Video games: where are the female characters?

If video games were initially aimed at a male audience, their influence has been exported far beyond the boundaries of the genre, to the point of making female characters leading actors.

A brave hero, a princess to be saved. As in fairy tales, many video games are based on the scheme – worn out but effective of the damsel in distress rescued by her valiant knight. It must be said that since the 1980s, the video game market has been aimed mainly at a male audience. While the developers were betting big on heroes bursting with testosterone, the female characters took on the role of “engine”, Analyzes Bounthavy Suvilay, author of the book Video game heroines, princesses without distress. Relegated to the background, female characters would only be good for fueling the rivalry between Mario and Bowser, or to act as marketing arguments to convince players to take up the sport in Dead or Alive Xtrem Beach Volleyball.

Free yourself from all stereotypes?

Good news today female characters are no longer limited to princesses in distress and hypersexualized combatants. Without escaping certain gender stereotypes (such as a certain appetite to brave danger in high heels and tight shorts), the representation of women in video games has been experiencing a real revival in recent years. Between the damsel in distress and the warrior, there are many nuances that allow the characters to gain depth and interest. In video games as elsewhere, female figures emancipate themselves, and gain character traits hitherto attributed more to male characters (courage, bravery, loyalty). An evolution that does not however work in both directions.

Fortunately, with the development of video game support, the last few years have seen the birth of the appearance of much less stereotypical female characters. Independent, able to defend themselves on their own and stand up to the villains of the story (when they do not already take on this role), these new inspiring models have nothing to envy of their male alter egos. This is particularly the case of Madeline in Celeste, or the enigmatic Gray in the game of the same name. Beyond these new figures in the video game, other more historical characters are also advancing with their time, going beyond the simple role of princess in distress to gain depth, like Peach in the Mario saga. We will also mention the mythical Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, who for a few years lost her measurements of Barbie and her shorts to turn to a more realistic design, and (a little) less sexualized.

Should we always look like his models?

Despite some clear improvements in terms of representation, the lack of female characters (or diversity among these characters) inevitably raises the question of identification. While young boys are fed on heroic adventures that turn them into heroes, female models seem destined for less chivalrous activities: riding champion in Alexandra Ledermann, secretary of town hall in Animal Crossing, or even a renowned cook in Cooking Mama… Admittedly, video games sometimes look like the pink and blue shelves of a toy store.

© Monolith Soft (Animal Crossing New Horizons)

However, is it necessary to impose perfect parity in our video games? Obviously, no. Moreover, one cannot individually reproach a narrative work for its non-mixing, all the more so if the latter is justified by historical or scriptwriting reasons. “I don’t see why we should force a type of character, or a profile in particular”, estime Bounthavy Suilay. “Some people think that if they are not represented, they cannot play, it is a rather particular mentality”.

© Majeco Ent (Cooking Mama Cookstar)

A priori, you don’t have to be a mustached and belly plumber to appreciate Mario’s adventures, then. On the other hand, the absence of a female role model in video games can become problematic when repeating the same patterns makes the situation systemic. Because if it is fortunately not necessary to look like a video game hero to identify with the adventure he embodies, this situation does not encourage the youngest to project themselves either. Likewise, the omnipresence of male characters can also fuel confusion, comforting potential gamers in the idea that video games still remain today. “A boy’s thing”.

As in any other field, the systematic depiction of the same character profiles would almost tend to convince us that this is normal. It’s not really new, TV and Instagram have long popularized this idea of ​​a unique aesthetic. Logical therefore, that as a full-fledged cultural pop phenomenon, video games perpetuate this (bad) habit.

Pixels have no gender

History shows that a good video game can do without female characters. In the same way, he can also do without male characters… or characters quite simply, as in Tetris. While the majority of games today offer to choose the genre of the main character, some do not even clutter, and offer protagonists without a defined identity, as in the excellent or and Hollow Knight. The opportunity to prove that in video games like everywhere else, the most important thing is not so much to respect perfect parity as to allow everyone to imagine inspiring characters, regardless of their gender, appearance and personality.

Discover Video game heroines, princesses without distress at Ynnis editions

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