Why aren’t mobile games more reflective of their users?

If you’re even remotely interested in video games or feminism and use the internet then you know that any discussion of the two has inevitably turned into an absolute clusterfuck for the last 6 months. It’s a shame too because in all the controversy about controversy – and I don’t want to downplay the legitimate issues that are wrapped up in that – stuff like this recent Washington Post article are slipping through the cracks.

Madeline Messer, a 12 year old who seems way smarter than I was at 12, noticed that in the games she and her friends were playing there often wasn’t a choice to play as a female character.

Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters. Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free. Considering that the players of Temple Run, which has been downloaded more than one billion times, are 60 percent female, this system seems ridiculous.

This isn’t a malicious problem but it is a pervasive one – I mean the numbers show it. Take for example Temple Run, it’s created by a husband and wife team who, at least in the interviews I’ve read, seem like really nice people. I can’t imagine them twirling their mustaches at the idea of disempowering little girls. In fact, they have a version of the game that defaults to a female character (Temple Run: Brave). But it is indicative of an industry wide issue.

It’s like the Bechdel Test. The problem isn’t that one game charges for female characters, it’s that 85% of games charge for them if they even have them. That’s got to be disheartening and something that young kids, unfortunately, internalize.

It’s a shame we aren’t talking about this more. Not just because she has a point, but because a 12 year old doing something like this is something to be encouraged.