Of 59 new video games showcased at this year’s E3, only three percent featured exclusively female protagonists, according to a survey compiled by gaming non-profit Feminist Frequency. In other words, just two games — ReCore and Horizon Zero Dawn — have female leads, while 24 games had male protagonists. That’s a significant drop from last year, in which 9 percent of games shown had female leads while 32 percent contained male main characters. A majority of the remaining titles, both this year and last, let players choose either gender while playing or the gender of the character is unspecified.
Feminist Frequency, founded by critic Anita Sarkeesian, examines the gender balance at E3 as a function of measuring representation. The survey only counted games shown onstage by Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Bethesda, and online during Nintendo’s live streamed press conference. While a blog post accompanying the survey makes sure to point out the games presented by these companies “don’t reflect the sum total of video games or games culture,” they are a “strong indicator of what some of the most powerful forces in the industry consider emblematic of the best and most exciting things that gaming has to offer.”
“Games continue to reinforce the cultural notion that heroes are male by default.”
“This massive discrepancy means that for now, games continue to reinforce the deeply entrenched cultural notion that heroes are male by default. We live in a culture that regularly encourages girls and women to project themselves onto and fully empathize with male characters, but rarely encourages boys and men to fully project themselves onto female characters,” Feminist Frequency’s post reads. “When players are encouraged to see a game universe exclusively through the eyes of a humanized female character, it helps challenge the idea that men can’t or shouldn’t identify with women as full human beings.”
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