An unpopular opinion: don't force female characters into video games for the heck of it
I hate myself. That's the only explanation I have for why I, a white male, would tackle the subject of playable female characters in video games. Whatever. Bring on the sh*t storm.
Female characters in video games. It's a big issue with the video game industry right now, which at times plays out like a Little Rascals episode. He-man Woman Haters Club, am I right? Simply put, there are plenty of female gamers out there. They get treated differently than male gamers because this is a male-dominated industry, and popular culture deems it more acceptable for males to be gamers. There's more male gamers, which is why there's more male lead characters in games, and the females that are in games are overly sexualized. Female characters have to be sexy, because something something teenage boys, hormones, and ad dollars.
We all know there's a problem, but I don't think public outcry and forcing developers and publishers to have female leads in their games is the right solution.
You need to have a character that fits the story you're telling. In books and movies -- good ones, at least -- the decision to have a male or female lead character is determined by the author for what best suits the narrative. Could The Catcher in the Rye have had a female main character? Sure. But that's not how the author wrote it. How do you think J.D. Salinger would have felt if everyone went on Twitter (pretend they had Twitter in 1951) and said that The Catcher in the Rye should have been a choose-your-own-adventure so the reader can decide the sex of Holden Caulfield?
The answer is not in every game giving you the option to play as male or female, but creating more narratives for games that feature a strong, female lead. In the case of Ubisoft not having female assassins in Assassin's Creed Unity because of resources and animations, that's up to them. Complaining about it won't make much of an impact. Ubisoft has no incentive to devoting time to female models/animations because gamers will still buy their game, with or without female characters. Studios like BioWare manage to create stories that are gender neutral. That's what they do; it's a priority of theirs. It's unrealistic to expect other developers to have the same priority, and to be fair, they shouldn't. If they don't want to make video games with female characters, they shouldn't have to. And if you don't like it, don't buy their games.
This is a double standard for the video game industry. Like I said earlier, no one does the same thing for film and literature. On one hand I understand the double standard; those other forms of media aren't as interactive -- you're not playing through the story. On the other hand, strong-arming change doesn't create real change. I think it has to come naturally.
If you want the gaming industry to change, you need to be the change. Support the games that have female protagonists (the good games... not just any game). With Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, there's no excuse for developers that want more female characters in video games to not make those games themselves. If there's a demand for more female characters, then those games will happen. If they aren't backed or supported, then why are we having this argument anyway?
My point is this: if there's better games out there with female lead characters, then there will be more in the future. I recently reviewed Transistor and raved about the story. While the narrator is male, the main character is a voiceless female. But even without a voice, she's an impactful female character. Having that character be male wouldn't have made as much sense to me. The story wouldn't be as meaningful to me had the gender of Red been switched. Make more games like Transistor. Gamers can want choice of what their character's gender is, but it's not always up to the gamer. It's up to the creator.
Meanwhile, discussion never hurts. Leigh Alexander is an advocate for more female characters in games. She has a strong opinion and creates some wonderful discussions. Definitely read her work and follow her on Twitter. Of course, feel free to discuss below. I understand it's the internet and all, but let's try to be adults. Agree?