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It’s the summer, which means that colossal pop-culture events are usually taking place around the world, particularly in the US. Enormous events of the likes of E3, PAX, and Comic-Con not only celebrate the state of play, but they also come with a line of major announcements to roadmap the future of the scene. It’s a great time of year to be a gamer and we are enjoying an increase of women protagonists in games, so it only makes sense to reflect on how women have changed gaming and continue to shape the industry.
The characters that changed the game
Before it boomed into the mainstream, gaming was very much seen as a boys-only activity, with games and consoles created and marketed as such.
Of course, many girls were playing and enjoying games, but the focus and the perception were to the contrary. This is why the introduction of the character Lara Croft has also been seen in hindsight as a move that pandered to the perceived audience, due to her presentation at the time. One of the six developers working on the Core Design-made original, Heather Gibson, famously commented that bringing in a female lead character wasn’t easy at the time due to the market having established itself as very masculine.
Then they released Tomb Raider and completely changed the scene, proving that not only can women play a prominent role in games, but that those games can also be incredibly popular and broaden the appeal of the industry. It presented and continues to offer a character for women to identify with and admire as the epitome of a smart and crafty action heroine. Now, Lara Croft is an icon of gaming, with gamers still playing the latest Tomb Raider games even after 24 games.
However, she’s not the only female prominently etched into gaming history. The most storied and resilient form of gaming is that of casino gaming, with its most recognizable game being that of roulette. Historically, the game’s first official description is traced back to a French novel from 1796, which takes the form of letters written between a husband and wife. Today, it takes the form of online roulette for free or real money at various online sites that offer a range of offers to attract customers. The female character of the French novel helped to add intrigue and popularise roulette, which has stood the test of time to become a game that people enjoy playing just as much with real money or for free.
Since these historic females featured within gaming, gradually, more have followed in and around the games. One of the most notable on this front is the female cast of the sensational World of Warcraft. Perhaps the most important online multiplayer game of all-time, Warcraft’s popularity doesn’t just derive from its groundbreaking gameplay: it also managed to appeal to everyone, mainly due to its development of female characters, all of whom had their own aspirations and goals within the fantasy setting. More recently, characters like Ellie from The Last of Us and Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn have championed great females in games.
Ruling behind the scenes and in the spotlight
As the industry moves forward, innovations and popular spaces are coming to the fore, such as eSports. The organized competitive gaming industry is expanding gaming, making it into a spectator sport and a new entertainment medium derived from an existing entertainment medium. Several women have already established themselves as titans of eSports.
Most notable of them all is Canadian gamer Scarlett, who dominated the absurdly competitive StarCraft II scene. Not only did she go to live in the Korea Republic to improve her game, but she ended up conquering players from the ever-dominant nation, earning the nickname “Korean Kryptonite.” While talented female gamers are at the forefront of competitive gaming, they have been shaping gaming culture from behind the scenes for decades.
Jade Raymond founded Motive Studios and Ubisoft Toronto, but she has also been brought into the pioneering development team behind the Google Stadia game streaming platform. Kate Gorman decided to use her experience as the youngest ever director of product at Zynga to become the CEO of Fort Mason Games and specifically tailor creations that are aimed at the overlooked demographic of female gamers.
There may still be this idea of games being predominantly for men, but women have been incredibly influential over the decades, and even over the centuries, and are now much more prominent and recognized across the industry