January has come around again, and as with every year, I look at my gaming shelf and Steam library with shame. Why do I keep buying new games when I have plenty enough to last me until 2018…a rough estimate but probably not far from the truth.
The problem is, I generally can’t resist a game that has a female protagonist, which has resulted in scouring retro game shops and eBay for some pixellated female goodness to add to my shelf of ladies. The past year has been a bit lacklustre overall for the female protagonist and, I feel, for the games overall. When I found out that Square Enix were releasing a new female-led game in 2014 called Life is Strange, I was quite excited that I could add some more characters to my shelf roster.
However, this could have been a different story.
Life is Strange, comes from the developers DONTNOD who created the fantastic, albeit overambitious and overlooked 2013 game, Remember Me. While not being a spiritual sequel, it has certainly learnt from the problems that Remember Me had – in particular the underutilisation of memory remix mechanics. The memory remixes were really unique in that they allowed the user to change someones memory to make them think past events happened differently than what they did. Life is Strange changed that up by including time travel within the narrative so events are actually changed, not just the memory of them.Think Back to the Future with some Channel 4 drama sprinkled in.
One factor that DONTNOD found to haunt from the past were potential publishers’ reluctance to take Life is Strange with female protagonists. Remember Me had the same problem and I praise the developers to pursue with their vision. This is a game out in 2015 and we are still, as an industry, have issues with developers sometimes having to fight for creative freedom. I work within a game publisher, so I know that games took by the publisher overall need to sell and make a profit. I also know that a marketing eye and a fresh view from an outside source may mean that changes need to be made. Yet, Remember Me received little criticisms for being a female-led game, more so that some of the mechanics could have been better used with a greater integrated story. The problem is that some people in the industry believe that female led games do not sell well; because of her *points to the box cover*.
I would like to argue that it is not so much that they don’t sell, hundreds of games a year fail to meet their targets, it is that the sales data is skewed. If there are only a handful of female protagonist out on the market in certain time periods, then it is harder to make a comparison and easier to jump to a conclusion on what sells and what doesn’t. Raw sales figures rarely explain what may actually be going on.
Let’s go back to the start of January, alongside the news about Life is Strange, a developer who worked on the first Mass Effect came out to say that the initial animations for Commander Shepard, were indeed female.
While this doesn’t make much of a difference in 2015, BioWare was more than likely always going to put gender selection in as a feature. It provides an interesting snippet on how the development team at the time were thinking and how the wider market may have influenced the marketing choices. Maleshep was the flagship character until Mass Effect 3; even then poor Femshep was relegated to the backside of the flippable cover sleeve. Online, there is a huge following for Ms Shepard even though apparently only 18 per cent of players start with the female variation. There has been three years since the last Mass Effect and I can’t wait to see if the new female protagonist in the series will be placed in the spotlight as an equal option during pre-release. Otherwise, we are back to 2007 where female is not a design choice, but more of a token niche.
We are only at the start of the year and already, news like this is floating around the internet. 2015 certainly looks more promising than 2014 for games overall, lets hope that my shelf of ladies are equally not disappointed.