Female characters in video games talk nearly half as much as male characters, new study reveals

By Mason Berlinka

Published May 24, 2023 at 12:58 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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It should come as no surprise that female gamers still face immense amounts of inequality when playing online in 2023. As trolls and misogynists continue to taint the world of online gaming, more and more players are turning to single-player experiences to avoid the torrents of abuse you can find in multiplayer settings.

While you can expect to not be flooded by a torrent of targeted abuse and hate (the norm for a lot of online games), single-player games still pose their own problems and can be unsurprisingly rife with gender inequality as well.

A study from researchers at the University of Glasgow and Cardiff, published on 24 May 2023, has revealed a stark gender imbalance in gaming—specifically in role playing games (RPGs). The study looked at 50 RPGs released between 1986 and 2020, with these kinds of game formats being the main focus as they tend to be much more dialogue and conversation heavy than other types of video games.

6.2 million lines of dialogue from over 13,000 characters later and it’s clear that gaming has long been reinforcing gender stereotypes. The study revealed that 94 per cent had more examples of male characters speaking than female ones. The researchers also added that a lack of female characters within games as a whole was the biggest culprit for the imbalance.

The amount of female characters speaking varied hugely between games too, with some games only having as few as 6 per cent of women actually talking. On average, just over a third of words in the games studied were spoken by female characters, which comes in at a shocking 35 per cent. 

Dr Stephanie Rennick from the University of Glasgow told the BBC she was surprised at the extent of the gap. The expert explained: “While we expected to find a larger proportion of male dialogue overall, we were surprised to discover how few games, just three of 50, had more than 50 per cent female dialogue.”

Some of the worst offenders from the study included Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the legendary Final Fantasy VII. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sat at a disappointing 30 per cent. A lot of the lower ranking games for speaking parts came from Japan—a country known for its poor portrayal of females, as well as oversexualisation.

Female characters in video games talk nearly half as much as male characters, new study reveals

You’ll be pleased to know that indie darling Stardew Valley had a nice balance of speaking roles, sitting at a 45 per cent split between men and women in the game. Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises sat high on the chart, with Mass Effect 2 sitting around 45 per cent too.

The actual portrayal of women across the games studied was also looked at, highlighting a gender bias that has long been present in gaming. Female characters were more likely to be apologetic, hesitant and polite when compared to male characters, who were more often described as being full of energy and prone to taking on more active roles.

The data revealed a trend of female dialogue rising, but at the current rate, it would take until 2036 for there to be a complete gender balance in the world of RPGs.

Work is still yet to be done, but in the meantime at least the study has highlighted the progressive games which are bringing us ever closer to gender equality in gaming—something the industry has been severely lacking since its inception.

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