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Deep Down the rabbit hole of ingrained games industry sexism

Monday, 17th February 2014 12:34 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Deep Down apparently won’t contain any playable female characters. It’s 2014. This is video games. Brenna Hillier is, predictably, pretty fucking angry.

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Deep Down: do we even care anyway? (Spoilers: yes.)

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The first game to be built using Capcom’s next-gen engine, Panta Rhei, which seems awesome.

A hardcore co-op multiplayer action RPG; think Dark Souls and you’re on the right line, possibly even at the correct station.

A free-to-play PS4 exclusive with “infinite” procedurally-generated dungeons based around various emotions.

Has many different kinds of historically-inspired modular armour.

Was Brenna’s most anticipated game of 2014 until about eight hours ago when she flipped a table.

In a livestream event over the weekend, Capcom’s Kazunori Sugiura, producer of Deep Down, reportedly said the free-to-play PlayStation 4 dungeon crawler won’t include female playable characters.

Why on earth would a game creator deliberately omit the entire female gender from its game? Because of the plot, apparently.

Don’t let this answer satisfy you. Capcom wrote the plot. There’s no reason why it had to write a plot that excluded female characters. There’s no reason why its story about virtual reality time travelling explorers couldn’t include women. Future humans exploring the past encased in avatars that wield magic through dungeons filled with monsters and drawing power from emotions? Perfectly acceptable! That one of these future humans might want to do so while in the shape of a woman, a type of human that makes up close to one half of the entire species? Preposterous! (see related entry on men using swords the length of their own bodies for hours on end while some jockstrap argues that women fighting “isn’t realistic”.)

The actual reason why Capcom has apparently chosen not to include women in Deep Down is that it can’t be bothered. It doesn’t want to spend the money to do so. It can’t see the point.

On my very first press trip, I went to Paris with Bethesda and had a chat with Splash Damage. I asked why there were no female characters in Brink, was told it was just too expensive, given the games already extensive customisation options. It would have doubled the workload and therefore doubled the cost.

I accepted this answer at the time because I’d never heard it before and it struck me as logical. It still is, I guess; it’s quite true that developing twice as many assets costs twice as much. Having had several years to reflect and digest, to be educated by my peers, to learn more about the business of games, to experience the sexism of the industry firsthand and to become increasingly angry about everything, I’m no longer satisfied with this answer.

Deep Down’s prologue. Doesn’t this look exactly like the sort of thing you really wanted to play until a few minutes ago when Capcom virtually ordered you back to the kitchen?

There is a point to including playable female characters in games. I’m aware that most of the people likely to comment on this article (go ahead and bleat about misandry, you worms; I’ll enjoy a tasty cup of your male tears) don’t see that, but I’m also aware that the vast majority of people who read this article do see it, and won’t bother to leave a comment because what I’m saying in this editorial seems sensible, practical, and non-controversial. Such is the way of the Internet. So I’m not going to bother writing out a lengthy justification of why we genuinely need female characters in video games for the good of the industry financially and artistically; if you honestly can’t understand it, go forth and educate yourself. If you feel that gaming is the one thing remaining to men and girls should stop spoiling it with political correctness, then please go boil your head because I see no point in debating with people incapable of basic logic and lacking humanity.

Having taken it as fact that there is a point to including female characters in video games, why on earth are we still hearing excuses for their absence in 2014? Because it is an excuse. There is no reason not to do it. You won’t alienate your existing market by acknowledging the existence of women. You won’t take anything away from your existing market.

You can take a bit of time from lovingly sculpting Grunt #6′s pectoral muscles to copy paste him into a new file to hastily slap together another option and award yourself a tea and a bun for a job if not well done than at least done at all.

It’s not hard to put women in games. Capcom’s done it itself, with the really rather excellent Dragon’s Dogma. Dark Souls, to which Deep Down owes a lot more than a nod and a wink, did it. If you can put in a gazillion different kinds of armour and weapon you sure can take a little bit of time away from lovingly sculpting Grunt #6′s pectoral muscles to hastily slap together another option (or give players the ability to do it themselves in customisation), then award yourself a tea and a bun for a job if not well done than at least done at all. Better lazily-crafted women than no women at all. A for effort, and all that.

I had been really, really looking forward to Deep Down. I would like to wake up tomorrow and find a statement from Capcom saying the translation was bungled somehow, and that playable female characters will be included in the game – if not at launch, then by god as part of a 100% free patch in the near future.

I’ll be waiting by my inbox, Capcom, in a spirit of optimism, because I cannot believe that you – lumbering dinosaur of a publisher as you are – can seriously expect to keep me, and literal millions of other like-minded female-identified gamers, on board with this bullshit, nor that you are so lost to all sense that you can’t see why you ought to have us on board.

Okay, I lied

You know how I said above that I wouldn’t explain why we need women in video games? Well, because I’m mad as fire, here’s a little script I wrote that may help you get your skull around this astonishingly simple concept.

Publisher: Okay, so I see your character asset budget is $6 squillion for a roster of 24. That’s fine, we made mad cash on Shooty McShootShoot IV last year.
Developer: Excellent.
Publisher: I see here also you’re not including any female characters.
Developer: Well, we could, but then we’d need $12 squillion, because it’s twice as much work to do twice as many characters.
Publisher: We can’t have that! Because we lost mad cash on Slicey McSliceSlice XXII last year.
Female: *bursts into conference room* Wait! I propose a solution!
Developer and Publisher: *express confusion and dismay at discovering a female in their midst, but can’t find their cans of mace fast enough*
Female: Why not make 12 male characters and 12 female characters, dividing the budget between them? $3 squillion each?
Publisher: Good lord, I did not know women could do maths!
Developer: I did, but then again, I have met several women. My mother was one, as is my sister.
Publisher: Goodness me, does your father know?
Female: Still in the room.
Publisher: *in tones aiming for “kindly” and landing smack bang in the middle of “patronising”* Well, little lady –
Female: In an alternate universe, I just cut off your face and fed it to you, little gentleman.
Publisher: Err, well, the thing is, if we did that we’d be devoting equal resources to both male and female characters, thereby taking some resources away from the male audience we’d normally devote them to – because of course, we assume that men have no interest in playing games as women, even though women are supposed to be satisfied with playing as men.
Female: Aaaaaand?
Publisher: And you see, our audience is mostly composed of males. Young males are our demographic.
Female: Ye-es…?
Publisher: We focus our content and marketing on young males. I have a pie chart here that the marketing team gave me, explaining this.
Female: I heard a rumour once that men can do maths.
Publisher: Madam, I assure you, there are no blanket truths about men; we are all different. But I have been known to perform maths.
Developer: I too, can do maths. I once mathed for England.
Female: Well done you. Let’s do some maths. Let’s say there are 20 men in the world, and they each buy a copy of your game for $1. How much money do you make?
Publisher: If any of our investors or accountants are listening, very little indeed. But to humour you, let us say our sales are $20.
Female: Now, imagine if the 20 women in the world also bought your game.
Publisher: We’d make $40. Yes I see what you mean. But you are naive, madam.
Developer: So naive! Ha ha!
Publisher: Because the 20 women would not buy the game.
Developer: No they wouldn’t! Ha ha!
Publisher: Women aren’t interested in games. And that’s why we make games that omit women altogetherrrrrrrrrrr oh my god I’ve just heard the words coming out of my own mouth.
Female: There it is.
Developer: Holy shit. I see it too. Sir, sir – if we make games that don’t treat women like sub-human dust bunnies fit only to be rescued, kidnapped, lusted after or left out of the picture altogether, women might buy more of our games. Maybe – maybe it’s not that women aren’t interested in games, but that our games actively discourage women from enjoying them in preference to literally any other form of media!
Publisher: This is a revelation. Why have we never considered this before?
Developer: Well, sir, probably because we’re straw men caricatures representing not individual decision makers but an entire ingrained social system that harms men just as much as it harms women, which we’ve been trained our entire life never to see, and must work every day to counter with our every thought, word and action, in order to build a much better world for all men, women, and non-binary gender people.
Publisher: Do you mean…
Female: Yes. The Patriarchy.
Publisher: I am going to green light a video game about blowing it up immediately. And the female protagonist will have an attractive but not ridiculous body, and have conversations with other women that aren’t about how handsome boys are!
Developer: This vision is so beautiful that I will devote my life to creating it, ensuring a studio atmosphere that welcomes women so that when they have a choice at high school between programming and literally anything else, they are more likely to pick programming, because they know they can find a job in the games industry that won’t involve men treating them like shit every day!
Publisher: Come to think of it, I’m actually deeply personally ashamed that it took a financial argument to convince me of this, given the inherent, objective immorality of exclusion and oppression.

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