I realized that I had been using a phrase in my posts that a lot of people are unfamiliar with, so I decided you all deserve an explanation. It’s one of my favourite phrases when discussing characters in video games:”Whitey McStubbly”. I first heard the phrase in an interview with Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett and started using it immediately. You’ve seen countless of them, but when you really stop to think about the protagonists in popular video games it’s quite startling how many of them are white, middle-aged men with that five-o-clock shadow and a slight scowl.
People who play video games are such an incredibly diverse group. It’s a universal medium that is enjoyed by fans of different size, race, gender, sexual orientation and degree of facial hair. So how come this diverse group of people are forced to play as the same boring “Whitey McStubbly” character in games? Why aren’t we as an industry striving for more? It’s an incredibly disappointing and frankly embarrassing fact that there aren’t more women protagonists when, according to a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015, “[e]qual numbers of men and women ever play video games.” Half of the people who play games are women, but how many games feature a female protagonist? According to another study conducted by EEDAR (a video game research firm) in 2013, it was found that about 3% of video games with protagonists of recognizable gender were female. So 50% of people who play games are women, but only 3% of games star female protagonists. I don’t see how anyone can try and tell me there isn’t a problem in our industry.
It isn’t a hard thing to do. Put more women in games. Put more women in games and make them as meaningful, well developed and thoughtful as the male characters. It’s an easy fix but the industry seems to be stuck in this perpetual regurgitation of the same character, a character who is quite uninteresting and at this point just annoying. Now I know the immediate comeback from shitty gamers is, “I can’t really relate to so and so female protagonist.” First of all, your gender doesn’t dictate what experiences you can and can’t relate to because regardless the protagonist is a person. So if you feel you cannot relate to a female protagonist do you truly view women as people? Not only does that demonstrate a complete disregard towards half of the video game playing community but it also exposes a worryingly misogynistic way of thinking.
Second thing that they’ll say is, “you can’t stifle designers creative freedom, people are allowed to make whatever they want.” They’re right, people are allowed to make whatever they want. There’s nothing stopping another thousand games being made with the same lame male protagonist. But the question I have for the designers of those games is “are you actually being creative?” The reason “Whitey McStubbly” is so laughable at this point is because he’s been done thousands of times before. If another game comes out starring this dated archetype then that designer has chosen to not be creative but simply add another instalment in the long-running “Whitey McStubbly” franchise.
I’m not above giving into the “Whitey McStubbly” fandom, as my girlfriend aptly pointed out. As I look around my room at the statues of my favourite characters from games they are all white, they are all men, and they all have some facial hair. So I’m not saying stop buying all games with this type of protagonist. That’s ridiculous, you would miss out on so many wonderful experiences like BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and my most anticipated game of 2016 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. All of these games star “Whitey McStubbly.” They are all also incredible games. Players, myself included, just have to be more critical of these games while they’re playing them.
We need to look objectively at the product and not let our feelings for them stop us from also noticing their flaws and shortcomings, especially in the diverse characters department. So while I will be picking up games in 2016 that fall into the “Whitey McStubbly” franchise I will also be looking for more games that break the mould and strive to be different. I’m very interested in TellTale’s The Walking Dead: Michonne,. which I’ve been playing each episode as they release. I’m also eagerly awaiting Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Dishonored 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn. And as I look forward into 2017 and beyond I’m very certain that more games will be giving players diverse and interesting characters to explore fantastical new worlds with.