The availability of female protagonists in video games and the push for more playable female characters has been a hot topic in recent years. For example, articles on the gender breakdowns at E3 or reasons that game companies provide for not having playable female characters often engender a great deal of discussion.

In this blog post, we’ll use survey data from 1,266 gamers to explore just how important female protagonists are to gamers, and how this varies across gamer segments.

Data From the Gamer Motivation Profile

Here at Quantic Foundry, in addition to the Gamer Motivation Profile, we also have additional research surveys that gamers can participate in. These surveys tackle a variety of game preference questions, and allow us to link gamers’ responses back to things like their motivation scores, gender, and age. 1,266 gamers participated in this research survey.

See how you compare with other gamers. Take a 5-minute survey and get your Gamer Motivation Profile

In the survey, we asked gamers to rate the importance of “Having the option to play a female protagonist” on a 5-point scale from “Not Important At All” (1) to “Extremely Important” (5).

75% of Female Gamers Rated Female Protagonists as Very or Extremely Important

The majority of female gamers (56.8%) rated the availability of female protagonists as being “extremely important”—this was more than 3 times higher than the number of male gamers who selected this response option. The most commonly selected response among male gamers was that female protagonists are “somewhat important”. Overall, 75% of female gamers rated female protagonists as “very” or “extremely” important.

Despite the gender disparity in the response, it still bears pointing out that roughly 1 out of 3 male gamers rated the availability of female protagonists as “very” or “extremely” important.

The Importance of Female Protagonists Doesn’t Change with a Gamer’s Age

The correlation between age and the importance rating of having a female protagonist option wasn’t significant (r=.05). This means that older gamers are not more or less likely than younger gamers to care about having a female protagonist.

Casual Gamers, Whether Male or Female, Are More Likely to Care About Female Protagonists

In the Gamer Motivation Profile, we ask gamers to self-identify as a Casual/Core/Hardcore gamer and provide the descriptions below for the categories. There isn’t a standardized industry-wide definition of these categories; in our survey, we decided to define the categories along an axis of gaming frequency and dedication.

Overall, casual gamers are most likely to rate a female protagonist as being important. The more hardcore a gamer is, the less importance they place on the availability of a female protagonist. Between the casual and hardcore gamers, there is almost a full 1-point drop on a 5-point importance scale.

This difference holds true for both male and female gamers—i.e., this finding isn’t simply because more female gamers identify as casual. Note that among male gamers (the second chart), the percentage of gamers who selected the “extremely important” option drops by almost half when we go from casual to hardcore (from 21% to 12%). And even though the importance of a female protagonist does decline among hardcore female gamers, roughly 2/3 of them still rate the availability of a female protagonist as “very” or “extremely” important.

Gamers Who Want Female Protagonists Score Higher on Design, Fantasy, and Story

In the Gamer Motivation Profile, we measure 12 gaming motivations, identified via statistical analysis of how gaming motivations cluster together. Thus, we’re able to examine how gaming motivations relate to the importance of having a female protagonist option.

Gamers who care more about the availability of female protagonists scored higher on Design (lots of customization options), Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else), and Story (interesting plot and characters). The correlations ranged from r=.14 to r=.26, and were similar for both male and female gamers.

This combination of motivations suggests that the range of customization options helps to enhance these gamers’ sense of being immersed in a role in an alternate world and engaging story. In this light, the availability of a female protagonist is less about the presence of a female body, but more about the “immersive possibility space” within which to explore. Or with a Lego analogy, the problem with not having blue Lego blocks isn’t that it’s missing blue specifically, but that it’s missing a primary color. And in hindsight, it would have been good have also asked about male protagonists to have a direct comparison.

The Opportunity in Action-Adventure Games

The motivation findings suggest that the availability of a female protagonist would have the largest impact on games that already target Fantasy and Story. This would include story-driven Open World games, many Action-Adventure games, and MMOs. Given that MMOs almost always provide gender choice, this opportunity is already tapped there. But since story-driven Action-Adventure games (which don’t always provide a female protagonist option) attract gamers with higher Fantasy and Story scores, the availability of a female protagonist would likely have a large impact in these games in terms of audience appeal, especially among female gamers.

What Do You Think?

If you think it’s important for a game to have the option of playing a female protagonist, tell us why having this option is important to you in terms of your enjoyment of the game. Is there anything that you feel is often misunderstood when the gaming community discusses female protagonists? Let us know in the comments below.

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