The increase in gender-neutral gaming
Along with the rest of society, the gaming industry has had to come to terms with the need for gender neutrality. It’s no longer acceptable to produce games in which traditional male characters dominate and the current landscape has forced a rethink in certain parts of this sector.
Designers and developers have responded well to the call and there is a growing number of gender-neutral titles. There is work to be done but, as we are about to see, the gaming industry has made a solid start.
Leading the way
Much of the credit for the development of gender-neutral gaming has gone to the popular title Fortnite. The most significant part of the game that people have noted is that when players log on and begin playing, they cannot choose the gender of their avatar. This is a significant step for the industry and, while it’s reported that some players request help in switching to male or female avatars, the designers aren’t budging on this point.
As players move through the game, they find that the balance between male and female characters is above average in the world of gaming. Around a third of the characters involved in Fortnite are obviously female and, while many will suggest that there is room for improvement, those numbers fare well in comparison with the rest of the industry. Fortnite also features a wide range of sizes and body shapes, so it’s challenging stereotypes on a number of fronts.
On the cards
Another area of the gaming industry that does much to address the male/female balance is entertainment complexes. It’s not often seen as part of gaming but these establishments provide a huge boost to the industry’s overall revenue. This is another area where much work has been required, and largely thanks to the digital age, this issue is being addressed, with virtual gaming providing a more neutral, less gendered experience.
Whether you are looking at RPGs or casino online games, there are thousands of titles available, and though developers are always trying to come up with different themes to make their titles stand out from the sizable crowd, often they revert back to familiar faces to draw us in. Players are attracted to both authentic play and nostalgia, which is why lots of characters either relate to a historical human being or a fictional figure from the movies.
Of course, when it comes to games that are based on pre-established franchises or real people, the discussion becomes bigger than the gaming industry itself. It’s more a discussion of what, or who, you choose to adapt. The silver screen can be male-dominated, but the good news here is that for every Indiana Jones, there is a Lara Croft. Similarly, while Zeus may dominate some classic games, Cleopatra proves to be more than a match.
Is it possible to place a fixed gender on Pokemon characters? The answer is yes in certain instances and there is no confusion when it comes to defining Brock or Misty but with other figures, things are less clear. For example, has anyone been able to correctly identify the gender of the main character, Pikachu? The same principle applies to Absol, Mimikyu, Solgaleo and many more; they are simply impossible to define. Ash’s companion is synonymous with the game, yet all would acknowledge that Pikachu is likely to be gender-neutral. There is no fuss surrounding this; it’s simply taken for granted, which can only be a good thing.
Pokémon GO broke the record of most-downloaded game in its first month of release and is one of the most successful mobile games of all time. The release of Pokemon Go in 2016 ticked a lot of boxes as far as some parents were concerned. Gaming can be a solitary and antisocial affair but here was a game that got inactive children out into the open as they looked to track their favourite characters. The title has a lot of positive features and that gender balance and neutrality certainly works in its favour.
Work in progress
Great work has been carried out in places but there is more to be done. It also has to be acknowledged that the sexist nature of some games isn’t likely to go away any time soon. Classic shoot ‘em up titles will have a predominantly male audience and it’s hard to see the developers making significant changes moving forward.
However, games such as Pokemon Go and Fortnite offer better news, making greater strides in terms of addressing the gender imbalance.
The editorial unit