A new study has found that only 6% of video games feature a single female character as the lead protagonist.
Online gaming site Solitaired analysed 150 popular video games that were released between 1985 and 2022, and were available across different gaming platforms. The study looked at the campaign or story mode for each of the games in question, and at the sex of each of the game’s main protagonists.
It found that across these titles, only 6% of games featured a female character as a standalone protagonist – just nine of the 150 games included in the study. Of these nine games, two of the titles were sequels in the Portal and Tomb Raider franchises.
The games featuring a single female protagonist were; Portal (2007), Portal 2 (2011), Beyond Two Souls (2013), Tomb Raider (2013), Life Is Strange (2015), Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), The Walking Dead: Season Two (2013), Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) and Star Wars Battlefront II (2017).
A staggering 69.3% of titles (104 out of 150) featured a lone male protagonist in the game’s campaign, with some titles including multiple male, but no female, protagonists. Action and war-based games were some of the biggest offenders, such as Call of Duty 2 (2005), which features three male protagonists that the player assumes control of during the game’s three different campaigns.
Grand Theft Auto V was another game featuring three male protagonists, yet no option for a female lead in the story mode of the game – a theme that is consistent throughout the video game franchise. Rockstar recently announced that Grand Theft Auto VI will buck this trend by featuring a female protagonist for the first time ever, who will be one of the lead characters in the franchise’s latest instalment.
13.3% of titles (20 out of 150) featured at least one male and one female protagonist, however games with multiple protagonists were still typically weighted towards a higher number of male lead characters.
For example, some games opted for a 3:1 ratio of male to female characters including; Left 4 Dead (2008) and its sequel, Heavy Rain (2010) and Borderlands 2 (2012) all of which feature four main protagonists, only one of whom is female. Horror adventure game, Until Dawn (2015), showcased an equal split, with four male and four female protagonists that you can play as throughout the game.
8.7% of the titles (13 out of 150) did not assign a sex to the protagonist, instead allowing the player to select this at the start of the game. These titles include The Mass Effect series, which allow the player to customise either Commander John or Jane Shepherd, The Elder Scrolls (Oblivion and Skyrim), as well as Cyberpunk 2077 and Far Cry 5.
Says Neal Taparia, founder of Solitaired:
“For many years, gaming was considered a pastime typically reserved for males, but this is obviously an outdated stereotype. Female representation in video games is extremely important for creating positive role models for woman, who in reality account for a large proportion of the gaming community.
“We have seen more of an inclusive approach from some developers, with games featuring a female protagonist or the option to select the protagonist’s sex from the outset. While there has been some progress in recent years; the findings suggest that video games have historically failed to portray women as lead characters throughout their stories.”