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Report: E3 2019 was a bad year for female representation in video games

Feminist Frequency’s annual look gender representation at E3 doesn’t look good for women

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel - Zelda and Link Nintendo EPD/Nintendo
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

A new report from Feminist Frequency published at Wired looks at the gender breakdown of protagonists in video games and of presenters at E3, and the overall takeaway is this: 2019 was a bad year for women’s representation at E3. E3 2019 had the lowest percentage of female protagonists since Feminist Frequency first starting collecting such data in 2015.

According to the report, 5 percent of games featured exclusively female protagonists this year whereas 22 percent featured exclusively male protagonists. This year 65 percent of games shown offer players multiple options when picking a gender.

Overall, there has been a trend for gender choice in video games, but Feminist Frequency’s report emphasizes that gender choice in games isn’t enough. It’s not just about having the option to play as a woman, it’s about centralizing video game narratives and play around women. Carolyn Petit, managing editor at Feminist Frequency, and Feminist Frequency executive director Anita Sarkeesian write,

It’s true that the number of games in which you either control characters of different genders or get to choose the gender of your hero character significantly outstrip those with established male or female protagonists. And of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one. However, it’s fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character.

The report breaks down gender representation among presenters as well. 21 percent of presenters at E3 were female this year. Among all the companies that presented, Square Enix had a particularly rough showing in terms of gender representation; out of 17 speakers, only two were women.

News like this is frustrating at best. Based on our coverage, female presenters and announcements of female characters were popular subjects. Ikumi Nakamura, creative director of GhostWire: Tokyo, had a brief cameo as part of Bethesda’s E3 presentation and that’s all the time it took for her to capture the hearts of many on the internet. Characters like short-haired Zelda, and Nessa, the newly announced gym leader from the Pokémon Sword and Shield games, have already inspired entire fan communities.

A deeper look at the data can be seen at Wired.