Ah. Video games. They've gotten to a point where they can offer the challenge of a game and full cinematic experience of a film at the same time. Some games are even released in more affordable installments in an episodic fashion, much like a television program. Unfortunately, video games still seem to be a little lost in the past when it comes to being more inclusive of other genders and races. While a lot of games sport customizable characters that allow the user to play as an avatar that looks almost exactly like them, many games still offer the spotlight to generic, white, well-muscled males that should have names like "Dirk Manhandsome".
There are statistics floating around out there that women make-up about half of the gaming community. This is technically true. What these statistics don't come out and say outright is that women aren't half of the community that plays expensive AAA games on expensive consoles. These statistics come from women that are playing cheaper games on their phones.
This is not to say that women don't "game" in the traditional sense of the word. That isn't even remotely true - but can the women that don't be blamed for not playing these big money-making AAA games? They have very little to choose from in terms of awesome female heroes. The female gender isn't shown much love in traditional gaming even as secondary characters. Let's take a look at how female characters have been (and still are) treated in the world of traditional gaming. Maybe if some of the studios eased up on some of these tropes, more women would be playing the big expensive titles on expensive systems.
It's pretty difficult to relate to a character when they're a Princess nine times out of ten. Many gamer's aren't royalty and a single video game console could be the entire focal point of entertainment in the home. This issue of "every female character being a princess" is mainly a flaw in older games that has more or less been righted, but it took a rather long time for that to happen. The object to many games of the past was "saving the Princess." In the modern era, we finally have some kick-ass female characters, but they're still loaded with problems in an industry that's still trying to be more inclusive to females and follow less sexist tropes.
In many cases where a female is a main character, you can't even tell they're female. The most notable example of this is probably Samus Aran from the Metroid series. Samus wears a full high-tech suit that covers her from head-to-toe and doesn't leave much room for speculating gender. In fact, when the first Metroid game came out on the NES, there was one line in the instruction manual that referred to Samus with a feminine pronoun. Many kids were oblivious to the fact that they were playing a female character.
A more modern example is Vandal from Dead Space. Anyone could be under all that armor. This could very well be a move to keep male players interested in playing a female character.
One the other end of the spectrum, it can be a little too obvious that the character is female. Games in the Dead or Alive series are pretty heavy handed with the concept of using heterosexual male fantasy to model their roster of female characters. They aren't making these games for women (and that's okay), but many games that are targeted at a much wider audience do the same thing.
Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series, and Rayne of the BloodRayne series are all supposed to be strong, female protagonists that break the mold of the traditional video game hero, but they're rarely wearing clothes that leave much to the imagination.
Many argue that men are given unrealistic bodies as well, but those strong and handsome male characters are created to fulfill male self-image fantasies, and not female sexual fantasies.
Many female characters in games are secondary to the male heroes. Even when strong females are included, they're always a bit weaker or merely assist the males. Probably the all-time worst example of this is Roll, Mega Man's little sister. Not only does she not follow Mega Man on his adventures, but she is relegated to a very traditional female roll: the housekeeper. Mega Man goes on adventures, Roll stays home and does the laundry. In fact, her character quote on her Mega Man wikia entry is:
"I still have cleaning and laundry to do, so let's make this quick! "
Many lead female characters that we get in games are simply re-skins of other male characters. We use the term "re-skin" pretty loosely here.
Many female protagonists were simply a female version of a pre-existing male character. A good example of this might be Nariko from Heavenly Sword.
Heavenly Sword is so similar to the God of War series that it seems like an attempt to simply do a "female version" without creating a unique gaming experience around a new female character. Though the games don't exist in the same universe, there are quite a few easter egg references to God of War within Heavenly Sword.
We see a lot of this sort of thing done more directly and obviously in older games. Ms. Pac-Man is just Pac-Man with a bow. Amy Rose is just a pink version of Sonic. Roll is just a weaker, female version of Mega Man.
There are many games that have included the same roster of female characters throughout decades of games, without once having them be usable as a proper playable character. The Mario series only had Princess Peach appear as a playable character one time in the proper line of the series (excluding games like Mario Party) and this was largely due to the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 was just a re-tooled game called Doki Doki Panic. Bodies were needed to fill in the roles of all four characters, and Mario's roster wasn't very full yet.
Roll has been playable in a few Mega Man games, but never in the series proper as a true hero. The same goes for Amy Rose in the proper Sonic the Hedgehog series. She's never been playable on the same level as characters like Tails or Knuckles.
There are many games that are so gosh darn manly you rarely even see women in any kind of role. This is especially strange in the relatively new Mad Max: Wasteland. Considering the game was made to be released around the same time as the home release of Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie highly revered for it's strong female protagonist that out-shined the titular male character, it's a little surprising that Wasteland barely features any women. There are some cinematic cut scenes and side quests, but for the most part, Max, his assisting characters, the main villains, and generic goons, are all male. Most women are held captive, need help, or are in weakened states.
This one goes without saying. For decades the object of almost every game was to save the damsel in distress. This one is a little perplexing because it happened so early on in video game history you have to wonder how creators just sort of knew most serious gamer's would be boys. You almost have to wonder if it's common tropes like this that set the precedent that video games would be a "boy's toy" in the first place.
While we're out of the era where this was almost always the case, a male character rescuing a female is still a widely used plot.
Women are often used as rewards. There have been "adult" games targeted towards heterosexual males that make a point of using female nudity as a reward, but you see it appear in games that aren't specifically made to be adult or necessarily targeted towards heterosexual males.
Games in the Tony Hawk series (a series that usually offers a playable female option) have had hidden rooms you can break into where you'll find a female stripper pole dancing. Many games, like The Saboteur, have DLC packages that show female characters breasts or even make the breasts larger and bouncier. Lollipop Chainsaw has unlock-able outfits that put its female protagonist in fantasy outfits (a sexy cowgirl for instance) and string bikinis. Even older games like Smash TV had icons of scantily clad women you could pick up to signify winning a lady as a prize in the game's fictional high stakes game show.
This one is awfully strange. You'd think it wouldn't be hard to include a generic female avatar in a modern video game. Some games that allow players to choose from a number of races don't even have female options for every race. Sometimes this may fit in with the lore of the game's world, but these are exceptional characters your customers are playing. A girl should be able to play a female of any race if she chooses.
The most bizarre example of this was in Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The player uses a blank slate, painfully average male avatar. There is no physical customization available to the character whatsoever. It seems strange to not just offer just as plain and nondescript of a female avatar as well. Especially since the avatar is often referred to as "rookie" instead of any gender specific pronoun.
The only time you ever find a girl rescuing her boyfriend is when the game is purposefully trying to turn the "damsel in distress" trope on its head. It isn't widely used enough that it can ever come off as anything more than an exception to the rule.
There's a very good chance that this is because most AAA games are played by males. Many males will play as a female, but they're still not there yet when it comes to rescuing a male love interest.
Lollipop Chainsaw features the playable character, Juliette Starling, rescuing her boyfriend, but this happens very early on in the game and is more of a vehicle for comic relief.
A common trope used in video games these days is a sympathetic villain. We're given a villain who is clearly in the wrong, but perhaps they're doing all these bad things for some greater good they perceive, or to save the life of a loved one. This is seen mainly with male villains, but female villains are usually portrayed as a black-and-white idea of evil. They generally hate the protagonist, have a thirst for power, and are borderline devil incarnates.
For example, Mileena in the Mortal Kombat series is a scantily clad woman that is quite literally a "man-eater". This beautiful female is actually a monster. That's some pretty heavy metaphor.
In the world of RPGs, you have access to a large number of playable characters. These characters often run the spectrum of gender, race, and personality types. Unfortunately, the main protagonist is almost always male. The male is the one character you almost always have to keep in your party.
We should mention the fact that the female characters you can choose to put in your party usually fall victim to a number of other items on the list.
This one is similar to the concept of a hero being so covered up they are effectively gender neutral, but adds to it. These days, it's still extremely shocking that a badass character turns out to be female. One of the best examples of this "OMG! This character was a girl all along! But girl's can't be awesome!" happens in Dead Space. The character of Vandal wears armor head to toe and even speaks with a voice synthesizer that for some reason doesn't make her sound like a different woman, but makes her sound more like a man.
Obviously this reveal is to prove to people that women can kick butt too, but it's 2015. Why can't we get a female hero with a muscular build and wearing all her clothes right out the door? Perhaps if the creators of these major titles stopped acting like a woman capable of heroism is such a big shock, it would stop being a big deal and become more of a norm. Hey, the Portal series nailed it. Why can't others?