Recently, a possible US box art for Fable III was revealed. Based on this cover, the game looks like another title with a burly male main character. All 3 games in the series featured covers with a male character looking into a pool of water at something reflected in the pool (a younger version of himself, a monstrous version of himself, or the crown in Fable III). In the original Fable the main character was a male, but the second and third games have the option of a female main character and the image on the box cover does not reflect this major change to the series. Developers cite the cost of including both male and female characters and the writing and recording of extra dialogue as reasons why they choose a single gender for main characters. So when they include the choice of a female or male main character, why not use it as a bullet point to sell their game?
Which games show only male characters on covers when the character can be male or female? Which games show both options? How are main characters described on the back covers of games? After looking through a variety of games I have found examples of some that have done well and ones that disappoint. Let’s look at some covers:
The following games all have a choice of genders for the main character but only show a male represented on the cover:
One option to avoid this issue entirely is to have a neutral cover: one where there is no character shown at all.
Other covers show both male and female non-player characters without illustrating the main character. The following cover is for a game with an option to create a main playable character that is either male or female. Without playing the game, people in the store do not know if these are main characters pictured on the cover or simply non-player characters they would encounter in the story. This is an interesting way to attract the attention of players interested in having playable female characters to the game cover.
Some covers blatantly show the option of having a male or a female main character.
The exclusion of female main characters is not confined to just the box art. When reading the back covers of some games, female characters are invisible. The following is the full text of the back cover of the Xbox360 version of Mass Effect:
An ancient threat returns. One final hope emerges. As Commander Shepard, you lead an elite squad on a heroic, action-packed adventure throughout the galaxy. Discover the imminent danger from an ancient threat and battle the traitorous Saren and his deadly army to save civilization. The fate of all life depends on your actions!
– Customize your character and embark on an epic adventure in an immersive, open-ended storyline
– Interplanetary exploration of an epic proportion
-Incredible, real-time character interaction
-Thrilling, tactical combat as you lead an elite squad of three
Neither the cover nor the back of the box mention that this customizable main character can be either male or female.
This same problem occurs with the back cover of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox.
Choose Your Path.
It is four thousand years before the Galactic Empire and hundreds of Jedi Knights have fallen in battle against the ruthless Sith. You are the last hope of the Jedi Order. Can you master the awesome power of the Force on your quest to save the Republic? Or will you fall to the lure of the dark side? Hero or villain, savior or conqueror… you alone will determine the destiny of the entire galaxy!
– A brand new Star Wars role-playing experience with unique characters, creatures, vehicles, and planets.
– Learn to use the Force with over 40 different powers and build your own lightsaber.
– Travel to seven enormous worlds including Tatooine and the Sith world of Korriban.
– Choose your party from nine customizable characters, including Twi’leks, droids, and Wookiees.
– Build your party and upgrade equipment in your own starship, the Ebon Hawk.
Both of these games laud their customizable characters and being able to build your own story! But that story featuring a female character is a glaring omission. While neither of these covers specified a gender for the main character, in the current setting of video games players often correctly assume this would mean a male main character. The default right now is for video game protagonists to be male so not mentioning this choice makes the female option invisible.
It would be wonderful if all games that had a customizable main character allowed either male or female avatar options. This is not yet the case. The majority of games feature a male main character and gamers that would like the option to play as a female avatar are routinely disappointed. So why are developers not using the inclusion of female characters as a selling point for their games? If this inclusion takes time and effort, why is it an ignored feature? Females are invisible on game covers, both front and back, and in video game advertisements. The majority of video game ads for Mass Effect featured only the male voice actor and standard male character design. Since Mass Effect was a game that included full voice work for the female main character it was very glaring to have that missing from its ads. We deserve more covers like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and fewer exclusionary covers and back flap descriptions like Mass Effect. When developers include female characters, they should announce that fact rather than hiding it as if it was an embarrassment.