The past year and a half has not been a good look for the gaming world.
2014 was the year of the Gamergate controversy, and a banner year for women-hating gamers and the anti-feminists who love them. This included the misogynistic harassment of game developers like Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, and cultural critc Anna Sarkeesian, all of whom received a barrage of horrifying harassment, including erroneous slut-shaming, doxing, rape threats, death threats, and worse.
Their crime? Being successful and female. Despite the devastation Gamergate wreaked on the lives of Wu, Quinn, and Sarkeesian, it slingshot misogyny in gamer culture into the national discourse.
In the wake of Gamergate, it was in mass anticipation that the world turned its rapt attention towards the Electronics Entertainment Expo (otherwise known as E3), the biggest trade fair in the gaming industry held annually in Los Angeles, California, especially concerning what the impact of Gamergate would be (or if it would make any impact whatsoever).
The result? A berth of new games, most of which were the latest installments of popular titles --including Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Fallout 4 -- featured fleshed-out female protagonists, and a notable uptick of female representation at the press conferences themselves, both as presenters and journalists. The latter marked an important watershed, considering that there were more severed heads than female hosts and last year's conference.
Among the myriad publishers who were present at E3, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft, Bethesda, Tiger & Squid, and more led the charge on the lady reppin' front.
"Not only do the games offer playable female characters, but many of the game trailers went out of their way to make sure that the in-game lady was represented on-screen," said Sam Maggs, author ofThe Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy, in an e-mail to Tech Times. "Microsoft was the most impressive, with games like Recore and Tacoma, but Bethesda (Dishonored 2, Fallout 4) and Sony (Horizon Zero Dawn) did well too."
The inclusion of a playable female protagonist Evie Frye in Ubisoft's Victorian-era proffering Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is extremely noteworthy, considering the controversy surrounding the release of Assassin's Creed: Unity back in 2014, which, despite promises made by the publisher, did not feature a lady on the forefront because the developers couldn't take the time out of their day to design one. (It's also worth noting that technical director James Therien consistently referred to the hypothetical character as a "feature," because women are obviously only accessories.)
Why it would be remiss to let bygones be bygones, the presence of Evie is a giant-killer of a triumph, especially when paired with what could be called a counternarrative to plotlines that cater to a white, male audience. From the mouth of Ubisoft's creative director Marc Alexis Cote:
"We were thinking 'how can we tell the story differently?' I absolutely wanted to bring a new perspective, and I think having a female protagonist is great for that. Because the minute we start [asking] 'how would Evie react to that?' it brings us in a different mindset than we traditionally are in."
"Despite what Ubisoft might have you think, it's apparently not all that difficult to make a gender-interchangeable playable character, and I think this E3 is going to make a lot of women gamers very happy," Maggs remarked
As previously mentioned, more women took an active role in the pressers themselves, but the number was still lackluster.
"In terms of presenters, representation was sorely lacking. If the presenters are supposed to be a small reflection of the industry's culture, there's still a long way to go. Still, it's great to see the Bechdel test pass right in front of our eyes as Aisha Tyler was fangirling over Angela Bassett," Jessica Lachenal, assistant editor of The Mary Sue, told Tech Times.
As Lechanel recapped, E3 2015 was remarkable for a reason it shouldn't be: the fact that two women of color, Tyler and Bassett, were on stage together. It's a rare occurrence in the gaming world, even in 2015.
Maggs also had something to add: "The one area in which we really still need to see improvement is behind the scenes. The dearth of women on stage during the conferences (Sony had none!) makes this gender gap clear. The only way we're going to see more nuanced and diverse stories is if we have a more diverse group of people creating them."
Female gamers have always been sorely misrepresented in a world filled with damsels in distress, casual misogynistic violence, oversexualization, and booth babes. The disparity between demographics and depiction is, if not appalling, downright depressing: according to findings published by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 48% of American gamers are women, yet only 15% of games contain playable, non-testosterone-fueled characters.
What makes gender equality in gaming even more imperative is the effect it can have on young users. According to a study published by Stanford University in 2012, the hypsexualization of female avatars can have some pretty devastating reprecussions, especially considering the ramifications of long-term gaming:
"Participants who wore sexualized avatars internalized the avatar's appearance and self-objectified, reporting more body-related thoughts than those wearing nonsexualized avatars. Participants who saw their own faces, particularly on sexualized avatars, expressed more rape myth acceptance than those in other conditions."
These misrepresentations and their aftermath are due to a lack of the portrayal of female protagonists in general; though the first playable female character Samus Aran was introduced via Metroid back in 1986 (besides Mrs. Pac Man, that is), the Princess Peaches of the world have until recently usurped them in popularity almost every time.
The fact that the majority of these characters are created by men who have no understanding of female autonomy doesn't help (to those who do -- keep rocking!). Thus, objectification is normalized, and the Atrean cycle of misogyny is spurred on.
So the Evie Fryes of the world are a victory for women in gaming -- but we're still far from reaching gender equitability. So what will it take to up the ante (not to mention the standard) for gender equality in gaming?
"Social media has given female gamers a platform from which to speak to developers directly," asserted Maggs, "where we might never have been noticed or heard before, we are able to tell them what we want and why we want it -- and it's apparent they're listening."
Keep on giving 'em hell, and see you at E3 2016.
Stay tuned for more E3 2015 coverage all week from TechTimes and T-Lounge.