Since the first 8-bit bleeps, bloops and pings of arcade noise, women have been starving for better representation in videogames.
This year, Feminist Frequency crunched the numbers at E3 to see if anything has changed. Spoiler alert: It hasn’t.
In fact, this year had the lowest percentage of female protagonists since Feminist Frequency’s start in 2015.
In 2019, the number of games with female central heroes added up to a dismal 5%, while 22% had exclusively male protagonists.
While the statistics point to a trend toward gender choice in videogames with 65% of games offering gender options, it’s still not enough for female players, Feminist Frequency executive director Anita Sarkeesian wrote in this year’s report.
Instead, it’s about centering videogame narrative around the experiences of women.
“Of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one,” she said. “However, it’s fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character. A male player who is more comfortable with experiences that center men can and will simply play as men in games that offer him the choice. On the other hand, every player who comes to a game such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood must step into the shoes of a female character in order to play.”
Of the 126 games at E3 this year, just six center around a female protagonist, while five times as many center around men.
Any way you look at it, E3 2019 was a bad year for female representation in videogames.
And it was a bad year for female representation among presenters, as well. Women made up only 21% of speakers and presenters at this year’s E3. Representation was especially awful at Bethesda’s press conference, where only two of the 17 speakers were women.
For many, E3 2015, the year Feminist Frequency began, seemed to be a turning point for the place women occupied in the gaming world. News stories from that year touted the year as the one women would start to have stronger roles in videogames.
Recore starred a woman named Joule, while Dishonored 2 featured the badass female sword fighter Emily Baldwin. The female huntress Aloy starred in Horizon: Zero Dawn. EA even revealed that women’s teams would finally make it onto their annual FIFA soccer series.
We thought it was a moment of reckoning for women who had long felt pushed aside in gaming culture. But, according to the data, it looks like not much has really changed.
Even in 2015, only seven of the 76 games featured at E3 had female heroes. That’s less than 10%. More than 30%, on the other hand, centered around a male hero.
But that depressing 9% is still the best E3 has ever done in terms of female character representation in the five years Feminist Frequency has been collecting data. Not a high bar, to say the least, but somehow the industry still failed to reach it this year.
Check out Feminist Frequency’s full breakdown here.