Grrrr…..Time's Top 100 Games List

So, if you haven’t heard the news, today Time deigned to publish a list of the top 100 all time video games. Too see the full list go here (and check out those poll numbers!).  Don’t get too excited. As one commenter points out,

List should have been called:  100 most ground-breaking or industry-changing computer games.  Best?  Not so much.

So, the list isn’t absolutely amazing. There’s only one Zelda game, one Final Fantasy game, yadda yadda. Your favorite game might not be on the list, and it probably won’t include enough of the games of your favorite franchise. However, it is a good list of ground-breaking or historically important video games, and I find it absolutely FASCINATING how many of the indie games have been downvoted for importance. I’m also not understanding the Animal Crossing hate, but that’s neither here nor there. But let’s get to the main point. How many of these games feature female protagonists????? I bet you can’t guess. Oh alright, I bet you can. Fine, I’ll just tell you. There are 5 entire games out of 100 that feature a sole female protagonist. So a mere 5% of the top 100 (and this list is clearly disputable) games feature a lone female hero. But wait, you say, you’re skewing the numbers! How many of those games even allow you to play a protagonist? Let alone a gendered one! Fair point. So, I made a graph!

For those of you who prefer words here is the break-down sans graph:

Male Protagonist: 55 Games

Female Protagonist: 5 games

No Protagonist/Gender Unspecified: 23 games

Choose your own gender: 17 games

In essence I went through the list and categorized the games based on the playable characters. This was not an exact science. Donkey Kong is clearly a monkey  but he codes male when later compared to Dixie Kong. Games like Starcraft don’t really have protagonists per se, although there are  humans in the game. So there were some intricacies and judgement calls involved in the process. I decided Donkey Kong is a dude and Starcraft (and similar games) fell into the “no person” category due to the lack of protagonist. If you want to nitpick the process or count the games up yourselves go right ahead. No matter how you wrangle it, I bet you can’t wrangle enough off the wall reasons to justify even 10 games as having female protagonists! At the end of this process, I was left with four main categories:

  1. Games you Play as male
  2. Games you play as female
  3. Games where you can choose
  4. Games where there is no protagonist/protagonist is unsexed

Out of 100 games, you could play as a male 55 times. So well over half of the games on this list feature a male protagonist or an all male cast. The category with the second-most number of games is the no protagonist/protagonist is unsexed category. This category included 23 games. So, about 20% or in other words 1/5 of the top 100 games featured no recognizable protagonist (like in asteroids or flower) or the protagonist was unsexed (like frogger). So in essence, if the games don’t feature a male protagonist then it is fairly likely they’ll feature no protagonist at all! Only slightly behind the “no sex” category is that of “choose your own gender”. This includes games like mass effect where you build your character, or games like Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat (most racing or fighting games) where you choose between several pre-made characters. This category came out fairly strong with 17 games to its name. Fairly respectable, but still in third place. Also, if the statistics for Mass Effect 2 can be applied to other choose your own gender video games (and they may not apply) then when players can choose, typically 80% of players choose to play as male while a little under 20% play as female. So we could count 80% of choose your own gender games as male protagonist and 20% as female protagonist…but that would involve more math..and I already made a pie chart!

These three categories make up  95 of the 100 games on the list. Out of 100 games, you are 78% likely to play as a male or an unsexed character rather than a female, with only a 17% chance you have the option to play as female, and a 5% chance of playing a game with a female protagonist. Also, while I counted the metroid games as playing as a female, I’m never sure if they count. Clearly, I’m playing a bit fast and loose with numbers and categories here (and if you have better suggestions for categories, different numbers please comment!), but 55 male led games to 3 female led games is a staggering number no matter how you twist it. You could do a similar tallying for different identity groups. Out of 100 apparently very influential games I can’t spot a protagonist of color, a queer protagonist, or a disabled protagonist excluding the games which allow customizable avatars. However, this list does span the past 40 years of gaming.  If we made a list of the 100 most influential games of the past 5 years do you think there would be a more diverse character set? Do you think the customizable characters truly count as diverse?

Finally, if you feel a bit soul-crushed after becoming aware of the harsh reality of statistics, or you’re bummed out because you want some pie and you can’t actually eat a pie graph, follow the #1reasontobe trend on twitter. You’ll see posts from some amazing men and women in the gaming industry that are fighting to increase the diversity of protagonists gaming experiences and everywhere.  Also kittens:


  1. Let me make sure I’m counting correctly: Metroid, Metroid Prime, and Okami as the three with female protagonists?

    I think the throwaway line about Samus being a girl being a “surprise ending” says volumes. It’s hard to call having a female protagonist groundbreaking or influential when so few games have followed in those footsteps.

  2. This is so interesting! Those are some pretty frustrating stats, really. It would be interesting to see how many female protagonists feature in games now (in general, not just in the “best of games”) versus 10 or 20 years ago. Just to see if we’re getting any better with it or if we’re suffering the same as usual. It’s cool to see that Metroid and Tomb Raider have been around for a while with female protagonists… but then I have to question why aren’t there LOADS more nowadays?

    One of the strangest facts to me is that 80% of ME2 players choose to play as the male Shep… because factoring in that 40-odd% of video game players (can’t remember the exact statistc) are women, I would have thought for a game like ME2 it would be closer to half and half. Plus, I know lots of men like to play as female characters… I wonder how often women play as male characters then?

    • Honestly, to my knowledge it hasn’t gotten much better. There may be a few obscure games I am missing, but my current count of video games featuring a single female protagonist is around 15-20 (not counting multiple entries in a franchise). Again, I’m no omniscient so that’s probably not an exact amount, but I do make it a hobby to know about those sorts of things (although I have a gaping hole of knowledge where horror games are involved).

      One of my friends pointed out to my on facebook that the breakdown of protagonist gender is really just a reflection of the tendency of the game industry to not use female protagonists. And at least in video games you can take 2 minutes to swap pronouns and then let the player choose their own gender.

      I know that when offered the choice of gender I almost always play female, I’ve never met anyone that played as a guy. So while you never know who is who on the internet, those numbers to me seem to indicate that the audience was about 80% male and 20% female. To correlate my shaky logic, those numbers correspond with some other data I’ve seen that skew gamers as 75% male to 25% female . Of course these numbers are growing and it does often depend on the type of game!

  3. We still have a bit of a ways to go before we get more prominent female protagonists in games. There is obviously a market for female gamers, but developers need to catch up in terms of doing more to appeal to that demographic. With numbers like those, video games are still fixed into the male realm without too much changing as of yet.

    As for the Mass Effect numbers, I am surprised it isn’t half and half. Half play male Shepard and the other half plays female Shepard. A lot of the fansites or forums I venture into regarding the ME series seem predominantly female. And most have expressed preferring to play as FemShep over male Shepard. Interesting.

  4. What would be interesting is to do a trend analysis, taking each game in chronological order of release and cross-referencing it with whatever gaming demographic is available for each of those years. It would be interesting to chart the increase in the proportion of female gamers over time, say, the last 20 years, and see if it coincides with an increase in games of category 2 or 3. If you could chart a relatively steady increase in female gamership (which is what i imagine has happened) and demonstrate that there hasn’t been a corresponding rise in the amount of category 2/3 games, I think that would be a statistically significant demonstration of industry resistance to and / or disregard for the growth of the female gaming population.

    Also of possible interest: of games featuring female protagonists or playable characters, how many push gender roles? In other words, for how many Metroid and Mirror’s Edge are there Dance Dance Revolutions and Cooking Mammas? Has this ratio changed with the demographic shift? Is a lack of female ACTION protagonists due to a persistence in the perception of gender roles and not necessarily a denial of the size of female gaming population?

    Anyway, lots of interesting stuff to examine and lots of variables to examine.

    (Personal note: I loved Mirror’s Edge and have played ME1 as a female Shepard, but generally choose a male protagonist when available because that’s what I identify with visually; I’ll always go for dirty blonde hair and a chinstrap or pinch if it’s available. I guess what I’m saying is that if I am tagging along with the protagonist, their gender makes no difference, it’s their story, but if it’s supposed to be MY avatar, on a certain level I need it to look like me to identify with it. )

Chat me up!