Life is Strange and So is Discrimination Against Female Protagonists

lifeisstrange

In recent news Dontnod studios, the developer behind Remember Me, revealed that their newest game, titled Life is Strange, was turned down by many major publishers due to the playable character being a female. Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider) is to publish the game, having no issue with the female lead, but they weren’t the first publisher that Dontnod went to, merely the first to actually wanted to publish the game. In a developer diary Jean-Maxime Morris, Dontnod’s creative director, stated that Square Enix was the only publisher who didn’t want to change a thing about the game;

“Square Enix were basically the only publisher who didn’t want to change a single thing about the game. We had other publishers telling us to make it a male lead character, and Square didn’t even question that once.”

Moris also noted in an interview with Penny Arcade in 2013 that Remember Me had similar issues in development, specifically that publishers didn’t want to take on a game with a female lead. There was also an issue with the lead of Remember Me kissing a male character. Some publishers felt that their was no way a game in which male players have to play as a female who kisses a male could be successful. Moris states that,

“We had some that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'”

“We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin’s private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy. We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward. I’m like, ‘If you think like that, there’s no way the medium’s going to mature’. There’s a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it’s not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don’t know, that’s extremely weird to me.”

Capcom picked up Remember Me, also taking no issue with the female lead, and the game’s lack of success had little if nothing to do with the female lead according to reviews and player commentary. This story is such an odd one that when I first heard it I was a bit taken aback. Given that it seemed to me like female leads in video games were on the rise, I found it odd that publishers would turn a game down simply because of a female lead. After looking into it more and becoming more familiar with the story, I became furious. Not only do Moris’ comments on the issues surrounding the game’s publishing raise the issue of sexism in gaming, it also draws attention to the oft brushed aside issue of homophobia in video games.

Since the dawn of gaming, video games have pandered to a male crowd. It made sense for a while since the majority of gamers were men at the time (probably because they were the only ones being marketed to, you don’t see men buying Revlon products do you?) but now reports state that women make up approximately 50% of the gamer community. Even more interesting is that adult women make up a larger percent of video game players than boys under 18 years of age. So pandering to men is pointless now as there are pretty much just as many women playing video games as men, right? Wrong, apparently, as this kind of thing keeps happening. It’s bad enough that some developers are choosing to stay away from creating female playable characters because of the perception that men wont buy the game, now publishers are refusing games that actually are creating female characters by saying that it has to be a male lead or the game wont succeed. I’ve been gaming for 20+ years and it sickens me that the fact that I have to constantly play as a male is fine but being a male and playing as a female is unwanted and therefore shied away from. I don’t mind playing as a male character, it doesn’t bother me, so why is it assumed that men have a problem with playing as female characters?

Genderingaming

On top of all that we have the issue of homophobia, that men don’t want to play as a female character who has any kind of romantic interaction with a male because they themselves are heterosexual and that would be “weird” for them. Here’s the thing: in a study focused on the demographic of gay gamers, or “Gaymers”, it was reported that the gaming community has just about as many homosexuals as it does heterosexuals. This means that homosexuality is not foreign in the gaming community, there are plenty of homosexual gamers, so assuming that all male players are automatically heterosexual and would therefore feel “weird” playing a female who kisses a male is not only silly, it’s shortsighted. How many gay main characters are there in video games, not including the ones you get to make in RPG’s like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls? I can’t think of a single one aside from those who “may or may not be”, ie their sexuality is left up to the player’s imagination. That’s not saying there are none, but if I can’t think of one off the top of my head then it’s an issue of there not being very many at all. It all concludes that the idea that homosexuality is “wrong” or “gross” is not only prevalent in the world we live but also within video game development.

So why am I furious? Because when sifting through these articles and figuring out what happened I started to ask myself “what is wrong with me?”. Not “what is wrong with me?” as in I have a medical issue, but “what is wrong with me?” as in why am I, a female, not wanted? Why is my gender so ridiculous that publishers don’t want it leading games? Due to this, I have begun to take this issue very personally; because it is personal. It’s not that these characters are simply unbelievable or unrealistic (because we all know video games are so realistic and always believable), that they don’t fit into the game and therefore need to be changed, it’s that they are women. End of story. It makes me mad that it is the year 2015 and this is still an issue. This is still something I have to be subjected to daily, and it’s not just ignorant YouTube comments – it’s video game publishers. It’s hard not to start seeing yourself in a poor light when almost all forms of media perpetuate the idea that women are lesser than men, women are unbelievable as leads, women cannot be “strong” characters, etc.

Really though... What the hell?

Really though… What the hell?

Let me shed a little light on my personal life for you. Throughout most of my teenage years and leading into my adult years I have had serious issues with the way I view myself. It took some time to realize what had happened to me, me a young kid who didn’t care what people thought of her and didn’t worry about appearances. Why did I end up looking in the mirror and hating everything I saw? I did end up figuring it out, the media subconsciously drilled into my head that I was worthless unless I looked a certain way. They gave me examples of how I should look based on celebrity appearances, they wrote articles and had talk shows highlighting how women need to look and act, and they never once had anyone who looked anything like me or acted anything like me on the “pretty girl” list. Now, things have changed a bit but the fact still stands that media angled at young women, for the most part, draws a picture of thin, beautiful women as what is normal. If you are not thin and beautiful, you are not attractive and will never be happy.

After constantly being implanted with the idea that since I didn’t look like Britney Spears or Avril Lavigne, both women who were fawned over by boys my age at the time, that I was worthless. Whether or not anyone ever saw me as less because I didn’t look like Avril Lavigne is unimportant, because I saw myself as less because of it. Over time I have come to realize that I have serious psychological issues because of this. I constantly – as in multiple times a day, every day – think about how ugly and/or fat I am, I don’t believe people when they tell me I look nice or that I am pretty/skinny and assume they are lying to avoid being honest and hurting my feelings (as if anyone could hurt my feelings more that I hurt them), I buy clothes that are too big for me because that is how I view myself so nothing fits right and I don’t bother with dressing up or wearing trendy clothes because it wouldn’t look good on me anyway. Paired with social anxiety, this disorder wreaks havoc on my life and issues such as these forming in video games only makes it worse. I could previously avoid negative thoughts by immersing myself in something gaming related (an article, a forum, etc.) but now it only makes matters worse to do any of that.

The reason I am telling you all of this is to emphasis why the issue of a publisher not wanting to publish a game is so personal and infuriating. This is a symptom of the bigger issue our society faces in regards to sexism and misogyny. It’s not just publishers, it’s not just developers, it’s not just gamers – it’s all those things, it’s the gaming community as a whole. Here’s an example, on the Dontnod developer diary I linked to earlier in this article the first comment is “Soo can I kill something in this game …or” to which another user replied “no but you can get [a] period in this game….so”. It’s clear that there are people who don’t want women in games and it’s not just any one person, it’s an ideal that lives within this community from the bottom up and it’s killing me. I feel like I am suffocating on the sheer amount of sexism supported by misogyny supported by inane comments like the one on the video. It’s like there is no end and I am just drowning in a sea of oppressive thoughts and propaganda that seeks to make me feel even less like a person than I already am.

MorriganDisapproves

The homophobia is hurting me too, not because I am homosexual and find it personally offensive on that basis, but because it hurts to see people treat those in the LGBTQ community like they are just as much garbage as I am for being a woman. I can in a way relate to the torment they feel because I too feel it, just for different reasons. These ideas and actions hurt so many people and I just can’t stand it anymore. There is nothing wrong with a female lead, there is nothing wrong with a male lead, and there is nothing wrong with a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender lead yet apparently the idea there is something wrong with two of the three of those things is prevalent within this community. Video games as a medium shouldn’t be limited to starring heterosexual male leads or pander to heterosexual male players because that is not the community. That’s a portion of it, and a portion that there is nothing wrong with, but it is not the entirety of the community and shouldn’t be treated like it is.

One thing that I am having a hard time with is why men aren’t more upset about all of this. Are men ok with being treated like they can’t differentiate what is real and what isn’t? Are men fine with the assumption that they can’t separate the real world from the world of games, making it weird for them to play as a female because they are a male? Do they want people to assume that can’t think for themselves or make their own decisions so publishers should have to make it for them? I should hope not, because I believe that men are more than the mindless, sex crazed animals that the media (including video games) acts like they are. When you break it down and look underneath the words and the excuses for those words, it’s clear that the video game medium has a lot of stake in sexism. Assume that all men are ok with that and want it to be a part of this medium because “ew girls” is absolutely tragic, and it’s even more tragic that a lot of men seem to miss this point and roll with it.

I’d honestly like to know who the publishers who turned these games away are, so that I can actually have a thing to be mad at that isn’t the entire community of which I am a part of. Gaming is supposed to be an escape for me, I love to immerse myself in fantasy worlds and take a breather from the toxicity of real life, but lately it’s worse that real life. I used to enjoy the community too, talking to other gamers and making new friends with similar interests, but now it’s just so hard to enjoy anything because right around the corner is something new to rub in my face. Something that further clarifies my insignificance within this community because I am a female. I used to be more social within the community but now I avoid forums as well as comment sections on articles and prefer to play single player games in which I don’t have to have any interaction with people in the community. It’s easier for me at this point to distance myself from this community all together, which shouldn’t be the solution to this problem. I know I am not the only women with these experiences so it’s not just me that is in pain, there are a lot of people feeling the same way and it’s simply not fair.

I feel you, Liara.

I feel you, Liara.

I seem passionate it’s because I am and I am not hiding it anymore. I’m angry because I care, I’m sad because I am hurt and I keep trying to fix things and failing, it kills me to give up completely. More and more I am faced with these gender issues along with comments telling me to get over it or that it doesn’t happen often or that it’s not a problem. So not only am I having to deal with the issue itself, the community decides to pour salt on the wound by making me feel like I am overreacting to the issue. The issue that directly affects me and my representation within video games, something that I love and cherish, is brushed under the rug and I am accused of creating problems where there “aren’t any”. While I wrote this article to discuss my thoughts on the issue, I had no intention of writing about the personal things that I disclosed. I started crying while writing this because I felt so hurt for various reasons and thought that including some background on me, a background that I am positive can be related to by a lot of women within this community, might help you to understand why I am so hurt. I don’t plan to stop fighting, that wont solve anything and it would just make me more upset, so I simply vow to try to my hardest to see this behavior, these sexist actions, cease. Video games are for everyone not just one outdated demographic, I hope one day people accept this and stop discriminating.

20 thoughts on “Life is Strange and So is Discrimination Against Female Protagonists

  1. This was a good read!

    “One thing that I am having a hard time with is why men aren’t more upset about all of this. Are men ok with being treated like they can’t differentiate what is real and what isn’t? Are men fine with the assumption that they can’t separate the real world from the world of games, making it weird for them to play as a female because they are a male? Do they want people to assume that can’t think for themselves or make their own decisions so publishers should have to make it for them?”

    My big issue is that, despite being obviously unfair and unjust, it is ultimately not an action taken by the publisher to be expressly anti-women or anti-homosexuality; in this case, both are merely direct byproducts of being pro-money. Most marketing is anti-intellectual, appeals to emotions and baser instincts, and balanced around often out-dated societal views. Most publishers, no doubt, follow the money and that means creating a marketable product, not an artistic work that they think won’t sell enough to justify their costs or trying to move the medium forward, socially or otherwise.

    It also means not producing a product they can’t be sure about selling. Most businesses operate fairly conservatively, so they want proven commodities. It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but decades have proven that male-dominated, male-centric, and stereotypically male games are winners when it comes to profit. Proven sales records will trump whatever demographics you throw at them, though I imagine (and hope) that their firm grip on outdated notions of the average gamer is beginning to slacken. Though, our major publishers are over-consolidated, so I have to imagine they are extra risk averse and slow to embrace any real progress …

    When it comes down to it, money runs our society from the top to the bottom – that’s just the nature of capitalism – and I am pretty worn down about being angry about that. I definitely want my media to represent a wide collective of all people, especially when all people are consuming that media, and I certainly want my publishers to view me, as a male, as someone other than a homophobic, gun-loving, sex-obsessed gorehound.

    However, if my ‘representative’ government doesn’t even reflect the citizens it claims to be representing, then how can I expect my media to?

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    • I think men don’t speak because we’re afraid. There are a lot of perks for conformity, but also as a culture to identify as a traditional male typically means you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no middle ground. When it comes to sexism, we’re either for it or against it. So for men to rail against being treated like unthinking brutes who need to be pandered to, there has to be no risk of being seen as soft (a feminist, a white knight, etc).

      But there’s another reason I think more men don’t speak out and it’s because of our own lived experience of sexism. A lot of the time men simply don’t see that anything is wrong with this. A video I recently posted gave an allegory of a restaurant with a sign on the door that says “Closed”. Those who are already inside eating see the sign from their side as “Open”. They cannot understand why the people on the outside are upset that they can’t get in. This, I think, is the experience of sexism for many men. We just don’t see what could possibly be wrong.

      As for gamers in the community, I’ve seen a lot of men shrug this off because no only do they see something’s wrong with this picture, but they also believe that the best thing to do is just ignore it. Their rationale is that this will go away if we don’t give it attention, if we all just see “people as people” not as men or as women. These are nice guys, but I think we misjudge the damage doing nothing actually causes.

      Mostly, though, I think it’s just fear. I believe most men are just afraid to standout because our lived experience with sexism tells us that we’ll be ridiculed for it and that even the women in our lives would question us for saying anything at all.

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      • I think you’re right, and it’s sad that a lot of men feel that way. Mainly because if they gave it a chance and branched out they would find that most feminists and feminist communities are really welcoming of men who want to help the cause. There definitely is a stigma though that if a man voices an opinion that advocates for women’s rights that he is somehow immasculated on the spot. It shouldn’t be that way.

        Thanks for the great response! This really does give a lot of insight as to why men act the way they do in regards to feminism in gaming. I often ask myself why men are so combative of equal rights and this explained a lot 🙂 I only hope that in the future we can push past these fears and stigmas, leading to a more equal playing field for men and women in the gaming community.

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    • Thanks for the great response! Apologies for my late response to this, but I agree with you in that publishers are looking for the money and so they are trying to market towards where they assume the money is coming from. Sadly this hurts both men and women as men are further stereotyped as mindless, sex-crazed animals and women are pushed aside as an unimportant minority. One can only hope that the future holds a better outcome for both genders in the gaming community.

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  3. Great read.

    As a male gamer, I have zero issue playing a game as a female character. Tomb Raider is a great game, and playing as Laura is no different than playing as Nathan Drake to me. I even play the Atelier games, which have you playing teenage girls.

    In Dragon Age Inquisition, my character is a female elf. In Destiny, I have a female Hunter and Warlock.

    In The Last of Us, my favorite sections were the parts playing as Ellie.

    I think it should be up to the developers; whichever fits the story they want to tell best. Publishers don’t know what appeals to me.

    Sometimes I’ve been known to take issue with some of the gender talk. Most notably with Assassin’s Creed Unity. I hated that Ubisoft was taking a lot of crap for not having an playable female Assassin character (mainly because the series has been one of the more diverse around). If there is an option to create a character, then I think players should always be able to create a female character. I favor create options whenever possible. But for something like Unity, it’s the story of Arno, and the developer’s made him a male character and he’s the only character you’ll ever play as in that game.

    In the larger sense though, I’m with you. Publishers shouldn’t try to dictate that a lead be a male. That’s nonsense. I’ve certainly never heard any of my male friends say “oh that’s the game with the woman character? Yeah, I’m not going to play that.”

    If the gameplay is good and I can fun with it, I don’t care what gender, race, or even species the character I’m controlling is.

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    • I agree with your feelings about how publishers shouldn’t be the ones dictating how a game is made or what gender the main character is. Since publishers are really only in it for the money, they don’t have the right to hold any power over the creative nature of the game. That is all on the developers and always should be.

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    • I personally almost never chose woman avatars. I think because I mostly play all of my characters as me or some variation of me and I identify as male. However, in games where switching genders makes a difference, I definitely try both sides equally. That’s pretty rare though 🙂

      The Assassin’s Creed issue, though, wasn’t as you just described it. The issue was that in the multiplayer mode, in which players can choose their character, ALL of the choices were men. And then Ubisoft themselves made the statement that they didn’t have the resources to make a SINGLE woman character. That’s what the issue was. The controversy wasn’t that Arno couldn’t have a female equivalent for the singleplayer campaign.

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      • I typically play as a female myself, considering I identify as female, so I feel you there. Though lately I have been trying to do both, for example in DA Inquisition my first character was a female elf mage and my second is a male elf rogue. It’s nice to get different perspectives and play differently in that respect.

        As for the AC issue, I’m fully aware of what that was all about and even wrong an article sharing my opinion on the matter 🙂

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      • But you don’t choose a character in Unity’s multiplayer. You’re always playing as Arno; singleplayer and multiplayer. I always thought they made that pretty clear, so never understood the outrage.

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      • The “outrage” mostly centered around the fact that, since you can’t play as the other characters and they are basically skins, why can’t one of them have been a female? Not to get too off topic since I have a post already dedicated to the AC issue, but really what bothered me most is how Ubisoft handled it. They have the worst PR responses imaginable, and not just in regards to this issue.

        Instead of saying that there isn’t a female because it’s a male-centric story or because that is not the direction they wanted to take, which would have made way more sense and been way more acceptable, they went with the “uhhh idk we just don’t have time to make female characters because it’s hard or whatever” response. I just think that, lack of playable females in that game aside, they just suck at coming up with legitimate responses that don’t make them sound like a bunch of lazy buffoons.

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      • @Gary: I second what Kelly has said, but the controversy was as I described. A google for word from Ubi on this is quite clear: the multiplayer allowed changing of player skins and among those options there was no woman. The controversy came when Ubi ponied up the lame excuse of “too much extra work” after having crafted FIVE male skins, even if based on a pre-made (Arno) character. The general outrage is the blind sexism: that women characters are THAT unimportant in character development as to not merit the effort to make an appearance in an array of 5 characters. I think they put their foot in their mouths but I also think they know that now in hindsight 🙂

        Still, there was no controversy about having a female alongside Arno in the main campaign. This was only related to the multiple avatars in multiplayer (coop to be specific).

        http://www.polygon.com/e3-2014/2014/6/10/5798592/assassins-creed-unity-female-assassins
        http://tay.kotaku.com/why-assassins-creed-unitys-controversy-is-a-controvers-1589742869

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  5. Great article until you labeled it homophobia to not want to have a romantic relationship with a man lol. People like to get immersed into games and if someone can’t get immersed because they don’t want to romanticize the same sex then that’s perfectly normal. Seriously, the word homophobia is idiotic.

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    • It wasn’t said with the intent to generalize all men, just the men who have blatantly stated that being a woman and having a romantic relationship with a man in game would be weird for them because it’s “gay”, which is something that I have personally witnessed on various occasions.

      Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the word either considering how silly the concept of “homophobia” is and how it is not a fear, but it fit given the subject matter and made it easier for readers to understand what I am saying.

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  6. A lot of people don’t like Life is Strange because of its homosexual propaganda.

    Also, please don’t be delusional. Homosexuals only make up about 3% of the human population. That means that the vast majority, 97%, are normal or heterosexual. So please, stop with your heterophobia.

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    • First of all, this article was written well before Life is Strange ever came out, so there was literally no information about homosexuality in the game at this time. The mention of homosexuality was strictly in relation to Remember Me and is contextually described within the article so please read it again.

      Secondly, “homosexual propaganda”? Life is Strange offers players the choice to kiss Chloe or not, which I assume is what you are referring to, if you choose not to then the character of Max can only be seen as heterosexual unless the player chooses to create their own narrative. That’s hardly “propaganda”. Also, considering that the kiss with Chloe can easily be taken as a silly kiss between friends rather than a homosexual event based on player actions, any assumed homosexuality is strictly within the mind of the player.

      Lastly, I never claimed otherwise as far as homosexuality and percentages go. The only time I bring something similar up in this article is in relation to gamers specifically and I linked an article that supports my claim. Calling me heterophobic is simply ludicrous, honestly, and so is calling me delusional based on something i never said/claimed. If you feel the need to put me down in any way to make some kind of point on this old article, all I can say is you wont get very far. Also, if you have a problem with the LGBT community and/or homosexuality (which I assume you do based on your comment) then this simply is not the blog for you and I suggest you take your readership elsewhere.

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  7. I have to say this all sounds sort of foolish to me. I play TERA which is a open world Korean MMORPG with alot of awesome races. You make your own character with many options. Once in game and out of the character creator you will certainly find one thing. About 80% of players use Female Characters. I do not want to sound sexist here but this is my opinion, I being a strait male would rather look at a female on screen , I like video games with female leads and often wont play a male based game. I look for games that allow me to make my own character or have attractive designs (not just the least about of clothes) I also play Monster Hunter 1 Dos Tri 4 etc and find its about 50% female to male character ratio there. I dont play FPS type games because I feel no connection to my character. When I play a game I want to care about my character ,and since a big muscle guy is not my thing its hard for me to connect.

    As far as the kissing part goes. It would not bother me but Im pretty secure ,but from a fathers of 2 girls prospective it would depend on the context of the kiss and how attached i feel to the character mentally.
    Any dads or moms out there know they dont want their kids smoothing up on others unless its the right person the game would have to convince me of that. I really feel I rather have choice what romance my character chooses otherwise it could get awkward or weird.

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