One of the things the Remember Me team heard was “You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward.” This statement is ridiculous for several reasons. Firstly, as there are very few female-led games, but a large portion of gamers are female, women would regularly kiss other women in games. The publishers obviously don’t find that awkward, so why should it be awkward for a man? Secondly, kissing someone in a game doesn’t mean you want to kiss them in real life, in the same way as killing someone in a game doesn’t mean you want to kill them in real life. I assume that pretty much all gamers would agree with the latter, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t agree with the former. It’s a game, it’s fiction, it has nothing to do with your sexuality. Lastly, do they really think so poorly of their target audience? I cannot imagine a gamer feeling awkward about a kiss, or even a love scene, as long as it’s a natural and integral part of the story. Except, of course, if they’re 15 years old and playing next to their mother...
I think the issue is much more about economics than about homophobia. Geoffrey Zatkin, the COO of EEDAR, a big-time market research firm for the game industry, told the Penny Arcade Report that games with male protagonists sell 75 % better than games with female ones. In the same interview Zatkin informs that female-led games have a marketing budget less than 40 % of male-led games. So we’re in a “the chicken or the egg”-situation. Do games with female heroes sell poorly because of their low marketing budget, or are their marketing budgets low because they sell poorly? The answer is probably a little bit of both, although I do think that when you market a game as a niche game, it is likely to mainly reach the niche it’s marketed towards.
Now, I appreciate the fact that this is a business and publishers want to make sound investments, but I’m wondering if maybe they’re doing themselves a huge disservice. Although I love a good AAA title as much as the next person, I feel like they’re all getting very predictable and indistinguishable. Most of them seem to be sequels, milking away on their predecessors success, while the rest stay nicely on the beaten tracks of previous big titles. If the big publishers out there would mix it up a little bit more, these dime a dozen games would have a longer shelf life than I predict they will when they are being served to gamers over and over again.
For me it’s pretty simple, a game should be built around a story, and the protagonist’s gender should be whatever is natural to the story. And luckily, even if some good female-led stories are passed up by the big studios, there are plenty of independent studios willing to tell a great story, regardless of the hero’s gender.