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%.
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.
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.
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.