Music, film, and literature have all gone through transitional periods where female artists emerge from the shadow of men and become just as viable voices in their respective communities. This doesn’t mean that the state of gender equality is perfect in those art mediums but they all have one thing in common, they have made much more progress towards gender equality than the video game industry has.

I don’t have to explain to you how video games have been marketed and aimed at young boys and men for the past thirty years. Video games typically have awful portrayals of women with unbelievable, unrealistic body shapes. Females are almost always positioned as objects for male characters to prove their dominance, often falling into the role of the damsel in distress.

It’s because of this that the video game industry hasn’t had many female members designing games. If there aren’t more women entering the gaming industry, then portrayals of women in video games can’t change. The poor image of women in games is a major roadblock to young girls.

Breaking through as a female or female developer in the gaming industry as a developer is practically a full-time job in and of itself. The overall culture of video games is aimed so much at men that women in the industry often have difficulties fitting into this culture.

Deidra Kiai, developer of the critically acclaimed game Dominique Pamplemousse, which was nominated at the Independent Games Festival, stated in a panel at the Game Developer’s Conference earlier this month that the hardest part of entering the game industry as a woman is fitting into an industry that primarily serves a white male audience.

“Making games is easy,” said Kiai. “Belonging is hard….I could make a million games with the energy that trying to belong takes out of me.”

You can see the problem runs very deep in the gaming industry. Women like Kiai have a hard time just “belonging” because they have to make products geared towards men, not women. Logically, a lot of young girls won’t consider video game creation as a potential career option because games, as a whole, aren’t aimed at them but instead at their brothers, uncles, boyfriends, etc.

This issue runs very deep and things will never change unless game developers start taking more risks, higher more women and going out of their way to portray women in ways that attract females and don’t push them away.

Thankfully, some progress is being made by several game studios to attract more women to gaming and not just with stereotypical puzzle, fitness or fashion games. Nintendo’s hit life-simulation series, Animal Crossing, had its most recent installment developed by more women than men, something that is unheard of.

“As a woman on the team, I always felt welcome and never felt awkward,” says Animal Crossing: New Leaf game director Aya Kyogoku. She credits the development team having more women than men as big reason why the series was able to evolve in new ways with New Leaf. Clearly this development strategy is a success as Animal Crossing: New Leaf was both a critical and commercial success, selling over 7.3 million copies since release.

Other studios like Double Fine and Naughty Dog are really pushing to get the voices of their female game designers heard while other developers continue catering to a male audience without any concerns over how their games impact women.

Naughty Dog’s 2013 PS3 game, The Last of Us, stands out as a shining example of this progress. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic US where players controlled Joel, a middle-aged man who is trying to protect a teenage girl named Ellie. Imagine bandits and zombie-like creatures at every turn. While players don’t control Ellie (13) , she is a big focus of the game’s narrative.

Her character evolves from a young, naïve little girl to a smart, tough young woman. The story of a little girl coming of age by learning how to survive in a brutal, post-apocalyptic world isn’t something that even film or TV explore often. Sometimes you’ll see a teenage boy portrayed in this difficult role but never a young girl.

What makes the portrayal of Ellie even better is that she isn’t the typical female you see in video games. It may seem obvious since she’s a teenager, but she isn’t designed to have any sex appeal, she doesn’t seek out any romance, she’s just a unique, multi-dimensional individual trying to survive a terrible situation.

While making The Last of Us, Naughty Dog was repeatedly told that they should scrap Ellie altogether and if they did include her in the game that they shouldn’t put her on the game’s cover on store shelves. Marketers and PR firms told them that a game with such a clear focus on a female character that isn’t over-sexualized can’t sell. Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann disagreed and the studio stood up for the character and non-sexualized female characters in games as a whole.

“I believe there’s a misconception that if you put a girl or a woman on the cover, the game will sell less,” says Druckmann.

“I know I’ve been in discussions where we’ve been asked to push Ellie to the back and everyone at Naughty Dog just flat-out refused.”

If every female character in games were portrayed half as well as Naughty Dog’s female characters, a lot more women would be interested in designing games. The industry wouldn’t cater almost exclusively to a young male audience, but instead to a multi-racial mix of men and women.

The burden of attracting more women into the gaming industry lies solely on today’s game designers. Colleen Macklin, Professor at Parson The New School For Design, implored her peers developing games today to take action and change how they create female characters. At GDC, Macklin spoke out against the popular idea that there is no way to change how women are portrayed in games since the audience is so predominately male.

“It is 100% our responsibility!,” Macklin declared. “We’re designers! We talk about designing systems, let’s design them!”

Related Stories

More from Kevin Femmel/ Intern

Editorial Board

At the University of Missouri, real change happened — but only when loss of university revenue was threatened. Missouri student…

More In Blog

Folasade Sabitu Staff Writer

This is Ikechi Enyioma. He is a junior and a kinesiology major. His faith helped him to overcome his struggles…