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The Divnich Tapes: Female Representation In Games Across Genres, Consoles
The Divnich Tapes: Female Representation In Games Across Genres, Consoles Exclusive
October 22, 2008 | By Jesse Divnich

October 22, 2008 | By Jesse Divnich
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[In a Gamasutra-exclusive market analysis, EEDAR's Jesse Divnich studies how women are represented in video games, looking at the percentage of titles that provide playable female characters across home consoles and most major genres.]

With a recent ESA report showing that more than 40 percent of gamers are women, it would only be fair to do a follow-up analysis to see whether our game characters are keeping up with this emerging market.

At EEDAR, we track over 15,000 features for each game, one of which is the “Game Has a Playable Female Avatar” category. Using this data, we can slice it up in ways similar to what we do with NPD data every month.

Here, we will examine the percentage of games within major genres that have playable female characters. Many of you might be surprised by the results, as the data indicates that over 50 percent of games in most genres have playable female characters.

As expected, the genres with the highest percentage consist of titles often described as casual, such as General Entertainment, Social, and Skill & Chance games. The more core genres, like Action, Sports and Strategy, have a fair representation, while the most hardcore genre, Shooter, has the least.

The games that do not follow the above trend are Role Playing Games, as 80 percent of them have playable female characters. This is not too surprising, since most RPGs allow users to not only play as numerous premade characters, but also customize their own. If anything, I am surprised that the category is not 100 percent, but you can thank Opoona, Baroque, Chocobo’s Dungeon, and Two Worlds for that.

Furthermore, here are the percentages between the consoles. Keep in mind that any game that allows you to play as your Miis is considered to have a playable female character, as well as any game that allows you to customize your character through online play, even if the single player portion of the game does not.

What does Gamasutra's readers think about this data? Based on these results, can we conclude that women are being proportionately represented in video games?

[Jesse Divnich currently serves as the Director of Analyst Services at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR). The preceding is the views and opinions of one person and not of EEDAR, The GamerMetrics, or Gametrailers.]

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Jake Romigh
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The thing about RPGs having playable female characters is that most of these games have female STEREOTYPES, more than anything. Tell me if this sounds familiar: busty female magic healer with armor that neglects to cover midsection and/or cleavage.

I am not saying all RPGs support that stereotype, by far. Just an observation that while a lot of RPGs have these female characters, it might not be the best example to follow.

Teri Thom
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Playable Female Character by definition? If you mean simply that you can play a female character, perhaps. But if you mean a female character that a regular person, male OR female, might actually want to play... probably not. We'd rather have strong female characters, not stereotypical ones.

Someone's got to say this too. Categorizing female gamers as being mostly casual, such as General Entertainment, Social, and Skill & Chance games is ridiculous. If that is based on actual gathered data then you're not reaching us with your data collection utilities.

Andy Lundell
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How are "playable characters" counted?

RPG games may have a few female characters, but are they counted if they're not the central "hero" character?

"Strategy" games are even worse. If the player controls three dozen diferent types of characters, and a single one of them has a female voice, does that count?

And what about games where there are no male characters either and all the action takes place as abstract (SimCity) or with genderless robots (Total Annihilation)? Are such games counted at all? Should they be?

There's no comparison against males, why? Is the assumption that all games allow male characters? Or all games that don't allow female characters allow male characters? Either way the assumption is clearly not true.

Sorry, but the methodology behind these graphs needs to be clarified better, and we need to be able to compare and contrast these female-based graphs with male-based graphs before we can really "think about this data".

Jesse Divnich
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I wouldn’t conclude that you could categorize female gamers as mostly enjoying the casual games. We don’t track data on which sex plays which games. But the data hypothesizes that is what our industry believes.

Furthermore, a recent studied showed that 44% of online gamers are female. Of online games, the top category is the “Puzzle, Board, Game Show, Trivia, Card games” category (47%). Only 16% of games being played online are Action/Sports/Strategy/Role-Play. Well not definite, it does indicate that most female gamers tend to enjoy more of the casual titles (as well as male). Since Casual titles target a broader audience, it would only be fair to assume they would include both male and female playable characters.

Plus, a lot of these casual games are also “family games”. Keeping in mind that family game night is no longer huddled around a monopoly board, but rather around the Nintendo Wii. Again, it would only be fair to assume that any game that is looking to target the family audience would include playable characters of both sexes.

Also, keep in mind, that age is not taken into consideration. A 40+ year old female gamer likely has a different taste in games than an 18-year old female gamer—same with male gamers.

Jesse Divnich
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Great question! I will see if I can put together the same graph but with male characters. Will be interesting to see the results.

And to answer your question, yes, if at anypoint in a game, you control a female character, than we check "yes" under that box, even if the female character is not a protagonist character.

Rayna Anderson
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Like Jake mentioned, the stereotypes of the characters in those games would be interesting to know. What about a chart that breaks down the number of games in each category where female characters wear less clothing than the men.

What about seeing if games with female characters have more sales?

Teri Thom
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As a female gamer of the latter category, I would beg to differ on the age difference re: 18 and 40+.

Though it's true the data hypothesizes said assumption, I doubt they've touched such hard-core game sites as womengamers dot com when collecting said data.

Michael Hrechun
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This is a difficult mater. On one hand gender roles in media are often pointed to as a source for reflecting on our collective societal beliefs. How a specific group of people are portrayed in popular media is often used an anecdotal measure of how we feel about them in very basic terms.

In purely statistical terms though I would lean towards saying that this shows a general breakdown of the target audience of specific genres moreso than any profound statement about the state of society and its representation of females in games.

Sean Parton
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Other than that, interesting article. A male counterpart article to this would definitely shed better light to if females really are proportionately represented in video games, though, because we don't know the level of overlap on games that have both, only one, or neither gender playable.

I was going to respond to Jake, but Michael pretty much beat me to it (and far more thorough, too).

@Teri: Do you have any data that would show that the site you mentioned would have any significant impact on a given study (with numbers)?

Sean Parton
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Heh, don't mind my bad introduction to my comment above. I did some last minute moving of paragraphs and didn't reread everything.

Chris Rock
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I think the more interesting question is how many games place female characters on equal standing with male characters?

If the game biases players toward selecting males (like if 9 out of 10 characters in a fighting game are male), then there is a clear bias. If the game itself offers the player an equal likelihood of playing female and male rolls (including games with no genders at all) there is no bias.

Maurício Gomes
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Terri, the article is about FEMALE CHARACTERS not FEMALE GAMERS! Erm >.

Stephen McDonough
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Based on the criteria outlined for judging female character representation in games, I find the data has some unexpected results. I can't think of a fighting game that hasn't had at least 1 female character.

But then, I'm thinking of versus fighting games such as Tekken, KOF et al. "Fighting games" can be a pretty broad category.

Dominic Arsenault
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"Based on these results, can we conclude that women are being proportionately represented in video games?"

Unfortunately, I don't think we can. As Andy Lundell already pointed out, there's a giant step lacking between seeing that there is a controllable female character or not in a game, and concluding that there is proportional representation. For instance, while Final Fantasy XII features an equal number of male and female characters in your party (not counting guests), when you look at the NPCs that have an impact on the game (say, any named NPC), the males clearly outnumber the females. Moreover, the game is told from a male character's perspective (you don't get to choose when you're exploring towns or other non-fighting areas).

Dave Endresak
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I think the issues come down to psychology, not physiology. More generally, they come down to personal preference like most anything else, at least as far as what any player wants their character/avatar to be or to look like.

For example, I knew guys who were big fans of Dragonball in all its incarnations, including games. I could never understand it (and I understand even less why various girls like it, but that's okay for personal preference). I asked them about it, and they told me they identify with and/or envy the guys in Dragonball. Okay... but for me, I identify with various female characters in stories, so that's what I prefer. Not all females, of course - I have preferences, too, even if there is a variety of characters I identify with and like.

Male characters are seldom appealing, let alone realistic. Even after Valve introduced Gordon Freeman as a relatively average guy, albeit a brilliant physicist who is in good physical shape (but not ludicrous and steroid-poisoned), you seldom see such portrayals except for Japanese RPGs where the male leads tend to be slimmer, sometimes even effeminate in appearance, depending on the character designer's style.

Artists such as Satoshi Urushihara (Langrisser, Growlanser, and various manga and anime) can do a wide range of male and female styles extremely well, for example. Having a diversity is probably better, anyway, but it's not necessarily true that "realistic" is preferred or better. The English market seems focused on "realistic" while losing sight of the fact that drawn characters are often most appealing when they are NOT realistically portrayed (Mickey Mouse? Pink Panther? ... most Japanese manga, game, and anime artstyles?) If we look at various male and female artists in any field, we see a wide range of styles and preferences in character portrayals, even if the drawings (or sculptures, etc) are not "realistic".

The English market needs a wider, more diverse range of psychologies in the development community because that would lead to a much more diverse range of offerings whether with respect to visual styles or other areas such as game mechanics, narrative, etc. Similarly, this might open up the English market to a wider range of products from elsewhere in the world, unlike today when many products created elsewhere are viewed as being unviable business ventures in the English market. Likewise, other markets suffer from their own shortcomings, of course, and are often lacking in certain genres and styles that are popular in America and elsewhere. More sharing would level the playing field much better than the current situation where profitability seems to determine what is offered, or at least attempted.