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:
- Games you Play as male
- Games you play as female
- Games where you can choose
- 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: