The other day I had to tell my friend, a woman who just got into gaming in recent years, that Life is Strange almost didn't exist because publishers didn't want to fund a game starring women.
So a few weeks ago I picked up Life is Strange at EB Games. It was on my radar for a while but I didn't get around to it until recently, due to my policy of not buying episodic games until they are fully released. Well, I saw it for $15 on PS4 and decided now was as good a time as any.
So I popped it in my PS4 at about 10 p.m. and didn't finish until 2 p.m. the next day. I pulled an all-nighter, only stopping to recharge my controller and have a snack. It's the first all-nighter I've pulled for a game in a very long time, and I was very happy to do it. While the story isn't perfect, I was pulled in my the story and its characters, and how developed the world is. The writing is occasionally so bad I want to burn my eyelids, but most of the time its sweet and charming and I love the scenes where Chloe and Max just hang out.
I won't spoil the story, since it is better left to be played yourself, but the twists really burned me and I was completely invested in what was going to happen to the characters.
So the next weekend, me and my female friend were hanging out and I recommended we play through Life is Strange. It took us four weeks, since we only hang out on Saturdays, but we finally beat it. She was impressed, even if she didn't like it as much as I did, and we had a really fun time comparing the difference between our two playthroughs.
Then I mentioned that Life is Strange almost didn't get made. She asked why, expecting funding or some other businessy reason to come up. I had to tell her it was because the game starred two women, and most publishers refused to publish it without changing the game to star a male.
Her reaction, reasonably, was upsetting. She said that was bullshit. I agreed with her. It's total bullshit.
But I had to keep going. I told her about how Remember Me almost didn't get published for the same reason, and how Naughty Dog had to fight to get Ellie on the front of the box for The Last of Us, or even to get female playtesters.
We then had a long discussion about how gaming is considered a man's club. It's a pretty sad thing to tell someone, who represents half of the gaming audience, that publishers have no interest in representing them as the protagonists... unless you're Lara Croft. And as much as we all hate Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, it shows Square Enix is one of the few companies who aren't afraid of representing women as the protagonists.
I'm currently finishing my capstone project for university, regarding satire and news media, but a friend of mine is doing hers about gatekeeping in nerd communities. The conclusion she's come to in her research says that men are the gatekeepers in tabeltop and video games. Men are the ones who decide who is represented and who is given the gracious hand to enter the community. Men are the dominant power in this industry. And that sucks.
Imagine how cool this industry would be if we just stopped being dicks to women. Don't imagine the shitty alternate reality the man-babies on the internet would have you believe, where SJWs vet every game and every woman has at least a B-cup and the diversity police rule everything. That's something nobody wants, believe it or not. What I do want, as a male, as someone who wants our industry to embrace difference, rather than shun it, is to extend our hands to women and everyone else who feels underrepresented in our communities.
I want more games like Shantae. I've never played one of those games, but I've seen playthroughs. I love how bouncy and bubbly she is, representing a happy, carefree and sexy video game protagonist who doesn't feel exploited. Or look at Lara Croft, and how she's changed over the years to gradually embrace a more realistic perception of women. We can have women in big fuzzy winter coats kicking butt, just as much as we can have women in skintight leggings and bomber jackets kicking butt. Let's just have women in our industry, and give them an opportunity to feel welcomed.
This is something that needs to be fixed on both sides of the fence. Publishers need to stop catering to the 18-34 year-old male demographic and start catering to the people who actually play their games, and we need to embrace women, latinos, bisexuals and purple people... literally anyone, and stop being assholes to people who want to partake in gaming. Do this so we don't all miss out when the next Life is Strange passes along a publishers desk, so we can all enjoy it.