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12-Year-Old Girl Takes the Gaming Industry to Task Over Paying for Female Characters

"Why?" -Argument won.


Free-to-play games have their share of problems that apply to everyone—they make downloading and playing the game on a basic level free, but extra features, characters, and other bonuses generally require the player to pay up. That can be frustrating, but it gets even worse when you look at which of these games charge players to use a female character, and 12-year-old Madeline Messer did just that.

Messer, whose findings landed her an op-ed for the Washington Post, is pretty into Temple Run. But that game’s main character is a guy (literally named Guy), and female playable characters cost money—despite 60% of Temple Run players being female themselves. So she took to the app store to see just how well this represented the top 50 games in the same category, and the results were predictably disappointing.

Out of the 92% of these games that had gender-identifiable playable characters, only 46% (23 games) offered female characters at all, while 90% of them had free male characters compared to only 15% offering free female characters. When she averaged the price to unlock female playable characters in the games where women weren’t free, she came up with $7.53. On the high end, Disney’s Temple Run: Oz charged $29.97 to play as a girl.

After Maddie’s findings were published, Temple Run and other game makers took notice of the “embarrassing” results. “It was embarrassing. It was embarrassing to read that,” Natalia Luckyanova, co-creator of Temple Run, told NPR. She continued, “For all of our good intentions, and for all of my good intentions, it’s true that you start out with this male character. … The white male is always the default, and anything else, it’s like, you have to work for it.”

She also contacted Messer, and temple run will soon add a free female character, while Disney’s Oz version will at the very least stop charging $30 for theirs. It’s especially strange that female characters would sit behind paywalls in simple mobile games, which generally lack story or any other (low) hurdles to providing a female reskin for the main character. For all that we—and others—have written about female character options in games and as eloquent as Messer’s Washington Post story was, my favorite summary of the subject was in her comments to NPR:

It’s not fair, because if I’m being forced to play as a boy, like, why?

I was hoping there would be more girls. But there just weren’t, and I was kind of bummed, like, come on!

Because really, the answer to “why?” is, “Because we can use it to squeeze money out of you,” and how do you say that to a 12-year-old’s direct question without realizing what a monster you sound like? So, come on! Make with the free playable girls already.

(via NPR)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.