Women were the visual representation of some of E3’s biggest games this year, from The Last of Us to Assassin’s Creed. What should be unremarkable news – women, we exist – is rendered noteworthy as this follows on the heels of Gamergate.
Rising to prominence in 2014, Gamergate was ostensibly centered around ‘ethics in video game journalism.’ In reality, their attacks centered around prominent women in the video game industry, from Zoë Quinn, creator of Depression Quest, to Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games and pop culture in general. Even nerd sweetheart Felicia Day wasn’t immune – when she expressed her concerns with the movement, they responded by immediately doxxing her home address and phone number.
It’s important to remember that 2014 start point. On average, a video game takes anywhere from a year and a half to three years to develop, depending on a number of factors. Looking at the big titles, it becomes clear they would have all begun development, at least conceptually, soon after Gamergate. It’s also key to note that Gamergate still hasn’t run out of steam.
The current subreddit focused around Gamergate still stands at over seventeen thousand members. Battlefield’s recent announcement that women will be a part of the shooter series sparked a series of irate reactions that spanned the breadth of the internet, prompting one of the devs on Twitter to respond, “Player choice and female characters are here to stay.” Needless to say, the statement hasn’t gone over well in a certain subset online, with cries of ‘political correct SJWs’ echoing throughout the many chambers Gamergaters inhabit.
“Player choice and female characters are here to stay.”
It’s a movement they cling to desperately. No one can say for sure why Gamergaters are so hostile to outside viewpoints, or why they refuse to acknowledge that perspectives other than their own exist and should be welcomed into the gaming world. What is clear, however, is that game developers aren’t listening, and may be actively rebelling against that rhetoric.
There are a couple of key points to examine at E3.The first was at Ubisoft’s presentation. The Assassin’s Creed series features a choice in protagonist this year, between female and male-presenting. The developers have stated that choice in gender won’t affect gameplay or story at all – even who you can romance isn’t gender-locked. While you could play a woman in previous games, this is the first where you’re offered a choice. It’s also notable that the extended gameplay trailer during the conference was focused on Kassandra, the female playable character. Swinging a sword, she took center stage.
Sony’s press conference offered another notable moment via The Last of Us 2. While it wasn’t a surprise that Ellie, one of the main characters from the previous game, is resuming her lead role, the kiss she shared with another female character was. It was a kiss that didn’t seem rendered towards the male gaze – the characters aren’t scantily-dressed. They’re sweaty and a little awkward and very much attracted to each other. It was a shining moment that contrasted sharply with the later violence, but also showed that a woman in a video game can have her own rich personal life, free of men.
Things are improving, but it’s important to note that the overall number of female protagonists in video games has remained at a steady eight percent, according to Feminist Frequency. In contrast, games where you’re forced to play as a male stands at twenty-four percent. What’s important, then, is not that women are appearing in more games, but that they’re taking more forward-facing roles and being featured in more of the trailers.
The firm stance that game developers have taken in defending their choice of a female protagonists is indicative of a brighter future. As Gamergaters impotently wail into the abyss, I ask, “Please, when will you learn you’ve lost?”