Myth vs Fact: There Aren’t Enough Video Games With Female Playable Lead Protagonists

Are there enough video games with female playable lead protagonists? Some male gamers seem to think so. But why do so many female gamers disagree?

Let’s assume that “enough” means parity or at least somewhat close to parity with the number of games featuring male playable lead protagonists.

It would be arduous — though not impossible — to catalog every video game publicly released since 1958’s Tennis For Two (considered to be the first video game created for entertainment) and determine whether the playable lead protagonist is female, male, or unspecified/player-selectable/gender-neutral. Some studies have attempted to do this but only with a subset of games.

Perhaps a simpler and more useful approach would be to qualify the scope. What if we looked at, say, just the Top 100 Games of All Time? Is there such a list that we could all agree on? Ever since video game journalists started compiling “Best of All Time” lists, gamers have endlessly argued over the rankings.

It turns out that Wikipedia editors have attempted to come up with One List to rule them all by surveying more than seventy “Best of All Time” lists across English-speaking publications from 1985 to the present and then ranked the games according the number of times they appeared in the surveyed lists. The concept is similar to a meta-analysis that statistically combines the results of many independent studies.

So how many of these Top 100 Games of All Time feature a female playable lead protagonist?

The answer: 8.

That’s right, only 8 out of the Top 100 Games of All Time feature a female playable lead protagonist.

Since there are so few to remember, it’s no surprise that most male gamers are quick to point out these time-honored examples of great games with female playable lead protagonists: Metroid, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, Tomb Raider, Ms. Pac-Man, Portal, Portal 2 and Okami.

Even if we lump in the 19 games that feature a lead playable protagonist whose gender is unspecified/player-selectable/gender-neutral, that still leaves a whopping 73 of the Top 100 Games of All Time with a male lead playable protagonist. Clearly, this is far from parity and a long ways away from an “even playing field” that allows for female gamers to feel included and fairly represented in video games.

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Go ahead, pick any Top 100 Games of All Time list, run the same analysis and post your findings in the comments section. I’m betting that the splits won’t look that much different, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Here’s the raw data from my analysis. For games featuring more than one playable lead protagonist, the gender determination was categorized as either female, male, or neutral depending on the composition. For example, games like Street Fighter II got counted as male due to having only one female out of eight selectable fighters, and Resident Evil counted as neutral because players can choose between Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. Let me know in the comments if you find any errors.







3 thoughts on “Myth vs Fact: There Aren’t Enough Video Games With Female Playable Lead Protagonists

  1. Looking at that list (or rather, the short list of games with female leads that’s 37.5% Metroid), I’m actually curious how the ratios would change if you tracked by overall gender ratio for distinct characters instead of overall lead role gender.

    Specifically, how does the ratio measure up when you remove duplicates of characters such as Samus (or Mario)?


    1. That’s an interesting idea. If I understand you correctly, it sounds like you’re proposing a gender analysis from the “number of characters” perspective, which I think would require a list of “the best video game characters of all time” or “the most iconic video game characters of all time.” I was looking at it from the “number of games” perspective and my analysis was based on Wikipedia’s list of the best games of all time which contains multiple titles spanning popular game series like Metroid and Mario as you noted. If you want to run an analysis from the “number of characters” perspective, I would recommend limiting the list of characters to playable lead characters to keep the focus on gender representation of playable protagonist heroes.


  2. Some of these your really bending what game has a male protagonist. The main protagonist of FF6 is Terra (Female) but you have listed it as male. Many others, particulary fighting games with a character choice, that I would have listed as neutral you have listed as male.
    Almost as if your trying to confirm your own bias. mhm…


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