Hay Ladies!

by Steve Bowler on May 15, 2008 · 24 comments

in business

Randall Munroe over at the always kickass and occassionally deep webcomic xkcd posted some interesting stats over on his blog last month, where he asks his readers to quickly name a recent popular movie that had two female leads as the top billed stars of the movie.

Naturally, it’s a trick question, as the stats reveal that in the past 4 years (encompassing 80 movies going by the top 20 per year), there has been two movies that fit that billing. And since I rarely see films, I can’t think of what they’d be (they were in 2006, incidentally).

Furthermore, the data reveals that the overwhelming majority of films were M/M billed or M/F billed, and of the M/F billed films, the vast majority of those were female love interests to a male protagonist.

It’s kinda sad, really. And while Randall laments the kickass action films we’re not getting featuring River Tam and Beatrix Kiddo, I have to ask, where are the videogames that do this?

Surely an industry with top billed heroines as popular as Lara Croft and…uh…wait…no, she wasn’t top billed…the X-2 Final Fantasy Girls? Maybe whatserface from Heavenly Sword? No that wasn’t very blockbustery, uh, how about that one chick from Resident Evil. Yeah, her. Wait, SAMUS. Yay I got a second one! Surely our industry would be able to fill that void, but apparently, it can’t. Or won’t.

I’m left wondering, is this data a reflection of the industry, and a fear to put bold female characters as leads in top tier action games? Looking at the past few ginormous blockbuster releases, I’m not seeing even a token female playable character within the rogues gallery of protagonists.

  • Gears of War: No.
  • Halo3: Newp.
  • CoD4: Nada.
  • GTAIV: Bzzt.
  • Assassin’s Creed: No, and
  • Bioshock: also no.

We have to look to titles like Metroid (where you don’t even really see much of the female for most of the game and we don’t get to see much of her character develop) or a fighting game like Super Smash Bros. Brawl before we get to the female characters (and before anyone thinks they can trump this argument with “but there’s females in the multiplayer,” please, save your breath. Say it with me: Pro-ta-gon-ist). I suppose we could include Mass Effect, even though the main character is more of a player selection, but even if we decide it fits the bill I think it becomes obvious that the data is fairly similar to the film data.

So is this trend a reflection of the industry’s executive decisions, or is this data (the lack of strong female lead protagonists) a reflection of the buying habits of the consumers (which drives the executive decisions)? Are men the predominant buyers of action games? I suppose it’s safe to assume so, I’m sure I’ve read metrics which support this at some point in time, but do women who buy these kinds of action games feel left out? Are there enough of them to make a difference and sway the decision-making process? And most importantly, would switching the main character to a female one increase sales of the title, or would the predominantly male buying audience shy away from the title and thereby hurt sales?

I personally would love to see a game with Beatrix Kiddo and River Tam kicking 8 kinds of ass sideways, but I’m not the market these kinds of games are being sold to. The question is: Would a female lead action game be able to sell just as well as the successful male lead titles, or did Eidos get lucky with Tomb Raider?

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