Top 5 intersectional women in video games

Or why a “color-blind” approach to women in gaming isn’t going to cut it.

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.

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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.
Source: Valkymie.tumblr.com

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.

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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.
Source: Walldevil.com

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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.
Source: Secondtruth.com

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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.
Source: Thatvideogameblog.com

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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.
Source: Wallpapersite.com

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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.
Source: Wall.alphacoders.com

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.

more intersectional women

The secret history of video game advertising

This blog has become more of an outlet for all my video game frustration than a place of discussion and learning, but who says it can’t be both?

Way back when I first started this blog, I may have mentioned the fact that my original concept for this experiment in self-actualization included a discussion of a paper I wrote for my English 105i class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Obviously, I’ve deviated considerably from this intent statement, but there are still some important points I would like to address regarding that paper and what I learned while writing it.

And the first is sexism.

Sexism in gaming is an incredibly broad topic, one that cannot be comprehensively tackled in one, two or even sixteen (now seventeen) blog posts . Anita Sarkeesian, gaming’s fearless godmother, and many others have tried tackling this overarching topic but even they have just barely scratched the surface of this pervasive norm in gaming culture.

In this entry, I’m going to narrow the field a bit and talk about sexism in the early days of gaming, or more specifically the marketing strategies used to sell video games in the 90s and how those tactics spawned the toxic reality we now live in.

A good chunk of my paper focused on this topic with nearly all the research pulled out of a Polygon article entitled “No Girls Allowed” by Tracey Lien.

In it, Lien discusses the “chicken-and-egg” marketing strategy that led early developers to target male players.

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Source: Polygon.com.

Basically, early polls suggested that a large part of the early consumer audience were teenage boys. Marketers then took that information and intentionally crafted their marketing campaigns and products to cater to that audience. This led to a cyclical loop that reinforced stereotypes that men were the only ones playing video games, which increased their numbers in poll results which lead to more targeted campaigning, and so on and so forth.

A lot of earlier advertising techniques were incredibly sexist, using sex and violence to sell exclusively to boys with little regard to any female audience that might want to play these games.

Note: some of these pictures are hard to look at. Not just because they’re overtly sexist and piggishly disgusting but because they are mind-bogglingly forthright in their quest to disregard female audiences and cater exclusively to males.

This just makes you think, what advertising executive signed off on this degradingly sexist display?

Even today, when the ratio of male to female players is almost one to one, there seem to be a lot of games with commercials and advertising campaigns meant to emphasis the maleness of those games.

“Call of Duty” is a franchise with a history of catering specifically towards a male audience with little regard to potential female players. Even games with female leads, like Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” for example, focus almost entirely on the men in the game.

Don’t believe me?

Both the E3 cinematic and the US debut trailer make absolutely no mention of the playable female character. Even the “Syndicate” box art mostly features the robust and rugged Jacob Frye rather than his badass and beautiful twin Evie.

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In case you didn’t see her, she’s off to the right and easy to miss if you don’t know who you’re looking for. 

And Jacob is the only Frye in this trailer, despite the fact that they play equal roles in the story. 

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Erik Kain of the game section of Forbes magazine devotes an entire article to the sexism in the box art of a game that focuses equally on both Jacob and Evie, yet fails to include Evie in most of the box art and promotional features.

These are the kinds of subtle advertising techniques that perpetuate sexism in an industry that is just starting to outgrow its early sexist stagnation.

While I can offer no outright solution to this problem in gaming, I can conclude that this disturbing trends needs to change, especially now that there are more games with female leads coming out every day.

“Rise of the Tomb Raider” and “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Mass Effect: Andromeda” and “Dishonored 2” all feature female leads in some capacity or another. And we should showcase these women and all the others to come rather than burying them in an onslaught of marketing and advertisements meant to cater to men and only men.

Just for clarification, this post definitely isn’t a cry to have more video games cater to women exclusively because Lord knows what kind of disaster marketing execs would come up with to address “female needs.”

In this day and age, when our children are still separated by colors, I don’t want to imagine what stereotypical depictions those execs and the game designers they work for would try to pass off as the female ideal.

Just make more games with female leads and use them in advertisements. Focus on the women just as much as the men and try to be as inclusive as possible.

Continue making the games we love, but don’t blot women out of the picture because we’re a growing demographic. And one day you might regret cutting us out of the picture.

But for now we’ll just game on.

Let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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