I love her father's books, but what she's most famous for is writing the most recent Tomb Raider. The one with a protagonist who actually feels discomfort at having to kill. A genuine game-changer, pardon the horrid pun.
And, okay, maybe Lara was briskly offing villains within hours of gameplay, but any industry insider is likely to concede that the creation of a game's world, story and gameplay is a fine balance between concept, budget and time.
The games industry is exciting right now. I'm feeling all kinds of anger towards anyone who hurls personal vitriol at someone querying a gender discrepancy in any field. If someone's questioning a concept, attacking them personally is weak sauce, yes?
But fantastic strides are being made in the games industry, and my God, I'm going to celebrate them.
I should probably acknowledge at this point that, yes, I do think sexism prevails in some areas of video games. There is an imbalance in the number of strong lead female protagonists, in stereotypes, in the physical proportions of humans... I'm sure I could locate disheartening statistics demonstrating that games with female leads are relatively less likely to sell. And that's a matter of education, communication and more females playing games. Call me cold, but it'll no doubt boil down to money in the end. Women with money knowing what games they want to spend it on.
But the positive is worth exploring, too. It's progress, it's evolution, and the positive aspects of the ever-evolving games industry should be considered with every ounce of one's being.