Hey, Rockstar: Where the ladies at?

By Stephanie Llamas, Director of Research and Consumer Insights

Last week I saw a teaser image and trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2. Its preceding title, Red Dead Redemption, remains exceptional, one of my favorites, so I was excited to see what Rockstar had up its sleeve for this iteration. But as I looked at the image closer I noticed something disappointing: seven men and no women.

In an age where the gaming community has begun to rapidly close the gender gap, active female advocacy has intensified. I honestly dislike using the word Gamergate because of how much it has devolved to describe a debate about what it even was about: gaming journalism or sexism. But really it was about both, with an emphasis on how the industry is not gender-inclusive and the media’s role in perpetuating that. The fact is the role and reputation of women in gaming is still very much compromised by the venomous rejection from some male gamers and the lack of equal representation in communities, the industry and the games themselves.

Over the past few years, even before I joined the industry, a number of brave women have made their presence known despite active exclusion, misogyny and threats. Activists in the industry like Anita Sarkeesian and Brenda Romero have been on the forefront of this movement, sparking a growing dialogue about how developers need to address their key female audiences by being less receptive to roles that demean women, relegate them to being “bitches” or “sluts,” or use “booth babes” to promote games to only one audience profile. In fact, using boobs to sell games should be insulting to both women and men: women for obvious reasons, and men for being treated like horny idiots who will open their wallets just to see a pretty lady.

It’s disappointing we still even need to advocate for strong female representation. And it’s exhausting to have to make clear over and over again that women who play games are gamers, too.

 

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Females represent 40% of the general US gamer audience, more than half of which consider themselves mid- or hard-core gamers (the target audience for a game like Red Dead). And the female gamer lifetime is comparable to that of males (11 years versus 10, respectively).

It may not seem like women have been such a mainstay in games since so many of us have stayed off mics to avoid misogynists, or have stayed away from conventions where we could be condescended or mocked (I often get treated like a child holding a controller for the first time when I play demos events). But probably most important is for so long not enough of us have been hired in the industry to go to bat for our gender.

I’ve been playing console and handheld games since I was 5 years old. Many of my favorite games feature strong female protagonists: to name a few, Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite, Ellie in Last of Us and Yuna in Final Fantasy (after whom I even named my dog). Even Read Dead Redemption managed to create a badass female, Bonnie MacFarlane, who trains Marston to also be a badass.

I hope the new Red Dead features a lady like Bonnie, but wish they would shine a spotlight on even just one woman the same way they focus in on seven cowboys. Traditionally male-dominated titles like Red Dead are the best opportunities to embrace and represent the female audience, and show the industry not only values women’s dollars (because, just a reminder, we spend money on games, too…) but our contributions as professionals and consumers. We all know the female audience will grow larger and our voices will grow louder, so why don’t we speed this whole inclusion thing up already?

What do you say, Rockstar?