It’s no secret that the gaming industry loves the heterosexual white male protagonist. While some steps have been made recently to break the mold (both in the gaming industry and in a larger pop culture context), of the most popular games of 2016, white men were often the featured protagonists.
Female players make up nearly half of the gaming population, but a paper published in New Media & Society reveals that nearly 90 percent of primary game characters are white males.
Don Reisinger of Fortune reported on the most popular games according to data from the research firm NDP and the results might not surprise you. Of the top three games – “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” “Battlefield I” and “Tom Clancy’s: The Division” – all of them featured a white male in a main role.
To be completely fair, some had multiplayer or differing story options where players could choose from a variety of characters, but giving players the option to choose from a diversified range of characters is different from actually giving them one intersectional character to play. It’s the same idea behind letting players choose between a male and female character, like many RPGs have done for ages, versus forcing the player’s hand in choosing a female protagonist.
But that’s an issue for another blog.
Setting the issue of diversified men aside, if you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know I’m in favor of more female protagonists in video games. So I’ve compiled a list of gaming’s top five intersectional women to increase awareness and to advocate for a future where not just more women are featured but more intersectional women are featured as gaming protagonists.
Aveline de Grandpré ~ “Assassin’s Creed: Liberation”
A mixed race Assassin born of a wealthy French merchant and an African slave, Aveline is a badass lady whose biracial and multinational identity is an integral part of her quest to liberate New Orleans from Templar influence. She recognizes many of the contrasts in 18th century American society and works to correct them, as much as she is able as one lone Assassin against the innumerable and immeasurable forces of injustice and oppression.
Chell ~ “Portal” series
While little is actually known about the “Portal” and “Portal 2” protagonist, the video game canon has generally concluded that Chell is of white European and East or Southeast Asian descent. She is also most likely the daughter of an Aperture Science employee with strong ties to the company as their number one test subject and as one of the only living employees/characters encountered in the game’s universe.
Clementine ~ “The Walking Dead” series
Simultaneously the cutest and most badass zombie apocalypse heroine I’ve every had the pleasure of playing, Clem is the most notable character out of the entire “Walking Dead” series, one who keeps coming back even when other characters drop like flies around her – or like distressed humans being eaten by their undead brethren. Although the Walking Dead wiki lists her race as African American, I’ve, personally, always believed her to be at least partially Asian. From the first episode of Season One, it’s apparent that she is of a middle class suburban background, but everything about her life pre-apocalypse is either assumed or dropped in hints throughout her interaction with Lee and other characters. Regardless, she’s an emotionally deep and incredibly real girl who players watch grow throughout the Telltale series.
Faith ~ “Mirror’s Edge” and “Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst”
Another badass gaming gal of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent, Faith Connors is the protagonist of the dystopian “Mirror’s Edge” series. In both games, she makes a living by running from an overzealous police force all while jumping, kicking and flipping her way in style through the City of Glass. Her story changes pretty dramatically from “Mirror’s Edge” to “Catalyst,” but Faith’s appearance and kickass attitude stay consistent. If anything, Faith becomes even cooler in the reboot as her hand-to-hand combat and parkour skills are revamped for the Frostbite 3 engine.
Nilin ~ “Remember Me”
I did a lot of scouring to try to uncover the actual racial makeup of Nilin, but as far as I could tell, she was only ever listed as “of a mixed ethnic origin.” While a lot of people on the internet were curious as to her official racial identity, a lot more seemed to think it didn’t matter. However, I say it does matter. While her ethnicity may not have played a large role in the game – as Connor’s Native American heritage did in “Assassin’s Creed III” – I still think it’s important to note racial distinctions because a deliberate diverse choice is better than the vocal equivalent of a shrugging emoji which is passed on as an attempt to minimize the effect of a potentially impactful choice.
Even as I wrote this list, it became apparent to me that nearly all the characters that I chose – based on previous playing experience and critical commentary – were of a mixed racial or ethnic background. While I’m not saying that a mixed racial or ethnic identity is not important, I just think it’s something to note that game developers and designers felt they needed to throw a bit of white in with their diverse characters in order to get players to connect with them.
And if that doesn’t say anything about the state of female diversity in video games right now, I don’t know what does.
This isn’t so much a critique of the women in video games right now as it is a reminder that while we all work towards increasing female representation, we can’t just throw more white women at the problem and assume that fixes it.
If we truly want to increase female representation, then we need to take a long look at the intersectional makeup of our society and try to design and develop characters that reflect our multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, complex and beautiful female identity.
So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.