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?
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.
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.
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 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.