Harmonie Freyburger, what is the percentage of female characters in video games?
It is very difficult to have this percentage because there are different types of games. In some games it is possible to choose from a gallery of characters, in others to choose a man or a woman… However, the studies were carried out during E3, the great mass of video games in which all the publishers and developers announce the their next matches. In 2020, during the last edition, among all the games announced during the convention, 18% included a female character, 23% a male character and 54% with different options. In 2019, there were only 5% female characters. We are moving forward.
Is the representation of women changing in games?
There is a great evolution. 10 years ago, there were few playable female characters. Only rarely could you embody a female character. They were secondary characters, without much use in the story. Or these characters had to be rescued and represented a trophy, as in “Zelda”. It was the male hero’s reward. Today, women are no longer a trophy and there are many more games where female characters have their own history, characteristics and will be independent.
Do female characters evolve?
Yes, like Lara Croft (heroine of the game “Tomb Raider”), one of the first female characters we could play with, who had a history, who fought and explored worlds without the need for a man. The Lara Croft of the last game is very different, she has a lot more psychology and is significantly less sexualized.
Today we allow ourselves much more diversity and complexity. There is a desire to represent the world we live in.
Do female characters evolve as society evolves?
In general, the characters are more complex and more diverse. This is the case for women but also for racialized characters. There are, for example, many more black characters today. This is also the case for LGBT characters. It is also true that before the characters were less “written”, they had less story. For example, they had few romantic relationships. And when that happened, it was obvious that it was a heterosexual relationship. Today we allow ourselves much more diversity and complexity. There is a desire to represent the world we live in. There has been a “boom” in video games in recent years with far more people playing them. Half the world is playing. So when you’re making games for such a large and diverse population, you also need to diversify the characters and stories. Audiences therefore play a role in this development, as does diversity in development teams. New ideas are thus infused into creation. Everything is connected.
Do you feel an expectation among the players?
Absolutely because we will identify more with characters who look like us, it is an expectation of society. A few years ago, you might have thought that making a game with a female character wouldn’t work. Today there are many games with female characters that have happened. In “Horizon Zero Dawn”, for example, we play a heroine, Aloy, a warrior who fights for her destiny and against creatures… But she’s not just a female character, there’s a story and everything it is consistent. Marketing thinking has also evolved. The important thing is that there is a truly authentic approach.
Are there, today, as many girls as boys playing?
Taking into account all video games, and especially mobile games, we are between 50 and 51% of gamers, it depends on the studies. The video game is, today, a totally mixed medium.
I think this development is good for society and it won’t stop. This is the point of the story.
Is the feedback from this development positive?
There will always be refractory to these social issues and their evolution (smiles). There’s still a minority of people who think that video games were better before, that video games are for kids. We also see the raising of shields when we evolve a character. So when the latest “Tomb Raider” came out, people complained that Lara Croft’s bra size had been reduced… The video game is not spared from criticism but I think this evolution does good for society and that won’t stop for a minority of people talking loud. This is the point of the story.
Is the evolution of video games comparable to that of society?
Video games are a medium that evolves very quickly, especially in technical terms. When we were able to portray characters in games, came stereotypes. They are about to fade. As video games have become very popular, they adapt more to society by offering more diversity, both in the experiences offered (narrative games, action games, etc.) and in formats, including the length of the game.
What’s next for female representation in video games?
The most difficult part, i.e. the change of mentality, has been carried out. But there are still efforts to be made, particularly on sexualization. The next step could be the obligation, in certain games, to play with a female character. In blockbusters like “Assassin’s Creed”, we now get to choose between a man and a woman. Perhaps there will one day, in an opera, be a murderer who will necessarily be a woman. A man can identify with a female character if he is well developed. Next, there are also things to change in other areas of diversity (LGBT, racialized characters, etc.) so that it’s more represented in all kinds of games.
Have the male characters evolved too?
Gamers say women are hypersexualized, but so are men. And it is true that very often we have seen very virile male characters, who are never afraid, who are very muscular… Today we are also beginning to see sensitive characters who express their emotions… We must have a little more, so like the older characters. The age of characters is often linked to that of the person who creates them, and the decision-makers in video game studios are also getting older. So we’re starting to have older male characters, but still very few females. The average age of a player is 38 so there are 50-60 people playing and therefore there are new experiences to offer them.
As far as LGBT characters are concerned, what we still lack today, and this also happens in cinema and other arts, is that they are not a subject. This is the case in the game “Last of Us” with the female character, Ellie, who is in a relationship with a woman. But we never talk about homophobia, rejection or violence, she never talks about it. It’s just a normal situation.
The closer we get to equality between men and women, the more practices will change.
Can gamers also evolve through video games?
Video games have this power to put yourself in a character’s shoes and experience a story, which will create a lot of empathy and identification. From there to change someone’s mentality, I’m not sure. But, in any case, it allows you to plant seeds, to bring to life stories, perhaps fictitious, but which people sometimes also experience in reality.
There are also transgender or non-binary people who have been able to experience their trans identity through video games and create a comfort zone. Tabletop RPGs also allow us to have this experience that can help us find ourselves and better accept each other.
Are there still games that are more popular with girls than with boys and vice versa?
We can easily imagine boys playing war games and girls playing management games with ponies. Today that is no longer the case. For example, 75% of female online gamers play survival and action games. Everyone plays everything. But studies have shown that women play far more on mobile than on consoles because it allows them to interrupt their gaming sessions, unfortunately due to the family responsibilities they still carry around when guys have more time to sit in front of a game. console . The closer we get to equality between men and women, the more practices will change.