The Feminist Frequency founder on the need for better representation, both with games characters and on-stage presenters
E3 2015, some declared, was the year of the woman. The return of Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge was complemented by the debut of new female-led IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn and ReCore. The diversity of gaming protagonists seemed to be improving.
Anita Sarkeesian was not so sure.
"Studies show that if 15% of background characters are female, you think it's 50/50 -- our brains just add that in," she says. "I thought that's what was happening -- we have such a lack of female protagonists that these felt like a bigger deal than these actually were. So, being the Debbie Downer that I am, I was like, 'Let's just count'."
And count she did. The first of Feminist Frequency's gender breakdowns for E3 showed that female characters only made up 9% of all announcements at the 2015 event. Males made up 32%. It was not the year of the woman.
Since then, Sarkeesian and her team have done the same analysis every year and -- with the exception of 2016 -- games with exclusively female protagonists have only ever accounted for 7% to 9% of announcements.
In 2016 -- "a very dark moment for the industry" -- there were only two female-led games: Horizon and ReCore, again. E3 2016 had no new female protagonists.
Sarkeesian acknowledges the limits of her analysis; it focuses on games at the major press conferences, and separates titles where you can design or choose from multiple characters. But she maintains this study can be a useful look at wider trends.
"E3 is the annual state of the industry," she says. "This is where studios and publishers decide what's worth showing and sharing. So while [our study] doesn't take into account every game released in a year, it shows what the industry thinks is most important."
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