A study revealed at a Games Developer’s Conference panel, via Polygon, yesterday, points to the fact that the rather universal notion that a game can only sell well with a male lead is simply wrong.
Rosalind Wiseman and Ashly Burch conducted a survey in spring of 2014, asking middle school and high school students a number of questions all centered around gender and gaming. They found that while 60% of high school girls prefer playing a female lead, only 39% of high school boys prefer a male lead. 46% of the high school boys said they have no preference at all.
So basically, male leads in games actually alienate more women than they manage to attract men.
Speaking to the difference in preferences, Burch said “It’s terrifying to imagine that your game’s not going to sell. But it could be that we are falsely attributing the success of past games to things that don’t actually matter to the kids that are playing them.”
Continuing on with the study, Wiseman and Burch asked if the students identified themselves as a ‘gamer.’ Even as both genders showed equal levels of knowledge and investment in video games, 65% of boys said yes to the title, while 65% of girls said no. Pointing to the fact that 86% of boys asked wanted to see more girls playing games, Wiseman and Burch suggested it is the vocal, less-progressive minority, embodied in GamerGate, that makes girls uncomfortable accepting the ‘gamer’ title.
“We have this perception of what ‘gamer’ means, and what people that associate themselves with that title think it means,” Burch explained.
“You’ve got kids who care deeply [about games] but don’t feel that they have a voice,” Wiseman added.
The authors concluded by pointing to the growing number, and success, of female leads in movies and comics, specifically with movies like Frozen and the wider use of characters like Black Widow. “There are more and more titles with female leads, and it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do… It’s because they know that girls have purchasing power, and they want more girls buying their comics. Because girls are nerds, guys, and they want to buy your stuff.”
The industry-wide problems Wiseman and Burch refer to are very much real. 2013’s Remember Me was notorious for having trouble finding a publisher because of the game’s female lead. Dontnod, the developer behind Remember Me, had just as much trouble with their female-led newest game, Life is Strange, which only just came out in January. Meanwhile, death threats rain down on anyone who cries foul, let alone anyone who dares make a game with an all female cast.
As a purely personal note, I sincerely hope developers take the study done by Wiseman and Burch to heart. The industry needs more of this: