E3 Features Few Female Characters
E3 Features Few Female Characters

Even though women don’t usually grace E3 stages, there are a growing number of women in games.

E3, the gaming world’s industry-only megacon, was held this week, and with an extremely limited number of games featuring female protagonists at all, lesbians are entirely absent from the show’s big press conferences. While this kind of exclusion is sad, it’s not surprising. In fact, the complaints levelled at this year’s convention — like the fact that there were more severed heads in trailers than women — are a tired story that female gamers hear every year. We, the gaming industry jumps to remind us, are not gaming’s core audience — so on gaming’s biggest stage of the year, we see a parade of the same old gaming concepts where your options are between playing a white male protagonist or not playing at all. Even though 48% of game players are female, the people who make and market these games are predominantly men and it shows in the games we see.

This year, we saw Lara Croft become the only of gaming’s many action heroes to go to therapy. On one hand, it’s a more sensitive portrayal of violence than is usually portrayed by gaming — yet on the other hand, it shows one of gaming’s few women as a vulnerable creature being told what to do with her life by her male therapist. Ubisoft showed off a Rainbow Six: Siege where male characters get to play a sort of capture the flag type game… except instead of a flag, you’re vying for control of a female hostage. And when talking about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the latest in a franchise that has featured female protagonists in the past, Ubisoft explained that it was just too much work to add a playable female character.

But while gaming continues to be less progressive than other entertainment outlets, there’s room for hope about gaming’s less-sexist future. Also gracing the E3 stage was BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, the latest in a series that lets you choose your character’s gender and sexual orientation. BioWare’s games typically offer players options so they can see themselves in the game, regardless of their own gender or sexual orientation — and games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have been big commercial successes as well.

So why aren’t other developers following suit? We did see some female protagonists on the E3 show floor. Beyond Lara Croft — who will probably kick a lot more ass in The Rise of the Tomb Raider than the trailer gives her credit for — there’s Dead Island 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel which offer two female player options, Mirror’s Edge 2 features female protagonist Faith, Alien: Isolation lets you play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter from the Alien movies, and even shooters are getting in on the game with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Tom Clancy’s The Division letting you choose female avatars.

Gender — and sexual — equality hasn’t reached gaming quite yet, but women aren’t entirely absent, either… even if they are absent from the E3 stage.