The Choice to Be Female – And Why It Matters to Me
As an avid gamer, I’ve become pretty invested over the past few years. I’ve especially learned to love single-player games that have a beginning and an end, and there’s a reason for that.
The first single-player game that I actually played and finished was Tomb Raider (2013). It’s a reboot that examines how Lara Croft became the Tomb Raider that everyone knows from the previous games. You play through her growth as a character, and how she started as a new archeologist that is thrust into this terrifying, life-threatening situation. This game was what made me realize how much I had previously avoided single-player games because most of them have a male protagonist. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to find something else that had a female lead like protagonist like Tomb Raider. I came up empty-handed, with the exception of role-playing games like Dragon Age or Fallout where you pick what gender your “titled” rather than “named” character is.
I started to think about how important it is to have some point of being able to identify with and care about the character you’re playing and their story, and look back on my history of gaming and the types of characters I played. Even when I was ten years old and playing Unreal Tournament bots, I chose the all-female faction Venom so I could play a female character. Ever since I started playing more games in general, I gravitated toward female characters, even in games where there isn’t a role-playing element, such as League of Legends or Overwatch. I will play male characters if I like their gameplay, but am less inclined to even try them in the first place.
There are a few reasons why I would want more games to incorporate the option of a female protagonist, more games that ship with a female-only protagonist like Tomb Raider, or provide more female characters to play:
I have always strongly identified with being a woman, and understanding what women are capable of (which is anything!). My perspective has always been firmly grounded in that core fact of who I am and guides my life. I think it’s why I feel so strongly about feminism.
When playing a game where you have an avatar that represents you (or the character you have created), it is possible to form very strong connections with those characters. I connect very strongly to my characters in most of the games I play. I spend hours with the same character, it’s important to me to find a connection, and that they feel “just right” for me. They develop their own personalities, whether from a role-play standpoint or not, and I find it very hard to create and play a male character that gives me that same connection.
I got The Witcher 3 for free with my graphics card about a year ago. I had heard good things about it, so decided to download it and try it out. Unfortunately, because the main protagonist you play is a man, I had a really hard time immersing myself into the game and ended up leaving it within an hour or two of picking it up.
On the other hand, there’s Fallout 4. I know there are a ton of other elements to a game that make it immersive and enjoyable, but that first step of creating my own Sole Survivor that looked how I wanted her to was incredibly important to my enjoyment and immersion, especially when I spent over 100 hours playing that same character.
In World of Warcraft, if you want to raid, it’s pretty important to choose a character that you like enough to level to 100 (by next expansion 110). You have to grind out dungeons and quests to get enough gear, then raid every week for however long the tier lasts. To spend that much time with a character, you have to be pretty sure it’s a character you actually like, right? My rogue in WoW is a character I loved enough to level to 100 while playing another character in raids, spend time to gear, and then raid with her. After I stopped raiding, I still do all of my achievements, world questing and gold farming with her because she’s a character I connect with a lot. I couldn’t imagine spending that much time if I couldn’t choose my characters to be female.
The biggest point of all of this is choice. I want to have the freedom to choose who I want to be in these games. It’s part of the experience, and being unable to represent myself how I would like can really affect whether I’m going to play your game or not. Removing the choice to choose your gender (and the majority of the time, this means the character you’re playing is going to be male) tells me that the industry doesn’t know its audience — and is deterring women like myself from buying that game in the first place. The most obvious solution for me is to have the majority of games provide that choice to their players. I would love to see more characters like Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect that canonically have no gender, and their gender is always chosen by the player in their own game.
I know I’m not the only woman that loves games that feels this way. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.