Women are front and centre in our new generation of video games

When everyone plays, we all win.
PlayStation Women Next Generation PS5 Heroes

Several months after the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, we’re starting to see a steady stream of new generation games starting to filter through. Not only that, we’re starting to see a change in the depiction of plucky protagonists and valiant heroes. More and more, studios are taking a chance on new IPs and the characters designed to lead them. We are starting to see a dynamic shift in the archetype of your usual, cut and paste, grizzled protagonist. While there is always room for a strong male hero, the fact that we are seeing more innovative characters shows the trend towards diversity in video games. It is no surprise that male leads outnumber the female leads and while there are plenty of games that feature multiple character options, there is still a severe lack of female representation as the sole lead protagonist in video games. Luckily, it appears that a transformation has begun to take place with the new generation of consoles, and more studios are developing impactful female lead characters. This is a huge step in the right direction towards equality and representation in video games.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, however – the number of women gaming has steadily increased over the years. In fact, it was only this week that Sony revealed that 41% of PS4 and PS5 gamers are female. Comparatively, during the PS1’s reign throughout the 90s, that number sat at 18%.

Next Generation PlayStation Women Heroes

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Enhanced representation of complex female characters is important to video games. Women have been asking for this for years, tired of seeing a lack of female icons or seeing women sexualized, playing a minor role, or simply being a trope or stereotype. While we have seen steps in the right direction in the form of Lara Croft, the ladies of Resident Evil, Ellie from The Last of Us, etc. this needs to be a continuing trend rather than the exception to the rule. As the gaming industry continually evolves, we are starting to see that studios are beginning to take notice, and in creating characters or a narrative that is not appealing to women, they are completely missing out on a large population of gamers. This inclusive shift is a much needed breath of fresh air on the journey towards creating a more equal gaming environment.

Square Enix appears to be taking this concept head on with the recently released trailer for Life is Strange:True Colors, set for a release date of September 10, 2021 . The Life is Strange series is an emotional, character driven narrative with supernatural elements. The focus appears to be on a character named Alex Chen, a young Asian-American woman who comes from a foster family. Alex has been away from home for a long time and reunites with her brother after eight years. When her brother has a mysterious accident, Alex decides to look into it, using her unique empathic powers to find the answers. This is a new protagonist in the series whose strength – and in fact her story – comes from her understanding of emotions and people, as she tries to solve her brother’s death. It’s a significant departure from the typical “just attack things” mentality of many games. Square Enix is also taking the next-generation of gaming in the right direction by having their lead be an Asian-American woman.

Returnal Selene Wallpaper

We are also seeing a change right now with the recent release of Returnal, Sony’s brutal albeit rewarding PS5 exclusive. This game is a third-person shooter taking place in a science fiction world in the future, but what really stands out is its lead character Selene. Rarely, in these dark types of game do we see a sole female protagonist. Those who probe into Returnal’s hidden lore will discover the cryptic bond Selene has with her a mother – a unique narrative thread for a AAA blockbuster exclusive.

Indie studios have long been champions for inclusivity in games, without the pressure usually placed on in-house devs by their proft-chasing publishers. Ember Lab, which started as an animation studio turned game developer, will be releasing its first game titled Kena: Bridge of Spirits, which has already racked up a huge amount of excitement. This game looks like a Pixar movie come to life but feels like something out of the Zelda franchise, with its brilliant colors and unique adventure gameplay elements. Here the lead is Kena, a young woman who struggles, learns, and grows, but she is by no means weak. We cannot wait to see more from this game when it is released in August 2021.

Kena Bridge Of Spirits Characters

There are numerous other games to mention that I would like to highlight which are truly breaking the mould and taking female representation to the next level, along with the new generation of consoles. Another new release from Square Enix was announced, titled Forspoken, which has a female lead in Frey Holland, as she enters the world of Athia. We also have seen a female Lombax, Rivet, appear as a key character in the upcoming Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. Oh, and let’s not forget Lady Dimitrescu; the newest villain from Resident Evil Village. We are even getting to see a return of past iconic female representation with Aloy returning for Horizon Forbidden West.

With the next generation of gaming finally here, it is outstanding to see so many studios providing a wider range of female representation. While we have had strong, powerful women leading games in the past, it happens so rarely. These upcoming games offer much more diverse representation across various studios and genres, while ignoring female tropes and accepting these characters as people before genders.

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8 Comments

  1. Excellent this is finally going in the right direction. Mind you, there’s always been some fine exceptions to this. My favorite game of all time, Alien:Isolation of 2014, also had a single strong female protagonist, Ellen Ripley. But, of course, given what the movie Alien did in this respect in 1979 already, it was the logical choice. Just shows how much ‘Alien’ was ahead of its time.
    Still, this whole Gamergate phenomenon and the unbelievable backlash people like Sarkeesian typically get prove how much more progress is needed.

    • Actually, I think this has been going on for a long time. It seems we are moving away from having any sole male leads at all. If Days Gone 2 ever gets green lit it will almost certainly be with a female protagonist. Just to correct the mistake it was to have a male protagonist (a white one) in the first game.

      Not trying to sound like keyboard warrior but the constant ‘women are under represented in video games’ gets to me, when the opposit is clearly the case and has been for a good while.

      I use to choose female characters when given the opportunity in the past. Now it’s the opposit as there are plenty of options with female leads.

      As for the 41% female PS5 owners, a lot of that is more than likely down to moms buying for their Kids. Owners are much easier to measure in number. If they could find out the number for Boys and Girls playing those ps5s bought by moms, that would be interesting.

      @ andrew

      Sarkesian is a clown. She only became known when some idiots attacked her online.

      • The numbers simply don’t support that, but there has been a strong shift in the last couple of years. It’s still not comparable, and we’re not talking about a ‘mistake’ when there’s a cis white male lead in Days Gone. It’s not about removal, it’s about the levelling up of women, as well as those from different backgrounds, sexual orientations and ethnicities so that they’re at the same level.

        That might mean that there’s fewer white male leads than we would have seen five years ago, but when there’s been a monopoly in place, that group is going to see it as a reduction. We’re hopefully moving towards balance – a place where everyone can see themselves in the different media they enjoy, men and women, adults and children.

        I don’t think that many, if anyone, answering a survey about personal console ownership would cite something they’ve bought for their child as being theirs. I wouldn’t say I personally own 500 plastic dinosaurs, despite the fact I did pay for them. Perhaps if the question was about ‘consoles in your household’ that might be a factor, but the data seems more focussed than that, and that requires some interpretation. You seem to be deliberately minimising the idea that over 40% of PS4/PS5 owners could be, or are, women.

        Personally, I think it’s fantastic that this brilliant hobby is being appreciated and experienced by everyone. The more popular it is, the more games we’re going to see, with more variety, and each game’s community will be all the more vibrant. I can’t see any of that as a negative.

        Whatever your opinion of Sarkeesian, it’s a simple fact that women in gaming, and women within the gaming industry, receive an abhorrent amount of abuse, scrutiny and criticism that their male peers do not. This needs to change, and the increase in female gamers will hopefully be a step on the road towards that. Recognising it and challenging it is another.

        If you’re interested in some of the gender lead stats, this link was helpful: https://www.statista.com/statistics/871912/character-gender-share-video-games/

      • Well said, Dominic.

  2. As for Sarkesian, I’m just saying that she is not important and she doesn’t deserve the attention she has received.

    And I just can’t buy into the victimizing of Girls and women in games. Everytime I read about it it just seems like an identy ‘creation’ more than an actually existing problem. Mind you, I’m not saying there isn’t toxicity in game. There is – and to great extent, I’m sure. Everyone’s a bitch.

    As for the leads in games, my interpretation is that the correction of the ‘mistake’ of a White male lead is catching on and will continue to do so. Mainly because every industry is extremely frightened of the public opinion that seems controlled by excessive political correctness – a political correctness that is a one way street. It will end up being removal – expecting it not to happen is under estimating the power of political correctness.

  3. More diversity and better representation is great to see. It’s about time.
    I always thought Lara Croft & Jill Valentine were so badass on the ps1.
    I’ve not had the pleasure of playing Returnal yet but I’m really looking forward to it.

  4. Thicc chonks are still severely under represented, both male and female. When are we going to see a hero who enjoys a slice of pizza rather than one who seemingly works out at the gym every moment he or she is off screen? Hmm?

    • I really enjoyed playing through Uncharted 2 as Doughnut Drake. I was sad they removed that option in future games. I’ve looked for the option in character creation screens for different builds but even there, there’s always nothing.

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