Why gender equality is E3 2015's biggest winner
After every E3 comes the inevitable debate over which company had the best showing and what platform offered the biggest games. Let’s put that weary argument to rest for a moment and focus on what was genuinely one of the most exciting aspects of E3 this year, the positive portrayal of women.
The misogynistic past...
Not so long ago E3 was an event run by men, for men. Scantily clad booth babes adorned every stand ready to show off their wares. Conferences were predominantly held by men and showed games that featured mostly males in lead roles.
Albeit booth babes have been made redundant for the last number of years, E3 2015 went above and beyond what we’ve seen at any show before in terms of gender equality. Whether it was the result of an industry bowing to fan pressure, some result of the #GamerGate fiasco, or whether it was simply a conscious effort to grow the industry into a place where both genders are treated with respect is unclear.
But what is evident is that respect for women, both in games and the industry, was much more prevalent than at any time in the event's long history.
Play as both male and female
This year we saw the inclusion of playable female characters in established franchises, franchises that have until now favoured male protagonists. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate now features Evie Frye as a playable character and the E3 trailer showcasing her skill repertoire revealed her to be an Assassin that’s every bit as lethal as her twin brother Jacob.
Syndicate provides a skillful blend of both genders, with players able to switch between Jacob and Evie on the fly, while each character is also given their own separate missions within the main story. The Assassin's Creed franchise has had a yearly instalment since 2009, but Syndicate marks the first time a female character is playable in the main series.
Similarly, the Dishonored 2 E3 trailer revealed that Emily Kaldwin is now a playable character. Emily featured in the first game as an NPC, but players can now choose to play the game entirely as Emily or original protagonist Corvo with the narrative and combat options differing depends on who you choose.
Fundamental to the success of introducing these new characters is the fact that players are largely given the choice as to who they want to play as. Male players, or female players for that matter, aren’t forced to play solely as a male or female character. Gender is becoming less of a concept that’s shoehorned in changing familiar franchises and forcing players to accept it.
With Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Dishonored 2 both male and female characters are playable, each is as competent as the other and the inclusion of both make sense in the context of the narrative and with regards to gameplay. Crucially in both cases, the male and female characters both have their own unique play styles and skill sets so the addition of a playable female goes far beyond the realms of a simple re-skin of the male character.
New franchise, new perspective
As well their inclusion in established franchises, E3 2015 also introduced some new IPs featuring women in lead roles. Killzone developer Guerrilla Games revealed their new IP, Horizon: Zero Dawn. The trailer shows the game’s heroine Aloy, hunting mechanical beasts that now hold dominion over the land.
Aloy uses a clever and skilful array of tactics when tackling her ferocious adversaries, using rope arrows to tie the creature to the ground before destroying it with a well-placed explosive arrow to its exposed weak point. She is a worthy leading lady and a prime example of the kind of roles that females need to be encompassing more in games.
Another new franchise announced at E3 that features a female lead is Keiji Inafune’s ReCore. No gameplay was shown, but the trailer did feature the unnamed protagonist fending off mechanical enemies alongside her robotic canine companion. According to the trailer, the makers of Metroid Prime are also involved. Given the developers' experience with one of gaming most iconic females, Samus Aran, and Inafune’s knack for making great games, she’s sure to be in good hands.
What’s most encouraging to see is that none of these characters are sexualized; they don’t exist purely for the amusement of males, instead their purpose is to guide players through an adventure in the exact same way a male character would. In fact, the mere idea that they are female is inconsequential to the game or the player’s experience reinforcing the idea of true equality.
And it's not just in-game
E3 2015 also had a strong female presence on stage, including a variety of developers working on huge titles like Halo and Deus Ex putting down the idea that 'women don’t play games and they certainly don’t make them'. Returning to host Ubisoft’s conference for the fourth year running was Aisha Tyler, who has proved a popular choice to represent the publishing giant thanks to her strong stage presence, comedic timing, and her obvious love of games.
Angela Basset, who lends her acting abilities to Rainbow Six: Siege, also appeared on stage. Her character, Agent Six, is the leader of your squad, relaying you the intel you’ll need to complete your mission. It’s become an all too common practice, especially in shooters, to have the male protagonist make an obligatory trip to a strip club, so it’s encouraging to see Rainbow Six: Siege have, not only female squad members, but also a woman as the voice of authority.
A brighter future...
With its strong female line-up, both in-game and on stage, E3 2015 has reinforced the kind of change that’s needed throughout the games industry. It has set the benchmark for how women should be treated. Let's hope this practice extends far beyond the realm of E3 so that this industry becomes a place that everyone can work and play as equals.