Yikes. Talk about the one thing you don’t want to be caught saying right now. Dontnod Entertainment, the development team behind Capcom’s soon-to-be-published Remember Me opened up during a very candid interview with Penny Arcade about the difficulties they had finding a publisher willing to help sell their game. The hardest part? Convincing a publisher that the game was worthwhile even though it featured a female protagonist. *faceplam *facepalm again
Creative Director Jean-Max Morris explains that by the time the game was being shuffled around and pitched to publishers, it was too late to change protagonist Nilin from a woman to a man, not that the team had any intention of doing so regardless. Because of this, some publishers refused to pick up the project. According to Morris, “We had some [Publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.’”
In response to such an atrocious attitude toward the situation, Morris wisely responded saying, “I’m like, ‘If you think like that, there’s no way the medium’s going to mature.’”
“There’s a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it’s not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don’t know, that’s extremely weird to me.”
Wow, folks, I’m nearly speechless. Not surprised, by the way, just speechless. Now, before we go huffing and puffing and blowing publisher’s doors down, let’s think about this for a second. I recently poured all my efforts into an editorial tackling the issues currently facing our industry. Among other things, I spoke about this issue specifically; the treatment and handling of women in games. I mentioned how our industry was slowly progressing, with new technological advances shifting the focus from fast-paced action to more narrative-centric experiences allowing for the better treatment of female characters. I also spoke about how the big publishers who have the money to take creative chances, like Capcom, are doing so in small doses. In that respect, I’m proud of Capcom for supporting Dontnod’s vision and allowing them to develop the game they sought out to make.
But there are a couple other parts to this equation as well. Before we throw stones at the publishers for being sexist and refusing to market or support games featuring female leads, let’s remember one thing: We, the consumers, vote with our dollars. Now, I’m not totally shifting all the blame onto gamers for the current state of the industry, but frankly, we do have to accept at least some of the responsibility. We know that publishers, and the game industry in general, is a business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, businesses exist to make money. Now, we may not have openly communicated to publishers that we refuse to buy games featuring women, but we sure explained it quite clearly to their money counters. What are the highest-grossing games of all time? Halo, Call of Duty, God of War, games starring Mario. Starting to see a pattern? They all feature generic male characters playing the hero, or in Kratos’ case, the god-slaying antihero. The only game to feature a female protagonist that even comes laughably close to standing on the pedestal of “millions of copies sold” is the Metroid franchise, which features a fully-armored bounty hunter. Seeing as how most businesses commonly follow the practice of “Hey, look at that thing that’s selling like crazy! Let’s copy that verbatim and hop on the money train,” it’s pretty clear why publishers, who are hoping to make as much money as possible, would be hesitant to feature a female lead in their potential blockbuster; a project in which they are spending millions of dollars. I’m not excusing the publishers, seeing as how they’re the only people who can actually make the decision to be progressive, I’m just saying that we have to accept some responsibility ourselves and be willing to be vocal, and actually spend our money, to show our willingness to change things for the better. Which brings me to the other part of this puzzling equation: Perspective.
Let me ask you something: When you play a video game, what is your relationship to the protagonist? Do you place yourself directly in the characters shoes? Or are you a passive observer, looking over the hero’s shoulder and assisting them on their quest? Think hard about your answer, because it’s another reason why publishers are afraid to give our digital heroines the proper respect they deserve. For some reason, publishers are convinced that we play games pretending to be the hero on-screen, and that we cannot separate their in-game actions from our own. Morris told Penny Arcade that publishers who rejected Remember Me explained to him that players will reject the idea of doing things from a woman’s perspective. “We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’” I hope the majority will agree with me that this is a completely absurd notion. Even if you’re the type of person who puts yourself in the shoes of the main character, you’re not actually becoming that character, right? You’re simply playing from their perspective. So, as a man, when I play as a female character and she develops a relationship with a male character, I don’t personally feel the same way about that character. There’s no awkward sexual tension between me and the virtual man my character shows interest in. I don’t feel uncomfortable seeing her show emotion or sexual attraction for a male character, because it’s not calling my own sexual orientation into question. If you truly play games to experience role-playing different characters, then you have to be open-minded and willing to see things from perspectives outside of your own. That’s a completely reasonable assumption, is it not? I’m not sure who these publishers talked to, but I have a feeling they’re simply watching Call of Duty soar across the sale charts and assuming that the majority of gamers are frat boys just spending their college days playing online with buddies across the dorm instead of studying for exams, and that’s simply not the case.
I hope you lads and lasses feel as strongly about this as I do, because Morris just helped shed light on the exact problem facing gender inequality in games. Now that we’re keenly aware of publisher’s perception of us as gamers, we know what we need to do to change their minds and create a more inclusive experience going forward. So, let’s start showing publishers we’re not only ready, but demanding of creative risk taking. Let’s destroy the notion that having a game starring a female protagonist is a risk at all. Let’s prove to them it’s just “another game like any other,” one that we’d be willing to purchase so long as it’s well-developed and fun. Once we start putting our money where our mouth is, whilst still using our mouths to cry foul of this ridiculous sexism, we will convince publishers they can profit just as much from a game starring a women as they can from a game starring a man.