Does genre play a role in gender distribution?

To determine whether there was any variation in the participation rates of each role between different genres I categorised each game as either action, Strategy or Roleplaying game (RPG). In this schema Action would include games where the player usually controls a single entity (vehicle, person, monster) with direct control over the movements, attacks and other actions. This would include First Person Shooters (FPS), Beat ‘Em Ups, Sports games etc. Strategy games include anything where an abstract collective is controlled, usually at a slower pace, and without direct control over all actions (so, one could move units but would not actively aim weapons, take evasive action etc). RPGs were defined as those that typically elements of character development (either a single or party), statistical representations of skills (rather than player skill), variable equipment/inventory management, a relatively well established narrative and so on. There are of course many instances where a single game draws from multiple genres, or belongs a more specific sub-genre, for example, Arma 3 contain elements of FPS and Strategy, XCOM combines strategy with RPG elements, Diablo 3 is an Action/RPG and so on. However, with a sample size of only 100 games adding in more nuanced sub-genres makes identifying trends and themes in the data very difficult. Limiting the data to three categories will give sufficient detail to identify trends and themes to prompt further investigation.

Action, Strategy or RPG

Action games accounted for almost half (44) of those sampled, Strategy about a third (31) and RPGs a quarter (25). Only 1.8% of roles in the Action genre were occupied by women, compared to 5.8% for strategy and 6.4% for RPGs. Action was therefore below the average of the entire sample (4.2%), while Strategy and RPG were above. The distribution was more uneven when looking at specific roles. Among RPGs women accounted for 16% of Producers and Writers, were absent in the other roles. Women also saw stronger representation as Writers in Strategy games (12.9%) and as Directors (9.7%). While clearly an improvement from the current average, these specific increases nonetheless still represent an overwhelming male presence in the roles.

The table below sets out the results for all roles across the three genres.

% not maleProducerDirectorWriterLead ArtistLead Programmer
All genre (100)
Action (44)
Strategy (25)3.29.712.90.03.2
RPG (31)

So, More Women = Smarter, Thinkier games?

Well, no. But also not no. It isn’t entirely clear whether the increase in representation in Strategy and particular RPGs is significant given the relatively small sample, and, it isn’t entirely clear which way any causal relationship would operate. Are women more attracted to working in these kinds of games or are they more likely to be recruited to these kinds of games? Interestingly, the increase in producers and writers in the RPG genre is similar to an effect seen in Hollywood – where an increase in producers leads to an increase in writers (but not necessarily directors). Given that there are some contemporary RPGs that have significant cinematic elements in terms of narrative, dialogue etc (Dragon Age series, Mass Effect series, Fallout:NV etc) there is perhaps something happening there, but there is no indication of what that might be. This is both the usefulness and limitation of a purely quantitative approach – it demonstrates an effect but doesn’t give much away in terms of the cause.

It could also be that Action films simply don’t require as much skill with the written word as an RPG, and therefore, they tend to have the role filled by someone already on staff acting as, say, the director and writer. This could be confirmed through another look at the credits to determine whether people are operating across multiple roles.

Player Character

While delving into the specifics of the content of each of games is outside of the intended scope of this series of posts, I thought it might be worthwhile, since the data was pretty easy to include, to also take a look at whether there was any connection between the types of characters available and the gender of those involved.

To determine I assigned each game a code of M, F or MF depending on whether the player character (PC) was exclusively Male (e.g in the Crysis Series), exclusively female (e.g Tomb Raider series) or a choice of either Male or Female (or any non-binary gender). Where there PC was an ungendered object (e.g such as a car in Rocket League) I used the MF code to indicate that the object was either ungendered or informally gendered by the player.

Of the 100 games sampled 2 were coded F, 37 were MF and 61 were M. This means well over half featured no playable female character, while 98% had a male character available. Games coded MF did tend to have a higher participation rate, but as this was most evident in the Producer and Writer role, it was likely that this was more due to the fact that RPGs frequently have character customisation processes that includes gender selection.

On the face of it then there doesn’t appear to be a specific direct connection but rather a secondary connection via genre. This forms an interesting, and difficult to untangle, knot – do women play RPGs more often, and if so is it because of the availability of female PCs? And does this then drive women into the industry to work on the kinds of games they’d like to play themselves? Or, in other words, which came first; the developer, the player, or the player character? A larger sample could tease out more details of how these elements interact and give more of an indication of any causal relationship between genre, player character and production.

Part 4: Case Study – Dragon Age: Inquisition (Bioware)

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