Women Are Half Of Video Gamers, So Where Are The Female Video Game Characters?

The Entertainment Software Association has affirmed what we already know. Unsurprisingly, an awful lot of women play video games, and that women are well-represented among frequent game purchasers:

According to a report released this week by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 45% of the entire game playing population are women and they comprise 46% of the most frequent video game purchasers. The study, 2013 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, found that women 18 and older make up 31% of the video game-playing population, while boys 17 and under represent only 19% of today’s gamers. Another study released by Magid Advisors found that 70% of women between the ages of 12 and 24 play video games. The study also found 61% of women between the ages of 45 and 64 also play games, compared to 57% of men in the same age group.

Those numbers come the day after Anita Sarkeesian pointed out that at the E3 conference, there were no games teased for the XBox One that featured female characters (and, predictably, got harassed for it). And it’s that confluence of figures that explain why it’s so hard to convince the branches of the entertainment industry that they ought to try harder to offer up female characters and characters of color.

Being underserved by media doesn’t mean that people stop consuming it. Latinos go to the movies at a higher rate than members of any other racial or ethnic group, seeing 5.3 movies a year to the 3.7 movies in theaters attended each year by African-American consumers, and the 3.5 movies per year for white moviegoers. In every age group except 2-11, women are more frequent moviegoers than men. Women lag behind in gaming, but they’re awfully close to parity, even if the characters on screen aren’t. With women and people of color participating significantly in the entertainment market, what financial incentives do movie studios or video game companies have to try to cater more audiences whose business they’re already getting?

The best answer is that those margins could always be bigger. Because Hollywood wants to capture international audiences, particularly in China, where movie theaters are coming online at an astonishing rate, we’re seeing more Asian actors, at least in minor roles, in studio productions, and seeing them portrayed more positively. If 31 percent of women who are 18 or older play video games, that’s great, but why wouldn’t you want that number to get higher, and to see if you can move women into more expensive and time-intensive forms of gaming, rather than convincing yourself that the market of female gamers is well-served by casual offerings, one of the excuses we often hear for why there aren’t video game characters. If Latinos are seeing 5.3 movies a year, that’s great, but why are the numbers for African-Americans lower, and why can’t the ceiling on both be higher? And if it seems rational to spend $237 million on the first installment of a potential franchise about peacenik, enviro-aliens that’s not based on a Disney ride, why is it so terribly difficult to imagine spending some of the resulting Avatar money on building a generation of directors like Nancy Meyers, a woman who spends between $65 million and $85 million making her movies, a bunch of that going to salary, and makes back her budgets comfortably?

For some reason, rationality and the profit motive don’t seem to apply to women and people of color when it comes to the entertainment industry. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to squeeze more profits out of international audiences, and out of young men, who seem pretty comfortably served themselves by blockbusters’ takeover of Hollywood. But apparently when it comes to women and non-white people, once again, we’re the tapped-out exception, rather than a potentially profitable rule.