Sound Off: Along With Excellent E3 Showings, Backwards Gender Norms

Photo Credit: Julie Ershadi - Nintendo chose not to have a female playable character in the new Zelda game, then presented that game with female company reps dressed in tiny tunics.
While this year’s E3 conference hosted impressive game announcements, an unpleasant undertone accompanied some of them. Despite the fact that recent studies have shown that women comprise nearly half of all gamers and video game aficionados, the developers behind big titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy XV have come out saying they willingly eschewed the opportunity to include female characters in their games.

Many people had speculated that the new Zelda title would include a female version of Link, the traditional protagonist in this series. Those same people were surprised to see that, in fact, Link was still Link, and not Linkle, when his newest adventure debuted at E3 this week. Producer Eiji Aonuma told Kotaku that having a female lead would impinge the traditional balance of the Triforce. Another possibility was to have Zelda as the protagonist with Link in need of rescuing, but Aonuma said his team decided that, well, that just wouldn’t work either, somehow. This false reasoning ignores the fact that Zelda did quite a bit of ass-kicking in Ocarina of Time as Sheik and, in fact, is kind of absurd.

Similarly, Final Fantasy XV has no female playable characters in the party. Game director Hajime Tabata condescendingly assured gamers that an all-male party would help them understand the true nature of bromance. The world might be ready to see the curtain lifted on what boys do when girls aren’t around, when they come out of the tent all prim and proper. That’s kind of the idea behind it,” he told GameSpot. Square Enix’s FFXV presentation on Tuesday at E3 had attendees drooling over battle mechanics and open-world design, but as for the role of females in the game? Big-boobied NPCs are all they’ll get.

A ray of hope for women in gaming came in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn, which debuted at Sony’s press conference on Monday night. The game follows a female protagonist named Aloy through a world in which animals have been replaced by machinoid creatures and human society has devolved to a prehistoric state. During the demo, gameplay opened with Aloy rushing toward the scene of a tragedy, saving a fleeing man’s life, and whaling on a group of hostile robot creatures, then looting their bodies for electrical materials.

The promotional spotlight on HZD offers a look at a game with a refreshingly badass female lead, but other amazing titles at E3 clearly missed opportunities to better engage half of their would-be playerbase. That said, the fact that this issue is even being discussed may bode well for future releases. Developers may or may not be creatures of habit, but at some point they’ve got to change with the times.


About the Author

Julie Ershadi is a journalist based in Los Angeles. She has covered culture, lifestyle, Congressional politics and Iran-U.S. relations for a variety of publications. She can be reached at julie.ershadi@gmail.com and on Twitter as @jershadi.

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