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Nintendo is moving closer to gender equality than most major publishers

The topic of women in gaming is usually an easy one to discuss, mainly thanks to how diverse the games industry is. Oh, sorry, that last sentence is just one massive typo, in reality the exact opposite is true. Take a look at just about any gaming outlet, and you'll no doubt find stories about gender inequality in games. For instance, Ubisoft avoided including female assassin's in its upcoming game Assassin's Creed Unity because, according to the developer, doing so would've resulted in too much production work. It saddens me to see a lack of options for female characters in any game--why should all saviors of the universe be dudes? But even if Ubisoft struggles with adding female characters to its games, Nintendo has been announcing a strong female roster for many of its newest games.

Just look at the Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS roster. The series began on N64 with few playable women; now there are eight female characters confirmed for the upcoming sequel. Alongside those XX-chromosome brawlers are four others that let players pick the gender of the fighter pre-match. That may not be total equality with the number of male characters in Smash Bros., but it's miles ahead of many other fighting games. The addition of these characters feels like a totally natural progression of the franchise, not some tacked-on agenda.

The inclusion of more female characters works because Nintendo's recent games show a clear effort to add more women in leading roles. As another example, take a look at the upcoming Hyrule Warriors. The Legend of Zelda spinoff stars Link, but every other playable character announced so far is a woman, including Zelda, who for once doesn't fill her typical role as a kidnapping victim. We'll all just have to wait and see how the final game's roster looks as far as women go, but this is a damn good start.

These two upcoming games are hardly outliers for Nintendo. Super Mario 3D World had both Princess Peach and Rosalina as one of five playable characters, and there were more playable women to be found in Pikmin 3, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Donkey Kong Country. Bayonetta 2, one of very few major games in 2014 to exclusively star a woman, wouldn't even exist without Nintendo publishing it. Was this all a happy accident or some new, feminist agenda for Nintendo executives? Does it matter? Inclusivity is a good thing anyway you look at it.

Nintendo definitely seems to be aiming to be more inclusive than its competition, and based on what I saw at 2014's Game Developers Conference, that seems to be the situation behind the scenes too. Amidst all the male game developers hosting panels, it was incredibly refreshing to hear from Aya Kyogoku, the game director on Animal Crossing: New Leaf panel. She spoke at length about fostering diversity in her development team, and how that led to a more creative atmosphere for creating the very popular Animal Crossing sequel. She's still one of too-few women at her level in Nintendo (and in the industry in general), but she even noted that she thought that trend was changing.

Is Nintendo perfect? Far from it--there's still plenty of room for improvement. For one, there's the very confused messaging about same sex relationships in Tomodachi Life, the continued overuse of the tired damsel in distress trope, and a number of troublingly hypersexualized characters among the inspiring fictional women. For as female-focused as Hyrule Warriors seems to be so far, there's still the fact that the roster includes the scantily clad villainess Cia. And the less said about Zero Suit Samus' high heels, the better. All of those don't do much good for equality, but stepping away from ingrained practices like those takes time.

Of course, I'm not naive enough to think that making Princess Peach playable, or bringing back Dixie Kong, will immediately fix such a deeply entrenched problem as gender inequality. And if what I'm talking about here feels threatening or unnecessary, you might want to rethink things. Games can be a very unwelcoming place for half of the planet's population, and it's going to take a lot of work to change that. Moves like these may just be baby steps in the right direction, but it's positive momentum regardless. In an industry where negative press and a vocal minority of misogynists can make it look like every disc comes stamped with a big "No Girls Allowed!" sticker, it's worth celebrating something favorable when it happens.

17 comments

  • _--_ - July 16, 2014 3:31 a.m.

    --just found out today the 2014 nintendo club account gold and platinum awards --yes... --its... --sub par~dated~game downloads?? --i guess nintendo was happy giving all the nobodies who bought the wii --AWESOME club rewards(rewards those people NEVER even knew about) --but now --the core gamers who have supported wiiU and 3ds(the MILLIONS of us) --will have to settle with(after a WHOLE year of 'keeping up' with the club account) --a free copy --of watch and wario --or DKCR3D --which is a pretty good bargain(if you havent already owned and played them) --but --not EXACTLY 'exciting' --fricking nintendo --come on now!
  • mothbanquet - July 16, 2014 2:35 a.m.

    Gender equality from the Japanese? Baffles the mind... I also question the simple equation of woman+sword/gun=equal representation. To me that's a gross oversimplification. Most gamer women I know laugh at even gaming's most prolific female characters, as quite often they have nothing in their personalities that define them as women. Simply putting a wig and a skirt on a knight or space marine doesn't make them any more a woman than sticking a tail on a tomato and calling it a dog. The fact is that women are different from men, and not just physically. Rarely, if ever, do games actually write believable female characters because they fail to realise this. Focus more on rendering realistic female personalities and less on their tits - yes, that applies to you too, Nintendo.
  • mesa12358 - July 16, 2014 2:27 a.m.

    Thanks, that was a really good article :)
  • pl4y4h - July 15, 2014 5:52 p.m.

    It's a good thing you noted it here because the only thing I could think of reading this title was the "high heel fiasco"
  • Outofmanyone - July 15, 2014 4:02 p.m.

    "and a number of troublingly hypersexualized characters" I think somebody needs to have a little chat with Hollywood and the Music Industry before condemning the big N for this. "Of course, I'm not naïve enough to think that making Princess Peach playable, or bringing back Dixie Kong, will immediately fix such a deeply entrenched problem as gender inequality." What would? a 50-50 split between male and female characters for every game Nintendo develops? Could they honestly fix race based issues by including one of each ethnicity in each of the games they release? "She's still one of too-few women at her level in Nintendo (and in the industry in general)" You might as well add the Automotive Industry to that, as well as other trades such as Plumbing, Electrical Engineering, Roofing, ect. All of which my family member are part of so I know this from first hand experience. I know of only one female from my Advanced Automotive Technology class that went on to be a technical adviser for VW and I never heard any complaining about an industry full of men holding her back. If there's an issue, it seems to be more woman need to apply themselves to those industry's and if they're smart and work hard, they will succeed. Are you really saying Nintendo purposely keeps woman at the lower level? I think that's a pretty devious accusation. Look, I'm not picking on you but I am not a fan of complaining, that's all I see in this article and that's not what I've come to know and expect from GR.
  • _--_ - July 15, 2014 2:04 p.m.

    --what in the world is going on here at GR? --this article --it makes no sense? --nintendo doesnt even have any games coming up --true smash bros --but --what is going on at gr?
  • shawksta - July 15, 2014 1:09 p.m.

    Meh The way i see Zero Suit Samus in New Smash, is that Sakurai decided to take the heels that Other M gave Samus and actually make use of them as jet boots, though he did overexaggerate that they are full heels now.
  • Vonter - July 15, 2014 1:52 p.m.

    But her Final Smash is lethal and the guy who use her in the tournament won. Also maybe, MAYBE, Sakurai could put an additional suit. Maybe even her getup from the end of Other M, or from the flashbacks of that game.
  • shawksta - July 15, 2014 10:01 p.m.

    People always ask for other suits, but we more or less get the colors of those suits. Just recently last week we got a pallette swap of the light suit from Metroid Prime 2 and technically speaking, this is the first time Samus is an actual different suit, being the Other M suit.
  • Vonter - July 15, 2014 11:22 p.m.

    Melee suit was original, since the Brawll one looks more like the Super Metroid suit. I'll like her to have jacket in the zero suit, kinda how Little Mac got his pink hoodie. http://static3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110219155004/metroid/images/8/8e/Metroid_Other_M_Samus_uniform_Art_91.jpg
  • Vonter - July 15, 2014 11:27 p.m.

    I know we'll not get DLC for this game but Carmen San Diego Samus would be a nice alternate outfit: http://www.mangago.com/read-manga/metroid/mf/v02/c013/8/
  • shawksta - July 16, 2014 7:02 p.m.

    Brawl was more of a mix of Super and Prime but ultimately the same suit with wide circle shoulders and such, Other M has noticable design changes. That would be cool, though Sakurai said, he doesnt want alts that will change the character entirely. Little Mac's hoodie is awesome, but is more or less there because they had to render him wearing the pink hoodie for his intro animation. Still, alts are awesome.
  • shawksta - July 15, 2014 1:08 p.m.

    Gender equality!? Link is the only playable male in Hyrule Warriors, from a cast of currently 7 :P
  • Vonter - July 15, 2014 1:53 p.m.

    Relax, the bad guys are balancing that out, with one female baddie and the others so far being male.
  • shawksta - July 15, 2014 7:35 p.m.

    Its a joke Also all the villains so far only seem to be enemies than actually playable, that's kind of clear when they list them all with that Dragon from Twilight Princess and the imprisoned.
  • Vonter - July 15, 2014 1:06 p.m.

    To be fair I think is easier to add a female character to games that are more focused on gameplay and have light storylines. The problem both in movies and cinematic games, is that very few creators know how to display the strengths and flaws of women. Since in most cases the game will have to reflect more a woman perspective, instead it only gender bends the type of game that usually has a male hero. It is the same when you have a child character, the world reflects the child character. And I know there can be exceptions but there has barely been attempts to put a game focused on woman than isn't pandering. I think the best example is Beyond Good and Evil. Anyway kudos to Nintendo for giving players of both genders inclusion in several of their new games. And before the Tomodachi mention, I just ask, has there been another game aimed E-rated openly had gay characters. I know it has become more common in M-rated games, or even T-rated. I just think is still soon to add it to family games. Even more since animated movies haven't shown this theme outside of a joke or being extremely subtle and subjective.
  • Tim_Gruver - July 15, 2014 12:43 p.m.

    Best thing to happen for Nintendo in a long time.

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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