Women in Video Games | International Women’s Day

Welcome to HeR News! Here you can find the latest hot topics, and news–from all things Nancy Drew to updates in the gaming industry, women in video games, and any trending conversations we feel like Nancy and our team should contribute to. 

Part of our aim with this new blog is to bring attention to women and diversity in the gaming space. We’ll be discussing topics such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and any other relevant events that happen throughout the year. 

In addition, we’ll share the latest updates about HeR Interactive and work with bloggers across the industry to discuss upcoming shows, games, and books in the mystery-adventure and educational genres. If you have ideas for blogs that you’d like to contribute, please email them to us at marketing@herinteractive.com. Here are some thought starters to help you know what we’re looking for, but be creative! 

The Top 5 Hardest Nancy Drew Puzzles, How Nancy Drew Inspired Me To Do…, 10 Things I Learned Playing Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew Games and Their Book Counterparts, How Playing as a Female Heroine Changed Me, How I Use Video Games in My Classroom, History of Video Games, My Favorite Female Protagonists, etc… 

*Please note that articles written by individuals do not necessarily reflect the view of the company, but that the company would like to share these for added perspective and discussion.

“Wait, you play video games?”

“Do you really play video games?” is a question I’ve perpetually been asked by men and women both in my 18+ years of adamant video game-playing. It confuses me every time – what is it about me, a female, that makes it surprising that I play video games? Growing up and hearing this question constantly made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t “accepted” by most people. However, I knew that I loved playing video games, I knew that I loved the game characters, and that the games I enjoyed playing harmed no one. So, what’s the big deal then?

Playing video games and admiring the video game characters is something that I grew up with, and I do understand that having an older brother was a big influence in that (shoutout). However, I couldn’t bring myself to understand why it was so unique that I loved an activity that had no gender-specific parameters or indications. Why should female gamers feel as if they stand out so much? Video games are fun, engaging, colorful, and oftentimes challenge your brain’s critical thinking skills. What exactly is it about those features that is more masculine?

Thankfully, now that I’m 25 years old, I see that the image and stereotype of girls who play video games, as well as female game developers working behind the scenes has become much more accepted and encouraged. No one asks me “Really? You play video games?” anymore, and I’m very thankful for that. I’m glad that people are becoming much more open-minded, especially during these times where work life and school life have changed so dramatically. For many of us, the quarantine has provided more opportunities to engage with video games and to meet fascinating new video game characters. Just during the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of video game players has increased substantially. Playing at home, online, and with friends or family on video calls has spiked higher than ever before. There are now over 3 billion video gamers worldwide, with the high mix of female gamers continuing to grow. Woo-hoo!

In a recent Entertainment Software Association (ESA) report linked here, “The U.S. gamer is almost evenly split between male and female players (54% compared to 46% respectively).”  

Girls who game and make the games

Women in video games
An all-girls Esports team, photo by The Frisky

What we do know is that female gamers and women in game development both are becoming more common and prevalent in these times, but the numbers reveal gender disparity and there is still much progress to be made. According to a 2020 poll released by Statista, only 20% of engineers in the gaming engineering and game development industry are women. Looking at this overwhelming statistic, I wonder, if the lack of female protagonists and main characters in the games themselves have any effect on this?

Although the numbers of women studying video game design in the United Kingdom (a hub for video games) is steadily rising (according to HESA UK, the academic years of 2015 – 2017/2018 saw a 4.5% increase in course enrollment from women), 88% of those enrolled students are still male, according to the same HESA UK study. On a worldwide scale, according to this Statista publishing, only 24% of developers in the gaming sector are women. Thus, a geographic and cultural video game hub such as the United Kingdom is still indicative of the greater picture – women need to be, and can be a greater percentage and a greater influence in the video game world.

More and more women are leading the way providing positive role models to enter into the field. Women creating video games, seeing more video game characters with female leads, and education that encourages young women into the career fields that support video game creation are all part of closing the gender gap.

Women in video games
Female video game engineer, photo from Pinterest

Women in Video Games

E3 Gaming 2019 Convention in Los Angeles
E3 Gaming 2019 Convention in Los Angeles; Photo by LA Times

Growing up as a video game fan, one thing I did realize even early on is that females often played such peripheral characters, and 90% of the time, they just stood there, like a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Although I wasn’t mentally or emotionally developed enough to feel the weight of why these stereotypes bothered me, they still bothered me, and I believe that’s telling. In retrospect, I do remember as a young gamer that the female characters in games were also very objectified or image-based, rather than having a multi-dimensional and compelling personality. Meanwhile, I would see the male characters and protagonists in games that have a rich storyline go through character development and maturity, while the women remained stagnant.

Video Game character - Leaving tropes and stereotypes behind

One thing that I believe is important all-around is to leave stereotypes and archetypes behind. In this day and age, embracing individuality and uniqueness is healthy and much more encouraged – so let’s implement that same attitude and outlook in our video game characters. The outside world, our own relationships, our role models, and our biggest influences are all humans and factors that inspire the work we create. Why is it then, that so many of the same archetypes for female characters continue to show up in video games? More can be done and we are excited about the companies and organizations that are leading the charge.

ESA’s President and CEO, Stanley Pierre-Louis sees progress in women in video games as a whole.  This includes the way female video game characters are portrayed, as well as the growth in the number of women making video games, and the number of female players who enjoy the games.  Pierre-Louis, stated,  “We are also seeing expansion in ethnic diversity, too. Our industry works hard to ensure the demographics of those who make video games better reflects the diversity of those who play the games.”

One of the most beautiful things about video games is that we get to immerse ourselves in another world with a specific story, ecosystem, and so on. As players, we get to influence and or navigate that world too. Video games really are every form of entertainment rolled into one. Female video game characters are far too few, especially for the female protagonists roles.

Women-forward and gaming-oriented company Feminist Frequency recorded the details of each E3 Expo from the years 2015-2019, particularly noting what games had female protagonists. Out of the 76 games that were showcased at the E3 Gaming Conventions in Los Angeles, only 10% of those showcased included female protagonists in their stories. This  chart from Wired pictures the stark gap in male-to-female video game protagonists.

Video Game protagonists by gender. Women in games.

Even though the gap of female protagonists in video games needs to become much smaller, there are still many impressive female videogame characters that we can celebrate.

International Women’s Day and National Women’s History Month make March a great time to honor women in video games. From the powerful female protagonists, to some wonderfully evil supervillains, the list is impressive! Here is a great compilation of some of the leading women in video games.

We want to hear from you too – what are some inspiring female characters in video games that you are drawn to?

Why have heroes when you can have heroines? Some of the best memories I have of playing video games at a young age was seeing awesome, independent, headstrong females in the stories. Seeing these women in the games made me much more eager to be a gamer myself. The future of gaming does excite me, because I know that as time progresses, more awesome female characters will continue to emerge, I thought I would take the time to curate my own specific list of strong female videogame characters in the games many of us know and love.

Samus Aran: Intergalactic Hero

The first female character that comes to mind is Nintendo’s Samus. This great BBC article describes in detail the legacy and scope of success that Nintendo’s Metroid had in the 1980’s.

Samus, Woman in Video Games
Reveal of Samus Women in Games

(Left) Samus, Photo by SmashWiki

(Right) Reveal of Samus, Photo by BBC UK

The character of Samus Aran was a fearless, intergalactic fighter (much like The Mandalorian). Many just quickly assumed that Samus was a male, and didn’t think much of it. However, in 1986 when the game released, a huge unveiling occurred. Those who were determined to quickly finish the game within just hours of starting it discovered that Samus Aran was in fact, a woman. This news made a huge wave in the gaming world, and as of today, Samus is still a huge female icon in gaming. My brother telling me that Samus was a girl shocked me too! I didn’t know the Metroid game history, or who was behind that armor. It did inspire me to take notice even then how that was more of a rarity for video game characters.

Sony’s Jak and Daxter: Keira the Engineer

Keira Hagai of Jak and Daxter Women in Games

Keira Hagai of Jak and Daxter, Photo from YouTube

Many of you may know NaughtyDog Studios from their massive franchise, The Last of Us, and also the franchise of Uncharted. Another popular franchise from the Sony subsidiary is Jak and Daxter, which ended up having four separate games. The main female character in the Jak and Daxter series was Keira Hagai, a genius engineer who was constantly brainstorming and tinkering to help Jak and his multiple adventures. Jak initially just viewed Keira as a love interest, rather than an important confidant and helper, but Keira knew she couldn’t waste her precious time on a boy, and she stuck to her books (as she should). Although they did end up together in the very end, Keira took most of her time in the franchise to help save the world with her genius.

Princess Zelda of Hyrule

Zelda in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Zelda in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Photo from Youtube

Zelda in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Photos from YouTube.

Perhaps the most iconic female video game character is Zelda of the Legend of Zelda franchise. It may seem like a given that her name and image is thrown onto this list, but Zelda’s most recent character rendition in the 2017 Nintendo: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game took on a whole new meaning. In a post-apocalyptic-esque world, Breath of the Wild’s environment is complete chaos, and Link must regain his memory, backtrack, and put the puzzle pieces together to save the Hyrule kingdom. Throughout playing the game, players realize and watch just how incredible Zelda’s sacrifices were to keep Link alive, as well as her tenacity that she displayed to save Hyrule. One of the most touching and unprecedented moments was Zelda sacrificing her life in front of a Guardian (one of the evil force’s machines) to save Link’s own life. In this action of sacrifice, Zelda finds the level of her true strength.

Nancy Drew:

This super sleuth is a great female protagonist. In these games, YOU are the famed ace detective Nancy Drew. What could be more fun!

STEM: Women in Tech and Video Games

For over twenty years, the long running video game series Nancy Drew, from HeR Interactive, not only has the top female detective of all time, since the player is always the famed Nancy Drew, the leading character is truly a real star. Played by fans of all ages and gender, Nancy Drew continues to solve cases with 33 games that players continue to love to play. From the books, which are now over 90 years old, to the current day videogames and a popular new television series on the CW, Nancy Drew is a great female protagonist.  HeR Interactive videogames have a legacy of featuring strong female characters and for encouraging women to enter the gaming field.  

Lara Croft and her Legend:

PlayStation 4’s Laura Croft, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Photo from YouTube.

Last but not least on my list of favorite female protagonists, we have one of the most well-known, adventurous, and fearless female icons in gaming and movie history. Lara Croft is a character that is somewhat similar to Nancy Drew – she has been an icon and a female image of fearlessness and adventure, but her image and traits have been malleable over time as well. Characters like Lara Croft and Nancy Drew are beloved enough to be made contemporary and “with-it” in our modern world, no matter how long they have been around for. One thing I love seeing is a powerful, non-stereotypical female character like Lara Croft beautifully translated first from a videogame character to the movie screen.

PlayStation 4’s Laura Croft, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Photo from Youtube

Best female villains - These video game characters are great at being bad!

Not everything can be rainbows and sunshine, and female villains in games play just as big of a role. The video game podcast Giant Bomb published this list of over 200 sinister female characters, including well-known characters such as Abby from Last of Us Part II.

Abby from Last of Us Part II, Photo from Twitter.

Abby from Last of Us Part II
Actrise from Nintendo 64’s Castelvania; Photo by Fandom
Amanda Evert of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

(Left) Actrise from Nintendo 64’s Castelvania; Photo by Fandom

(Right) Amanda Evert of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Here is an article from GameRadar of 20 female videogame characters that I believe deserves to go in the “Honorable Mentions” category. Are there any female videogame characters that inspire you but maybe didn’t make either of these lists? Write to us below!

Looking ahead

So, in the video game sector, we are seeing a large push for better and more realistic women’s representation in development and the stories themselves. However that may look in the near future, it’s important that change continues to be made. We are also seeing growth in the number of female players and, in the women creating video games. We do have amazing leading female video game characters as protagonists and antagonists to recognize. Let’s choose to celebrate women’s achievements and choose to challenge for greater representation. Together, we can all work towards an inclusive world. In support of women everywhere, celebrate International Women’s Day, 2021 and their campaign theme, #ChooseToChallenge.

~SB

Posted in: HeR News Blog

3 responses to “Women in Video Games | International Women’s Day”

  1. Lauren says:

    Since HeR has always been so focused on promoting space for women in video games, what percentage of the employees in the company are female? Any roles (outside of CEO and marketing) that you could highlight?

    • Huw Miller says:

      I don’t work at the company, but from my observations (and I could be totally wrong) there are only women working at HeR right now. That excludes board members and investors. Again, I don’t know anything for sure and I don’t work there, but that’s just from my general observations.

  2. Kieron says:

    Thanks for sharing this! A great insight into how few women play and are involved in video games.

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