Have you ever looked up a top games list and felt a weird sense of pride when your favourite game was featured? If you are like me, you might never have realised that few of these games have a strong female lead character with a rich background story and motivation for her goals.
The importance of this cannot be understated.
In 2020, the PC and mobile gaming industry was worth 114 billion US dollars, versus 42.2 billion US dollars for the movie industry.
Needless to say, gaming has a huge influence on our generation and what we perceive as the norm, especially under a global pandemic when we are spending more time than ever glued to our screens.
Research has shown that the number of women gamers is growing faster than men, rising by 19% last year alone. In mobile gaming, girls are a particularly big audience. For example, 60% of girls aged 10-15 in the UK play phone games, compared to just 55% of boys.
Over the years, the world of video games has become more welcoming to women. Perhaps this is why the number of girls studying gaming at university is rising (reaching 11.5% in 2017), which is an uplifting trend towards gender equality.
Women have a larger role in the gaming industry than is often recognised, working as animators, designers, and programmers, as well as directors and voice actors. Female gamers are also increasingly prominent on sites like Twitch, where they account for 35% of all streamers.
Despite this importance, women are still underrepresented—a mere 28% of those working in the UK gaming sector are female.
This is problematic, because women have been part of gaming since the 1980s, creating iconic games like Centipede and Portal.
In fact, the perception that gaming is only for boys became common in the 1990s. It’s such a pity that this bias exists, given that studies show younger children care little about the gender of the characters they play.
Game studios are keen to capitalise on the upward trend towards better female representation, so we are seeing more titles with strong, interesting, capable female protagonists who are not simply a re-skin of male characters.
Here are my personal top picks for recent games showcasing this trend.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn is set in a world overrun by mechanical dinosaurs (imagine Shadows of Mordor with robo-dinosaurs—how badass is that?). The main character is Aloy, a girl who is trying to learn more about her past. Aloy has been praised as a relatable, competent, well-written character. Combining the stereotypical topic of choice for young boys and an empowered young woman, this is a fantastic representation of gender in gaming.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Action-adventure platform game
The main character of this amazing sequel is Faith, a parkour courier turned freedom fighter. As a skilled acrobat, Faith can perform dazzling manoeuvres like jumping between rooftops, running across walls, and sliding down zip-lines. Guns have been removed from this game, so the player must use Faith’s agility and creativity to achieve their goals.
Action-adventure, third-person shooter
In a reversal of expected tropes, Jesse, the main character of Control, is trying to find her missing brother. Jesse is a skilled agent who must utilise her incredible psychic powers to investigate a secret government agency and defeat a strange paranormal phenomenon. Great story, great gameplay—what more can you ask for?
Virtual-reality, first-person shooter
This game is the long-awaited newest instalment of the legendary Half-Life series. You play as Alyx, who must work together with her father to free the Earth from an alien invasion. Boasting amazing details and interact-ability, this is an utterly amazing virtual reality experience that everyone should try (you can use markers to draw on windows and that’s not even part of the game!).
Looking at titles like those above, it is inspiring to see a better representation of women in gaming. Activists credit this welcomed change to the studios.
“We're seeing better representation because we have more diversity in the people who are creating the characters. Some of the better examples come from the indie game space, and I believe a big part of this is that the indie scene is friendlier to developers who aren't just straight cis men,” explained Adria from Women in Gaming.
Women should feel welcomed and represented, with access to the same fun, empowering games that are available to boys. Apart from my sister — I’ve told her that Civilization is currently broken, so please don’t let her know. I’m not ready to lose again!
Written by Ben James, as part of his regular RARE Youth Tech column.
You can find more information on the topics covered in this article here: