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September 3, 2014

The problem with women in games isn’t bad writing

One of the opinions veering on the side of the women-in-games “war” that says representation / sexism isn’t the problem is one that says female characters are badly written, but so are male characters, so the problem isn’t sexism, it’s bad writing. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that writing in games is mostly crap. However, that does not mean there isn’t also a problem with how genders are represented. To me, the sexism / gender stereotype problem isn’t exemplified by bad writing, it’s exemplified by the utter and complete lack of variety.

Name 3 games where the protagonist, a party member or a story-important female NPC was teen-to-middle-aged, but not conventionally attractive (without being a parody)! Unless you dig very deep into the huge swaths of indie games, you’ll have enough trouble finding even one (and even then it probably won’t be easy). Because while most AAA games do indeed have bland, cardboard cut-out straight white male protagonists, most of them have supporting characters and/or enemies that are quite varied — they might be a huge muscle-bound tank, an average Joe, an emaciated mad scientist or maybe even a talking animal. All female characters that aren’t kids or grannies are always average hight, slim, conventionally attractive and in the overwhelming majority of cases dressed in an overtly sexualized manner.

And that’s just the physical appearance. Let’s not even get into the uniform sameness of the female characters’, well, characters.

And the point isn’t that it’s bad — what’s bad is the fact that it’s the only kind of women we get to see in games. Variety is where quality and change is born. The best way to fight both gender stereotypes *and* bad writing in video games is to encourage and support, wherever and however possible, developers who try to create as many different female characters as there are male ones.

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