With all of the talk going around lately about female character representation in video games, as well as the cover art games receive, here’s a story that combines both of those hot topics!
In an interview with some of the Naughty Dog team over on VG24/7, the topic of gender in games came up.
“As a gamer—and as of course, a female gamer—you definitely have your viewpoints on how women are portrayed in video games,” said Ashley Johnson, the voice actress who brings life to Ellie, one of The Last of Us‘ two main protagonists. “Typically they’re either over-sexualised, or they’re the damsel in distress, or simply there to be a love interest. There may even be one female in a game who’s a badass, as opposed to, ‘Just another male character’. It does bother me, which is another thing that attracted me to this game, and Naughty Dog games in general.”
If you’ve followed any of my time here at EGM, you’ll know this is a topic I believe to be really important. Half of the world’s population is female—and yet, if you look at video games, you’d never believe that. It isn’t just how many female characters our games provide us, of course–it’s also how they handle them. Take, for example, Princess Peach. She’s a character that has bugged me for years, because—despite being one of the most recognizable and familiar female faces for Nintendo—her role is games most often is simply as something to be captured and rescued by a group of male heroes. Take the latest game in the franchise, New Super Mario Bros. U: instead of letting Peach be a main character, we’re given two generic Toad choices. But, I digress.
The perception is that women don’t play games, and that men often don’t want to play as female character. Of course, both of those are wrong—but in some ways, they’re also right. While the percentage of female gamers is always rising, men still outnumber women in a lot of genres. And—for more than a few of those men—the last thing they want is to be presented a game that may force them to step into a woman’s shoes.
This was part of the conversation that grew up recently around the cover art for BioShock Infinite. In the game, players live an adventure through a man named Booker DeWitt, who finds himself teamed up with a woman named Elizabeth. Given that the game is played in first-person, players almost never see Booker; Elizebeth, meanwhile, will be a constant on-screen ally. And yet, for the game’s cover art, we’re presented with Booker on his own.
It comes down to a believe by some who work in marketing: male players want to see a cool dude on the cover, because they want to be cool dudes. Put anything on there that doesn’t lead to that power fantasy, and that segment of male consumers won’t be interested.
“I feel like they don’t put women on the covers because they’re afraid that it won’t sell,” Johnson told VG24/7. “It’s all gamers really know—and I don’t want to be sexist by any means—but I get the feeling, generally, that they think game’s won’t sell as well with a woman on the cover, compared to some badass dude on the front.”
However, that wouldn’t be the case with The Last of Us, right? From the very beginning, the game has focused equally on its two main characters—Joel and Ellie—and the bond that forms between the two as they attempt to survive in the post-apocalyptic world they inhabit. Plus, this is The Last of Us—a high-profile, high-concept, more mature game from one of Sony’s most valuable studios. They wouldn’t feel the pressure of how to market the game through its cover art, would they?
You might be surprised.
“I agree with what Ashley said,” The Last of Us creative director Neil Druckmann added as a follow-up to Johnson’s comments. “I believe there’s a misconception that if you put a girl or a woman on the cover, the game will sell less. I know I’ve been in discussions where we’ve been asked to push Ellie to the back and everyone at Naughty Dog just flat-out refused.”
So, even the folks at Naughty Dog have seen first-hand the concern over how some will perceive games which feature and present strong female characters. Thankfully, the team working on The Last of Us stood their ground—and Sony is a smart enough company to respect their decision.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this—so leave them in the comments below!