Sexism in video games has been a controversial topic for as long as I can remember. The way women have often been represented in gaming is cruel and unjust.
Developers, publishers, and the marketing team for a game have to be careful where they tread in relation to this fragile subject. When Ubisoft failed to implement a single female playable character into Assassin’s Creed Unity (despite it having 4-player co-op), there was uproar at the reasoning. The programmers argued that the female body wasn’t as efficient to implement and that it would have been difficult to add in to the game. Time constraints, I can understand, but Ubisoft were never going to be hailed as saints regarding this statement.
Since then, it has been announced that Call of Duty Black Ops III is set to provide the player with a choice; in the single player campaign you can either play as a man or a woman. The overall story will remain the same, but there will be a few different lines of dialogue and voice acting from the protagonist. Treyarch emphasised that they took inspiration from Bioware’s Mass Effect games – a series in which gamers can play as male or female Shepard (although it seems to me that fem Shep was a bit of an afterthought, given that she never really had as detailed a face as her male counterpart.) Nevertheless, it was cool to see that playing as different genders would not provide the same results. You could flirt with different people and develop relationships depending on the gender of your character – the same can be said for the Dragon Age games.
But here’s the thing that concerns me. What if developers feel as though they are under pressure to put women into their video games? I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be lead characters – just look at quality titles such as Mirror’s Edge and Life is Strange for proof that it can be done. But what if a story doesn’t need a key figure to be female? Is that sexist or merely a design choice? The same can be said for a man if the roles were reversed.
Why are we really going to get a male and female protagonist in Call of Duty Black Ops III? I don’t want both. I want one or the other. How will the series develop? Does it really make sense to have two different people – a man and a woman – experience the exact same story and situations? It feels as though Treyarch have made this move to hopefully gain some positive publicity. “Look, we put a woman in our video game! She’s the main protagonist no less! But still, we didn’t have the balls to remove the guy entirely.”
There’s nothing wrong with having women in games, but shoehorning them in for the sake of it and hoping to get some good press out of it is to make a mockery of the issue of sexism in the first place, and that’s fairly sickening.
To appeal to a niche market by saying “our lead character is a lady” is to further express that no-one else does it, and therefore to mock the fact that sexism is a problem. To claim that having this unique feature is a good thing is to prove that women are overlooked in video games, and that’s why, with the rise of 4-player games as well as female gamers, developers are falling under pressure.