It should be of no surprise that the vast majority of protagonists in video games are male – from Mario to Duke Nukem, Bitterman to Link, girls are few and far between, as shown in this recent exchange between a game store employee, two brothers and their dad. I still haven’t worked out whether it’s a heart warming or heart breaking story.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to argue about a lack of female protagonists in video games. A quick scan down my Steam library reveals a fair few – Still Life, Beyond Good and Evil, The Longest Journey, Recettear, the Tomb Raider series, Portal 1&2, plus all the RPGs where you can be whoever you want. There’s also the vast array of puzzle type games where there is no protagonsit, as such, it’s just a game that you play. You’d be forgiven for expecting it given my recent output, but I am NOT going to do a gender audit on my game library!
I recall lots of my twitter feed being surprised at the revelation that 18% of Mass Effect players choose a female character. “Only 18%?” they cried, “I only know people who played a female character.” This does of course illustrate a sample bias when quizzing your own friends about their play habits.
I was just struck the other day when writing about my top three games of 2011 that all the protagonists were young boys. Is this a trend in recent games, or does it illustrate something about my game preferences? Beyond Quake, my other absolute favourite games of all time are Psychonauts and Magic Pockets – again, young boy protagonists. Clearly my preferences are telling me something. I’m just not sure what.
Is there something else that connects these games, other than the wee lad protagonist element?
I suppose there’s something whimsical about them all. If they’re not fantastical or silly, they’re at least dreamlike. Do developers have to pin their deepest whimsy and lovely to a child? Is that what’s going on here?
It doesn’t seem fair to contrast with games with adult male protagonists, possibly because there’s so damn many of them. So let’s compare with games with girl protagonists. And, erm, that’s “girl” as in female child, not, well, any old female. Off the top of my head I can only think of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. This game sees a young girl take on a shop, ostensibly to pay off her missing father’s debt. The main character illustrates quite nicely, I think, a side effect of the Japanese word for “sweet” being the same as their word for “naive”.
There is also the two Alice games by American McGee – both of which are delightfully twisted, but I’m reluctant to get too excited by these since they’re based on the existing IP of Lewis Carroll.
You know what, I can’t think of a single other game with a young girl as a protagonist. April from The Longest Journey is a student, and Jade of Beyond Good And Evil is hardly old, but neither of those are actually children, unlike the Bitmap Kid, Isaac, or Raz from Psychonauts.
I’m happy to concede that my inability to think of a young girl protagonist just shows my lack of knowledge, so please let me know of any you think of. I’d love to have a go and see if I love them as much as I love the boy games.