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Women: It's Time to Change the Game

Women: It's Time to Change the Game

Women: It's Time to Change the Game

Games made by women for women are here — and they're the future.

Video games can be an incredible way for anyone to dive into stories, explore new worlds, and escape reality for a while. It’s no secret, though, that equal gender representation in gaming is considerably lacking. Gender diversity in the industry itself, according to a 2016 International Game Developers Association survey, is drastically skewed towards men with over 72 percent of respondents being male.

Even within this industry skew, developers have started to throw away the adage that “we’ll lose audiences if we don’t have games featuring men” and have begun including a wider variety of women in their stories. Indie games are putting forth female characters that are more than objects for the male gaze, but complex and interesting. Increasing this kind of representation is a way to reach out to all gamers, diversify their screens and perhaps slowly shape the minds of players to move toward a more inclusive gaming industry and culture.

Google Play has partnered with the market research firm Newzoo to conduct studies on the presence of women in mobile gaming and launched a campaign called Change the Game — a playable experience that also provides information about their findings and the ever changing presence of women in the mobile gaming market. According to their research, women account for half of mobile gamers, and 64 percent of women prefer mobile gaming. That means women hold may hold quite a bit of sway as customers in the mobile gaming sphere.

We went to the Play Store to explore some of the mobile games currently on the market containing female representation, for the small screen in our pockets that is the most easily accessible in daily life.

Interfectorem — Girls Make Games/Learn District, Inc.
Interfectorem is a murder-mystery developed by a team of 11- to 15-year-old women who won the Girls Make Games Demo Day competition. This simple fact alone makes the game intriguing and well worth supporting.

The protagonist is Alis, a young sheriff-in-training who must solve the murder of her younger sister. She’s a strong girl with ambition whose chosen future profession ties directly into the mystery genre of the game, and there is also LGBT representation in some of the characters encountered in the storyline.

This is a very entertaining plot to play through and a great way to take a peek into the minds of future game developers. In doing so, players support women not only within the framework of characters worth playing but as people who are valuable as contributors to the industry itself.

LOST MAZE — LemonJam Studio
LOST MAZE is a beautifully designed puzzle game with a tranquil soundtrack that will absolutely suck players in. You play as Misty, a young resident of the maze whose hometown gets ransacked by the darkness that steals happiness, causing you to lead Misty through the maze to try to save the town. The gameplay is designed like a rotating pipeline that you can turn through to avoid or overcome obstacles, making some of the puzzles in this game quite challenging.

One of the things I liked about this game, as with a few other games on this list, is that other than an occasional Riding Hood parallel, there’s no reason why Misty has to be a girl. She’s a determined hero with a quest, and these particular developers ditched the idea that a boy has to be the default and made the plucky hero at the player’s fingertips a female character instead.

Lara Croft GO — Square Enix Montreal
Lara Croft is a classic female character. Though her presentation and treatment have received justified criticism for being overtly objectified, the actual character herself is intelligent, athletic, and a gifted archaeologist. This strategy-puzzle game is a spiritual successor to Hitman GO and a great way to revisit an old favorite in a new environment.

The levels are set up like tombs and movement is made from node to node. When Lara moves between nodes, so too can enemies and obstacles. Fortunately, the game is well set up to show you as much of the board as possible, allowing players to strategize ahead of time before executing their plans.

Ankora — chibig
Ankora is a graphically beautiful farming/adventure game about an ambitious space traveler named Mûn who crash lands on the planet of Ankora. Her transmitter is busted in the crash, and her quest to set out repairing it is the main crux of the game.

The native ANKs provide the player with the tools necessary to start harvesting materials and creating objects, as well as give interesting side quests that keep the game fresh outside of the main story. The central character is captivating, and the graphics are gorgeous. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a collecting adventure game will have a blast with Ankora.

République — Camoflaj, LLC
République has high-quality graphics and achieves the dystopian look that it's going for, especially for a game initially designed for mobile. This is an adventure-stealth game set in a dystopian technological future, where an entity called the Headmaster is trying to squash out any resistance to the republic—and the main character, Hope, is one of the accused. The player interacts with Hope through technological means; typically either phone or security camera, which results in some really unique gameplay.

One thing I appreciated about the representation in République is that multiple female characters are strong in varying ways, and they aren't just on one side of the moral line. Having women with different facets to their characters on either side makes it easier for the protagonist to not have to speak for "all women" from a representation standpoint because we can see different women behaving with different motivations within the same game.

Lumino City — NoodleCake Studios/State of Play
This puzzle game is a sequel to State of Play’s original game Lume and has a mainly intriguing and beautiful design to it. The developers crafted all of the surroundings and elements out of paper, making this game stand out visually.

The game picks up right where the previous one leaves off, with the protagonist Lumi and her grandfather (aptly named “Grandad”), who is, of course, kidnapped almost immediately. Lumi, having just come off an adventure lighting up the woods, must now venture into the city to find Grandad.

This is another game where the heroine is dressed up as any typical adventurer, deviating from the “default character as boy” trope and also making her relatable across the board. While the gameplay and story of this game are both satisfying, the impeccable visuals themselves are enough to give Lumino City a go.           

Monument Valley 2 — ustwo Games
This puzzle game of optical illusions that I have affectionately coined “Penrose Steps: The Game” is a sequel to the 2014 game Monument Valley, although it’s not necessary to have played the first to enjoy this more story-driven sequel.

This game is particularly beautiful because it tells the story of a mother and daughter, a bond that is rarely the central focus of storytelling in gaming. Monument Valley 2 is also unique because the game begins from the point of view of Ro, the mother, as she introduces her child to the valley, and control eventually shifts to the daughter as she needs to take on the valley on her own.

The art style for each level changes to reflect the emotions of the characters on their journey through losing and finding each other again, and the addition of this relationship turns an otherwise simple puzzle game into a poignant experience. Monument Valley 2 won’t take long to finish and is worth your while.

Her Story — Sam Barlow
An interactive mystery movie adventure, Her Story revolves around a player presented with an old desktop computer, searching through a set of fictional police interviews from the mid-1990s in an attempt to solve the murder of a man named Simon.

This game has a really gripping story, and I certainly don’t want to give away too much. The characters in the interviews are women, and the player is discovered to be as well. The more videos you discover, the more the characters of Hannah and Eve turn from ambiguous to sinister, but also strong women faced with tough choices. Playing through the game will also give you answers as to why the player is interested in this particular case.

While there is an ongoing debate surrounding the legitimacy and value of mobile gaming within the general gaming hierarchy, there is something powerful about the fact that these are all games that we can reach into our pockets and pull out for our consumption at a moment’s notice. Representation is needed across the board, especially in AAA titles, but normalizing a state of play and escapism as a female character within the framework of technology we use most often is a step in the right direction, and hopefully one that will continue to expand to other marginalized genders.

All of the games listed above are available to play now on the Google Play Store, and be sure to check out the Change the Game section of the Indie Corner, where you can find all of the above games and more!

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Gwyneth Brinkley