By Kyle Starr

Feminist Frequency: Gender Breakdown of Games in 2020

October 16, 2020

Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit of Feminist Frequency, contributing to Wired:

This year also marks the narrowest divide between games featuring defined female protagonists and games featuring defined male protagonists that we’ve yet seen, with games starring male characters making up 23 percent of this year’s total, or just 5 percent more games overall. In previous years, there have always been at least three times as many games centering men as there were centering women, so the fact that this year both values are at least in the same ballpark is definitely a welcome development. However, while we should perhaps be cautiously optimistic about these numbers, we also shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet. It will naturally require another year or two before we can begin to determine if this shift reflects actual changes that are taking place, or if 2020 is a one-off statistical anomaly that will quickly see a return to the status quo.

I look forward to these reports every year. Readers of Zero Counts (and The Starr List before that) may recall my E3 2013 and E3 2014 Genre/Gender Breakdowns. I find a lot of humble serendipity that Feminist Frequency began running this very similar survey in 2015.

So much of identity is rooted in gender. With video games being such an immersive medium, the ability to not only witness but partake in the story of a character whose gender is the same or different from that of the player can have profound impact, self-identifying or empathetic. That is the reason I surveyed in 2013 and 2014 (and 2012, to some degree), and that is a big reason why Feminist Frequency continues to do so:

Each year when we present this data, some people invariably point to the fact that games which allow players a choice between a male and female character, or games in which you control an ensemble of characters made up of people of different genders, make up the biggest percentage of all (55 percent this year), and wonder why that isn’t, on its own, enough to satisfy us. The answer is quite simple. Of course we welcome games that allow players the option to create and customize their own characters, but this is categorically different from games that feature defined, specific characters. Each person who plays Horizon: Zero Dawn, for instance, or The Last of Us Part II must step into the shoes of a defined female character, and experience the game’s efforts to get them to identify with and relate to that character. In an industry whose output was for decades dominated by male heroes, what we most want to see is a shift toward at least an equal number of games that require players to take on the role of humanized female characters.

In a year of absolute madness, 2020’s Gender Breakdown of Games certainly a sight for sore eyes. I second Colin Campbell in saying ”the full article, and its various charts, is definitely worth a read.”