I Must Be Missing All These Stereotypical Male Heroes
I'm not a big fan of hypocrisy. I seek balance and truth, which will often come at the expense of political correctness and sentimentality. However, this doesn't stop me from answering questions the way they should be answered. Clarity is essential; before we start making accusations and suggesting changes, we have to ascertain the real truth of the matter.
Therefore, when I examine the state of video game protagonists with an objective eye, I come to the following conclusion:
Everyone, especially women and minorities, complain that gaming suffers from a gross overabundance of the stereotypical male hero. You know, the grizzled, muscular, lantern-jawed, brash, Type-A Duke Nukem-esque protagonist. Problem is, outside of Duke Nukem himself, I really can't seem to find many such characters in our recent games.
Vulnerability, not kick-ass-ability, is the current trend in male heroes
If I look back on the games I've played during the past generation, I have difficulty finding even one example of the aforementioned character type. Take the biggest games and most memorable characters. Look at Booker in Bioshock, for instance, and Ethan in Heavy Rain, and Joel in The Last Of Us. In all respects, there's great emotion and vulnerability. We see fathers who suffered great loss, reluctant "heroes" that are either struggling to survive, or simply struggling to do the right thing.
Duke Nukem? He's dead. Well, to be more accurate, that character type is dead.
I also see several very strong female characters, such as Ellie (The Last Of Us), Jodie (Beyond: Two Souls), Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite), and the wonderfully revamped Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot. Plus, if we examine many of the smaller downloadable titles, we see a fantastic variety of protagonists, ranging widely in age, personality, and yes, even gender. You play as a curious little girl in Contrast, for instance (hardly the only game in which we play as a little girl, in fact). And what about the astonishing emotion and vulnerability on display in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons?
Duke Nukem? He's dead. Well, to be more accurate, that character type is dead. I think the closest modern examples might be the lead dudes in the Gears of War franchise. Even then, though, we find startling examples of sentiment and vulnerability.
Ironically, a core trait of most male leads is - wait for it - chivalry
Some will claim men and specifically, young boys, are getting bad habits from playing games with male leads. The implication is that we still have the Duke Nukem problem, that our male protagonists are chauvinistic, shallow, hedonistic morons. I'm not really seeing that, though. I can't remember the last time I played as such a character. There's Nathan Drake in the Uncharted franchise, who I suppose has a few stereotypical "guy" traits.
But at that character's core is something very traditional blended with gritty realism. We see it in his protection of Elena and how angry he gets when danger threatens a female. This is not uncommon in the world of male game leads. What about the dark and disturbed men in Alan Wake and Max Payne? Even when characters can be described as "ladies men," such as Ezio in Assassin's Creed, they're more suave, exotic and intriguing rather than brawny, stupid, overbearing and sexist.
Of course, there are more male leads; that is not in question
It's obvious that we have more male protagonists than female. It's obvious as to why, though, isn't it? With the vast majority of games being action-centric, and action being a form of entertainment that tends to appeal more toward men, the main characters are likely going to be men. Makes sense to me. Sure, we can have female warriors. Would they make more sense clambering around a battlefield with a gun that's the size of their legs, as opposed to a man? Of course not.
That being said, given the great expansion of styles and categories of gaming, more women can be involved.
That being said, given the great expansion of styles and categories of gaming, more women can be involved. I wouldn't have any problem with that, provided these characters existed for the sake of the artistic expression, and not for the sake of a "statement."
In the end, nobody is contesting that there are far more male protagonists. What I'm not seeing, however, are all these outdated, highly offensive heroes that people still complain about. We're seeing vulnerable, more human characters on both sides of the equation; both male and female. Are there some exceptions to the rule? Sure, Kratos (God of War) is questionable. That's part mythological fiction, though, and if you read Greek lore, a character like that among the gods at Mount Olympus isn't abnormal.
Let's embrace the strides we've already taken
At the start, I mentioned hypocrisy. Well, if we're going to say gaming has taken great strides, that the industry has changed so much, we can't conveniently ignore the strides that make our argument more valid (and dramatic). One of the major strides we've taken involves the presentation of male heroes and it's absolutely critical. It can't be ignored.
Are young boys "learning" bad habits from such characters? ...what "bad habits" are there to learn? The fact that a man can indeed cry? That the desire to protect women isn't sexist? That men can be strong and respectful at the same time? The lessons learned from all these male characters I've mentioned would in no way result in an ignorant, hostile, abusive individual. If a person ends up that way, it's in spite of those male characters.