E3 2018 had a lot of exciting revelations from Bethesda’s brief tease of Elder Scrolls VI to Dante’s return in Devil May Cry 5. While there was a lot of footage to keep me hyped for months to come, the subtle kiss between Ellie and another woman, Dina, from The Last of Us Part II gameplay segment stayed with me the most. Ellie and I shared the same pleasantly surprised reaction, albeit mine was for an entirely different reason. It was at that moment I realized that I finally saw myself, specifically an LGBT woman, represented in video games.
While this was not the first time we’ve seen Ellie lock lips with another lady, the kiss was the culmination of all the diversity and inclusion exhibited in this year’s conference. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey offers the chance to play as a woman in the franchise’s latest entry for the entire game – a first in the series’ history¹. Straight and same-sex relationships are also available regardless of the player character’s gender. Cyberpunk 2077 follows suit with the freedom to play as any gender and pursue same-sex romantic interests. Suddenly, It became easier to picture me as the lead in these games without having to roleplay as a man.
Developers took it a step further by showcasing more games with women and members of the LGBT community as the sole leads in their respective games. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The Last of Us Part II, Wolfenstein: Young Blood, and Gears of War 5 are all great examples where the central character will be a woman. These games show that publishers are confident that there’s a marketable audience, men and women included, for female protagonists. A protagonist with an established gender, sexual orientation, or race also frames the narrative through their unique point of view.
In AC Odyssey, the difference between playing as a man or a woman is simply ‘audio and visual.’ While I don’t have any qualms with this approach, I think this minimizes the potential to convey the narrative from several unique perspectives. I’m sure there are interesting cultural dynamics that are worth exploring in Ancient Greece. Ubisoft could have done something as significant as a different quest branch or as subtle as variations in dialogue. Even the Mass Effect series had subtle dialogue differences depending on your gender or sexual orientation. If games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition let race alter dialogue and gameplay, developers could do the same for gender and queer identities. Here’s to hoping that CD Projekt Red tackles the differing perspectives with Cyberpunk 2077 in a more meaningful way. The articles on the NightCity website suggest to me that they will do exactly that.
It was also uplifting to see women not only as leads but also as NPCs and supporting characters. *NBA LIVE 19*’s E3 footage closed with a posse of created characters, two of which appeared to be women, to signify the player’s squad. It’s a subtle change that acknowledges women as a large portion of the basketball gaming community. The Division 2, Fallout 76, and Anthem also do the same thing by equally featuring men and women as playable characters. Spider-Man and Ghosts of Tsushima also feature intriguing female characters in supporting yet substantial roles. These demos reflect the rise of women in the console and PC gaming sector. Unsurprisingly, nearly half of Fortnite’s player base is made up of women. Showing women alongside men represent a modern view of today’s gaming population, and it’s proof that women aren’t merely outliers.
E3 2018 also showcased the women working behind the scenes of several popular titles. One of the enduring criticism of any keynote done by giant tech companies, whether it’s EA or Apple, is the dearth of women female speakers. We’ve all heard the argument that there aren’t a lot of females in the industry, to begin with. However, that’s beginning to change as more women are starting to play video games and eventually working on the games themselves.
It would be cumbersome to pinpoint exact moments since there were several instances wherein women came onstage to speak and walkthrough gameplay. As someone who grew up playing video games, I had ambitions to be part of the team that made my favorite games whether it’s as a writer, developer, or in marketing. While seeing a bunch of men onstage never deterred my dreams, it’s still inspiring to see women breaking in the industry and blazing a trail for young girls who want to follow in their footsteps. We can count on women like Jade Raymond, Amy Hennig, and others to show the world that women belong not only in video games but also within the companies that make them.
Some would argue that the battle isn’t over, especially with Gamergate. However, I do think we’ve reached a big milestone in gaming culture. Gamers, developers, and publishers are pushing back against decades of misogyny and misrepresentation in the industry. I was initially taken aback by Andrew Wilson’s, EA’s CEO, bold declaration of commitment to diversity and inclusivity during EA’s press conference. Patrick Soderlund, EA’s Chief Creative Officer, echoed the same sentiment, albeit bluntly, in an interview.
In retrospect, companies like EA have recognized that more women are in the audience and behind the scenes. As a result, there are a lot more games with compelling female characters developed by women. The strange thing is I’ve always felt at home within the gaming community, but it was like navigating through a man’s world as a frequent guest. Now, it feels empowering to play, create, and discuss video games as a woman more than ever. Ellie’s kiss is not only the culmination of all the progress we’ve seen so far but also a catalyst for more to come. Perhaps, Rockstar Games will finally take the next step and give us a female protagonist we deserve in Grand Theft Auto.