The push to have a more diverse range of characters and heroes in our games has been quite powerful over the last couple of years. Especially in the independent space, and especially in encouraging a broader range of female characters from all walks of life.
There has been a certain resistance to this from some corners. Thing is, I don't really know why. I prefer games with female characters. Given the choice between a male and female avatar, I will always choose the female character (hi, female Shepard, you're the best!), and I always find myself preferring the female characters in games with ensemble casts like JRPGs and RPGs.
So this week I figured that I would narrow down ten reasons why I do prefer games with female characters. You'll find those reasons below. Does a character's gender mean much to you? Do you tend to gravitate towards male or female characters? Let us know in the comments!
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first - as a heterosexual male I am genetically predisposed to find the female form more pleasing on the eye. That's not to say that this is the only reason that I prefer female characters - as the reasons below show. Nor would I like female characters if there were nothing else to the character than their physical form. But it's a basic reality that I find women attractive, and therefore given a choice between an attractive male and female character, all other things being equal, I will always opt for the latter.
2) I also prefer the female voice
As much as I like voice actors like Nolan North, David Hayter and Liam O'Brien, the likes of Laura Bailey will always win out for me. This is especially true for American voice actors, where I do prefer the female take on the accent. I don't know if this is again a biological pull, or a reflection of how I generally prefer melody to bass, but regardless of the reason, it is what it is.
3) Female characters tend to be written better
This is obviously a sweeping generalisation to make, because there are obviously plenty of incredibly well-written male characters, but because there are relatively few female characters in games at the moment, when a game developer decides to create a female character, they tend to be more aware of that character and put more effort in to her. Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, Juliet Starling in Lollipop Chainsaw, and the various leads of the Atelier series are all examples of characters that I do believe were so compelling because the creative leads were so aware that they were female characters.
4) Female characters tend to come with more interesting gameplay
Another broad generalisation, but for some reason game developers tend to use the existence of a female character to come up with different gameplay mechanics. I always think of Aveline from Assassins Creed: Liberation when highlighting this trend, because while her game was the most limited of the series, the way it used costume changes to give Aveline some unique approaches to the games challenges is something that wouldn't have happened if there was a male lead. I do think it's vaguely irritating that developers feel the need to have female characters player differently to male characters, as it suggests some kind of inherent difference between men and women which isn't necessary, but I do appreciate the unique experiences nonetheless.
5) Niche games just love having female leads
I like niche games - JRPGs especially. It's a reality that game developers and audiences tend to like female characters in these games, which is why I end up playing a lot of games with female characters, a lot of these games are personal favourites of mine, and so I end up liking games with female characters. It's almost odd now when one of these niche games has a male character.
6) Female characters have an opportunity to make me think about gender
Not that there are many signs of this happening yet, but games, being interactive, have the potential to allow men to experience what life is like as a woman. And vice versa. This in turn has the potential of encouraging people to start to be empathetic towards people of the other gender and their experience of the world, and in the longer term this could be a powerful tool in encouraging a greater, broader, equality between the genders. Now this hasn't really happened yet, but it's inspiring to think about how it might.
7) Online, female characters tend to get treated better
Or they do in MMOs at least. Despite everyone assuming that people who have female characters are, in fact, male (I guess I'm part of that reason), I have nevertheless noticed that, perhaps unconsciously, other players tend to respond better when they encounter female characters. People are more willing to help me out and more forgiving when I screw up. It's not a massive difference, but it's noticeable, and so I will always play a female character in my MMOs now.
8) Female characters encourage female game developers
This industry still has a ways to go before it's truly egalitarian between the opportunities offered to female developers and designers when compared to male developers and designers. But, as we develop a more diverse range of female characters, we should also see more opportunities start to crop up behind the scenes, as more female creatives find opportunities to be a part of this growing body of female heroes. So I like playing female characters in my games because I know it encourages more women to want to be a part of the industry itself.
9) Female characters represent a maturing of the industry
When the overwhelming majority of lead characters in games were male, it represented an industry that was, effectively, a boy's club. It was men making games so men and boys could indulge their fantasies, and consoles may as well have had a big "no girls allowed" sign stuck on them. With more female lead characters now we can see the games industry maturing as an art form. It's no longer a toys industry aimed at boys, but rather a proper entertainment and arts industry where developers can target different segments of the community and more people can enjoy their games.
10) It's just plain cool to kick butt as a woman
The best female action heroes - be it the aforementioned Juliet Starling, or Lara Croft, Bayonetta, or Nariko from Heavenly Sword, are all graceful, powerful combatants. They dance in and out of their enemies, blasting them away with impunity just as well as their male counterparts. At the same time, the best developers of female characters also know to add some grace and light movements into the mix, replacing the raw anger of male heroes like Kratos with a deadly elegance and speed that is mesmerising to watch.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld