Women Gamers: Will a Female Be the Lead Character in Grand Theft Auto V?

The video game industry has an annual revenue of over $25 billion. One largely anticipated game set to be released in 2012 is Grand Theft Auto V (date yet unannounced), and it assuredly will not disappoint. One reason game forums await the release of GTA V is to find out if the male protaganist streak will be broken. A recent Internet trailer did nothing to confirm or deny rumors of a female lead character.

The question is no longer if women play video games, rather it has become how to address that niche. A 2011 study by the ESA shows that 42% of video gamers are female and make up 48% of the most frequent game purchasers. PC or console, more women are logging on than ever before, and why not? Today's 30-something woman is part of the first video game generation. Companies have taken notice that women are playing, that there is a culture and a strong demand.

But, they haven't yet hit the mark, so where does the problem lie? Absence of women in game development has led to a misrepresented demographic. The "Femme Tech" wave is gaining speed but will only be able to succeed if we increase numbers of women in game design. 

Somewhere between hardcore gaming and those who don't play video games at all is the female gamer. Playstation executive Jim Ryan called this untapped demographic "the holy grail" in an interview regarding the release of the new handheld Vita. This new gaming system offers a simplified interface and is predicted to be marketed towards the female gamer with a 2012 release.

Kelly Kelley is a 23-year-old competitive player and precisely what the companies are looking to attract. More commonly known by her gamer-tag, Mrs. Violence was raised playing video games with her brothers and father, also hardcore gamers. She has become a first rate competitor in FPS (First Person Shooter) games, a genre dominated by males. She most recently attracted attention for winning $25,000 in a Battlefield 3 competition and time as a pro coach for Gears of War on the Major League Gaming Circuit in 2011. Her example reveals that women are playing games, and they are a huge demographic that can contribute to this industry further. But, who will be the first to unlock the female gamer?

The International Game Developers Association formed a Women In Games special interest group with mission objectives such as recruitmenting and raising awareness of women contributors to the industry. While the number of women gamers has increased, actual workforce numbers remain scant at about 11%. For perspective, education and healthcare have well over 50% female employment. Discussions have been held worldwide about employment, portrayal, and representation of women in video games and surrounding culture. The answer is to diversify; the industry has the capacity to expand beyond the traditional male market, but will only do so once women become a presence in development.

Essentially, women are not represented in the classroom, numbers in development are low, and the industry is losing in more ways than one. A single idea can mean millions of dollars. Companies have not been able to consistently tap into the adage of "what women want." Until stereotypes regarding women and gaming can be let go, and the number of women behind the scenes increases, future developments will continue to reflect this gender imbalance. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons