by Taylor Morgan
Quick: Name as many female video game characters as you can. Got them? Okay! Now name as many female video game characters as you can who are the playable protagonists.
There are only a small handful of female protagonists in video games, and the most visible ones, such as Lara Croft and Samus Aran, are hypersexualized.
The reasoning for the lack of adequate female representation in gaming has been attributed to the assertion that the culture of gaming itself is predominantly male. But recently, it has become clear the women make up nearly half of the number of all so-called “regular gamers.” Yet with each passing year, more and more titles continue to feature only men. Last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, for example, allowed you to play as Catwoman for only about ten percent of the game, and even then, she was dressed head to toe in impractical clothing and was heavily sexualized.
Thus far, the only studio that seems to really be making strides in terms of female representation in gaming is Bioware. The Canadian company has been responsible for several highly praised RPGs, such as 2003’s Game of the Year Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect. In all three series, the game allows you to choose the sex of your playable character, and the events that follow throughout the games are tailored to fit that choice. Although I am saddened by the fact that there seem to be no games in which wonderful, multi-faceted female protagonists are the default option or the only option, I sincerely applaud Bioware’s efforts to open up the experiences of their series to both sexes.
Of series mentioned above, I have found Mass Effect to be the most engaging. It is a multi-dimensional science fiction odyssey featuring the exploits of Commander Shepard and her or his fight against the threat of the mysterious, ancient beings known as the Reapers.
Jennifer Hale, one of the eminent voice actors of this generation, has given life to what I feel is the most well-rounded, engaging, and frankly inspiring characters in video game history. She gives the Female Shepard (FemShep) both the gentle side of a human being and the rough edge of a soldier. Her performance is so engaging that I find it difficult to imagine that the “Default” Shepard is actually male.
And therein lies the problem. Although FemShep is as equally valid and option as Male Shepard (BroShep), the latter is seen as the so-called “default” option. He is also presented that way by EA Games, which splatters BroShep on all of their marketing. Only with the release of Mass Effect 3 earlier this year did they even create advertisements with FemShep; even then, the box comes with BroShep on the front, with the option of taking the sleeve out of the box and turning it around to feature FemShep.