Making Heroine

Characters in all my released games.

One fact about my

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games that has never been pointed out to me by a fan or peer is that my games don’t have female characters in them. That image above is all of the characters in my completed

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games. Over the 11 finished games I’ve made, there is not a single female character. I’ve thought about the reasons for this, and I’ve come to a few conclusions as to why this seems to be the case:

1. I’m male. This is probably the biggest reason–I’m a male who knows what it’s like to be a male, and I tend to like playing as a male in the games I play; hence, I make characters in my game male. This mostly explains why my protagonist characters are male, but it doesn’t do a good job explaining why all other characters in my games can’t be female.

2. I’m scared to draw women. This is because people are very sensitive to how female characters are portrayed–however, this isn’t the case with male characters. I can essentially draw whatever I like for a male character (huge upper-body? Check. Big muscles? Check. One eye? Sounds good! Wings? Might as well), and there isn’t a second thought as to whether it is a “fair” portrayal of a male. Because I don’t draw humans, it’s difficult for me to give a “womanly” feel to a character in any way other than to make their hair longer, add breasts, or simply refer to a character who looks genderless as a female. As a result, it has simply always been the case that a male/genderless character will be easier for me to make.

3. Most of my characters don’t have explicit genders. Enemies and other NPCs aren’t referred to by “he” or “she” in-game, and I don’t tend to make human characters that would be easy to identify by sex. However, I can say that I’ve always considered the characters in my game not to be female, and this is mostly for reason four, below.

4. Making women characters is too frequently seen as a statement. This, I believe, is because most characters in games tend to be male–thus, making a character female means there must be a reason why they’re female. Frequently, the “statement” is seen as a misogynistic one. For example, I remember hearing that Spelunky, when it was released for Xbox 360, had a few articles claiming that its use of the “Damsel in Distress” trope (portrayed as a blonde woman in a red dress) was misogynistic due to the fact she could be thrown around and killed like other objects the player can pick up. In reality, I see where they’re getting that reasoning, but there wouldn’t have been an uproar if Derek had just decided to make the character male. This is a big reason why I don’t make my characters female: it opens the door to a conversation about sexism in my game that I never intended to start.

That last conclusion, I believe, is the sneakiest, most damaging reason why I don’t put women in my games (and why I think others might not as well). Most of the time, making a character female is optional. Because of the negative attention that your game can draw as a result of unintentionally portraying a female character inappropriately, it’s often worth it to just make all your characters male or genderless–I know that I want people to talk about the gameplay, narrative, and other parts of my game and not about whether the portrayals of women are appropriate or not. This fear on the part of game developers, I think, is keeping games from moving forward in terms of their portrayals of women because it is frequently not the case that developers can casually make characters female without making sure to determine if all of the actions done in relation to the character are not sexist.

Note: this all applies to race as well as gender.

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