Much ado has been made about the new release last week of Microsoft's Xbox One and the new games presented at the E3 videogame conference in Los Angeles, particularly about the implications of how the console tracks movements and saves players' information. There has also been a louder criticism about how this could relate to the NSA PRISM scandal.
Yet if there is one thing Microsoft did not announce, it's games involving female protagonists. This glaring lack of representation was something feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian — also known as Feminist Frequency — pointed out on Twitter.
The reaction was a wave of viscerally misogynistic hate speech.
Sarkeesian posted on her blog a screenshot of her tweet reading "Thanks #XBoxOne #E3 press conference for revealing to us exactly zero games featuring a female protagonist for the next generation." Following this was a screenshot of the response with the caption, "Below are some of the Twitter replies to that observation which exemplify the male privilege and male entitlement endemic in the gaming community today. This is also a window into what it’s like to be a female video game critic on Twitter."
Many made the argument that there simply aren't enough women in the gaming world to justify having female leads. Most thought it didn't warrant attention at all. One tweet read, "@femfreq were you expecting a cooking and cleaning game?"
However, the line of reasoning about the market for women gamers is blatantly false. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, women make up 47% of all gamers. Additionally, women over 18 represent a greater population of all gamers at 30% than boys 17 or younger, only at 18%.
So if the markets for women gamers exist, the gaming world just chooses to ignore it. The problem of the lack of women's representation is a larger structural problem, right down to the disproportionate number of women in videogame coding.
Sound familiar? What the E3 case represents is indicative of a larger misogynistic culture in the tech community. The hate speech launched against Feminist Frequency is eerily similar to the now-infamous Donglegate that went down at Pycon.
At an open-source conference, Adria Richards overheard two men making sexual "dongle" jokes. She tweeted their picture and their jokes and ultimately both lost their jobs.
While the debate is out on whether or not Richards was justified in posting their pictures on social media, the following tidal wave of sexist comments, hate speech, and even rape and death threats were not.
So why should we even care? In gaming particularly, characters matter. Roles matter. The appeal to games as a form of entertainment is the very notion of being able to identify to the story.
In gaming we don't just get to watch the hero beat the villain; we get to be the hero beating the villain.
Having no female leads in any Xbox One game says to women that we don't matter. We can't be the heroes. We'll always need saving.