I was pretty darn excited about the release of an A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. Sure, tie-in games are rarely the most well-developed options on the shelves, but I get a lot of fun just running around familiar fantasy worlds (hi, Harry Potter games!) and interacting with characters. The game has to be pretty terrible for me to not even consider buying it, so when I heard that they were making an RPG of ASOIAF, I was very happy.
And then I found out more about the game. Specifically, the protagonists of the game. The Game of Thrones RPG features two playable characters - a brother of the Night's Watch, and a Red Priest. Both are customisable in terms of fighting style, but both of them are also exclusively male.
Perhaps Bioware has spoilt me with its cohesive inclusion of female players. I don't know. But a huge part of the ASOIAF fanbase is female. Many of the series' best characters are women and girls, and although members of the Night's Watch can only be men, this world's most famous Red Priest is a woman, and a pretty powerful one at that. So why did the game developers leave female protagonists out of the equation?
Criticisms have popped up on the game's forums, and one of the developers offered an answer:
The reason why we didn't put any female characters is purely because of the story we created for the game :
- For the first hero : The Night Watch do not count females in their ranks - For the second hero : Alester is the heir of his Lord father and in this medieval society, heirs are male
I'm sure you can find exception that states otherwise or you can answer that we could have wrote a different story... But just for you : the only reason why we don't have hero as female is because it didn't match, and force it in the story for the sake of it would have been a wrong decision. That said, females occupy a very strong part of the story in the game (just as in the books).
Ignoring the skeevy use of "females" instead of "women," this explanation seems reasonable enough, except that the game designers wrote those storylines themselves. If they had had a mind to, or had thought about their female audience, they could have built an origin that would have worked for a female character. Women can, in fact, inherit in Dorne, and, at least in some instances, on the Iron Islands. If developers thought of female playable characters as a normal thing to include, rather than as an extra to tack on the end if there's chance, they wouldn't have to "force it into the story." They could develop a character who is female, or even who has to be female, as easily as they can develop a character who has to be male. But time and again, game developers choose not to do so, suggesting that they still believe that (non-sexualised) women's stories are not worthy of the same consideration as men's.
Of course, mentioning this brings a lot of other sexist rants out of the woodwork (check out the linked forum above for examples). "Women are weak; they couldn't hold their own" (tell that to Brienne. Or Asha. Or Arya. Or Melisandre. Or Ygritte). "Female characters just aren't interesting in Westeros" (... did they read the same book as me?). "We don't have to include every single demographic." The last one is the most disconcerting to me, because no, you don't have to add a token "one of everything" into the story (although if your characters are customizable and you can't change their gender or their skin tone, that's kind of telling). But women are more than 50% of the population. Is it so terrible that we want to see characters even vaguely like ourselves in our RPGs?
What does this change? If it turns out to be an excellent game (which I'm not holding my breath for, since it's a tie-in game), I'll probably still play it. But only if it's excellent. And only after it has come down in price. Even when I do play it, I probably won't enjoy it as much as I would have, because it will be missing the sense of complete immersion I can get when I can project myself into the character and pretend that it's me in that world.