I Have One Question For Team ICO

A screenshot from Shadow of the Colossus. The main character, a teen boy, stands in front of a stone altar where a teen girl in a white dress lies.

Team ICO's record of female characters includes girls who are 1. helpless, or 2. dead. (Pictured: A screenshot from Shadow of the Colossus. The main character, a teen boy, stands in front of a stone altar where a teen girl in a white dress lies.)

What the fuck century are you FROM?

In a 1UP post about Team ICO’s next project, The Last Guardian, from this week’s Tokyo Game Show, Matt Leone writes:

Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.

This is the sort of logic that only makes sense in the minds of sexist, retrograde game developers, for two obvious reasons:


Maybe Team ICO are time travelers from the past, but these days, girls do lots of things, including things that involve strength and the ability to hold on to things. Girls are:

Rock climbers!
– Gymnasts!
– Weight lifters!
– Triathletes!
– Other sorts of Olympic athletes!

THEREFORE, even though it may not be believable to Team ICO, our visitors from the distant past, it is perfectly believable to modern audiences that girls can climb things. (In fact, it is easier to believe that girls don’t have noodles for arms than it is to believe the existence of giant bird-dogs!)


I suppose if Team ICO are time travelers from the past, they may not know about this phenomenon. But nowadays, there are these articles of clothing that are kind of like skirts, but instead of having just one tube of fabric into which both legs fit, there are two tubes of fabric, one for each leg. If you look down, you can see you are probably wearing some right now! Except girls wear them, too! It’s amazing, I know! These articles of clothing make it impossible to look up and see anyone’s underwear, regardless of the person’s gender.

Maybe girls wearing pants is too radical for Team ICO, our time-displaced friends. Fortunately, there is a solution even if the thought of a girl wearing pants (or even worse… SHORTS?!?) makes you send for the fainting couch. There is an article of clothing that has been around for quite some time that aren’t pants, but are thicker and more opaque than tights.

These articles of clothing are called LEGGINGS. Women and girls wear them under skirts or dresses for both fashion and practical reasons. One of the practical reasons is they prevent perverts from taking fucking upskirt pictures.

Giving your female character leggings (which are nearly skintight and therefore don’t even require extra modeling): upskirt problem solved!

But the bottom line is:


So–and this message goes out to all game developers out there, time travelers from the past or not–stop it with the terrible excuses and give us female characters already. There are no good reasons to not have a female character. Of course, all these stupid excuses from developers hide the real reason, which is they just don’t want to have a female character.

Here’s a tip: If you didn’t want one in the first place, then just fucking say it. At least then you’re being an honest sexist asshole, instead of a sexist asshole who makes stupid excuses that defy basic logic.

45 thoughts on “I Have One Question For Team ICO”

  1. Thank you! I read that 1UP article and was pretty disgusted with the “reasons” they chose not to go with a girl as the main character.

    Team Ico: If you’d rather have a boy, fine, but don’t give bullshit excuses from another century to justify it. You might come across as sexist but at least wouldn’t come across as sexist AND devoid of sense!

  2. Indeed! I am greatly looking forward to The Last Guardian… but my feelings of utter awe and admiration for Fumito Ueda are now somewhat tempered by a new knowledge that he can be a sexist jerk sometimes. Maybe he meant his comment as a joke, maybe not, but either way: dude, not cool.

    And regarding leggings: Absolutely, yes. They’ve prevented many “upskirt” shots of Link climbing ladders and crawling thruogh passageways, and if they’re good enough for the very master of adventure gaming himself they’re good enough for any other character regardless of gender.

  3. Great post!

    The thing I love (If love were to be redefined into hate, which I believe it was in the alternate universe/purgatory land Fumito Ueda resides from) is that he’s saying this about children. Saying it about an adult character would be bad enough, but he’s saying an 8 year old boy would have SO much more upper body strength than an 8 year old girl, which is just mind numbingly ridiculous.

    That and the whole “IT WOULDN’T BE REALISTIC” argument coming from the person whose last game involved a teenager climbing giant, moving creatures that no person would be able to do, alternate universe or not is…depressing.

  4. I honestly wish they’d just kept their mouths shut about the trashed girl-PC. Now, if I ever play this, my enjoyment will be spoiled by being reminded of the sexist bullshit every time the boy-PC climbs anything!

  5. D Simon; if leggings are good enough for LINK, one of the most iconic characters in all of console gaming history, they’re sure good enough for an ICO game. Good catch!

    Great article, as always.

  6. I have only played 1 hour of ICO but that first hour left me with a bad feeling of the game. The female character was just so utterly helpless. The male main character picks up a stick to fight back the shadow creatures, but she has no weapon (why can’t she use a simple stick?!). He is solving the environmental puzzles. She cannot climb ropes or blocks, she needs his help to move around the environment. She is literally dragged around by the main character. My first impression of the game left me thinking of her as completely helpless and I did not like that feeling.

    So not only did they not use a female main character, but they managed to create one of the weakest stereotypes of a female NPC possible. She is trapped in a cage until the boy comes to rescue her and even after escaping that cage, she is still completely dependent on him.

  7. Nymeria nailed it, go to any elementary school and you’re not going to see a difference between boys and girls upper body strength. Pants…um, my daughter wears them and there is also this miraculous invention called the “skort” which doesn’t display her diaper area on those delicate upward camera shots.

    This quote shows naked sexism in it’s unfettered glory – two preposterous reasons given to explain away their desire not to have a female character.

  8. My previous comment was an incomplete thought. Sorry about that.

    My point in referencing my initial impressions of the Ico game is to say that Team ICO had already shown us what they think of female representation in games. In Shadow of the Colossus the female is dead and in Ico the female is utterly helpless. They do not have a history of showing strong females. Saying that they wanted to make their new main character a female means little when they did not do so in the end. I agree with Alex, if they wanted to make her a female they would have done so. It is as simple as that.

  9. YES. I love Team Ico’s games and I share your frustration. How great it would be if the third game featured a female player character, now that we’ve already had two male leads with their respective damsels in distress.

    Is there a way to forward the message of this post to the actual game developers?

  10. After watching a liveblog of these comments I had the urge to post on my own website about this ridiculousness but I knew Border House would nail it and you did.

    What is most revealing to me about the comments is not the clear gender bias but the implication that female characters in videogames must, in order to be legible, adhere to sexualized schoolgirl models of femininity. The idea that girls are defined by skirts is, I would contend, a gaming and anime trope more than a generalized sexist perspective. (Although certainly it occurs throughout media.)

    For Ueda and Team Ico, girls/women need to have certain signifiers in order to be interpreted as feminine and the most significant one is weakness and girlish clothing. So from their standpoint they are simply making a practical design decision. It’s so warped and, as you appropriately put it, fucked.

    Especially when you consider that they justify this sexism through a rhetoric of anti-sexism, i.e. we don’t want to offer “upskirt” shots of the character.

    Ueda’s comments also expose how games and the productive processes behind them work to naturalize gender differences.

  11. @DSimon I was totally thinking of Link while writing this! Also: Nausicaa, who wears leggings and a dress-like tunic, although her leggings are a bit more pants-like.

    @kateri RIGHT?? If they hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have even cared! I LOVED Shadow and was all over TLG, but no, they had to go and make up some stupid crap, grumble grumble…

  12. I wonder how much sleep was lost over at Sony worrying about rogue camera angles allowing us to peek up Kratos’ skirt.

    The thing that makes this particularly hilarious (and by hilarious I mean *headdesk*), is that the character they did design is wearing a toga. Which y’know, has all the same issues that a dress would have. Somehow they managed to figure out the leggings thing after switching the gender.

  13. Hey Team ICO, got back to whatever century you came from, I hear your giant spiders are hungry.

    Though thinking of what Brinstar had said, made me want to make one of those YTMND pages. Only thing is, I couldn’t think of any lead characters that are female AND that wear pants. I could only think of Samus. Running through my quick-list turned up Alis (Phantasy Star) and Terra (Final Fantasy 6). Neither of them wear pants. Alis wears a skirt and Terra is wearing a one-piece swimsuit kinda thing. There’s Sheperd from the ME series, but the fact that you can choose the sex kinda kills it. It seems there is very little love for women in pants as main characters overall. :<

  14. @Maverynthis I knew the spiders had to be involved somehow! Damn their (many) eyes!

    Valve are pretty good at having gals in pants: Chell, Alyx, the L4D ladies… but then, Valve are pretty much the only company who consistently do female characters right in most aspects, so…

  15. In fairness to Team ICO though, their female characters include 3. a powerful end-game boss. Not that this excuses any of the strength/skirt bullshit, but just so the record is complete.

  16. I’ve found that in elementary school, the girls are actually the taller, faster, and stronger ones. I remember the girls always beating the boys at tug of war :P

  17. Faith from Mirror’s Edge wears pants, also Jade from BGandE and Elika from PoP (not technically lead character but still), Chell from Portal, so it’s not that uncommon to encounter female character in pants (especially in western games) as to actually find females character in games.

    All this excuses are so weird; I mean I’m not saying that back in the day game weren’t sexist but still reading this post got me thinking:
    1. Recently here on BH was discussion how BF:BC2 is devoid of female models –the moment I read I thought, hey long time ago that was hit strategy game called UFO: Enemy Unknown – in which you commandeered a squad of fighters against alien invasions but your squad consisted males and females. It was randomized when you were hiring your rookies, the same their stats was randomized. Games became instant classic and I don’t recall anyone complaining that your squad has females as heavy weapon operators.
    2. Now this crazy weird excuse about: ” thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around” – 13 or 14 years ago came out game with own set of sexists issues –Tomb Rider – but again no one was complaining that Lara Croft can climb and push stones, so why bother with it now?

    3. I started single player campaign in SC2 and even before half of it I was completely stunned when I saw what Blizzard did to Kerrigan. 12 years ago Kerrigen as a Queen of Blades, she was strong, arrogant, malicious, coercive but there wasn’t anything towards “the sexy”. Now her look is all “sexy and lusty” to the point it turned out that during her infestation she developed “permanent” high heels, W T F , I mean WTF !?

    I don’t get it, sometimes it actually looks like that video gaming industry is getting backwards and adding a lot of BS in the process.

  18. Well that’s disappointing. While Ico and SotC both had male main characters and not terribly positive female characters, without the context of the dev’s thought process that went into them, there wasn’t really anything (in the games themselves) that seemed outright sexist (I mean, you could easily switch the sex of all the characters and there would be like, zero difference in the narrative).

    But now that I know the developers had stupid reasons for choosing the sex of their characters *grumble* :(

    Also about Kerrigan, I recall that her zerg form has always been hilariously sexy-d up, though a quick look at her new design makes me laugh.

    mang blizzard

    maybe you should lay off the bright purples and yellows a bit

    i mean it works for wow but geez

    i think you might want to have more than one art style

  19. “I don’t get it, sometimes it actually looks like that video gaming industry is getting backwards and adding a lot of BS in the process.”
    I get that feeling a lot. Some people would blame that on the “mainstreaming” of video games, but that’s a load of bullshit, because I’ve been in niche geek circles, and they’re just as sexist as mainstream gamers. Often more so.

    I don’t think they’re actually going backwards, though. Games have always been like this, but now they’re popular enough that people are starting to notice, and like 8 year olds in a tree fort, the sexist freak out begins when someone challenges the “no girls allowed” sign.

    For example, while it’s off the video game topic, when Wizards of the Coast started to implement more gender equality in D&D’s 3rd edition books, D&D players freaked out. And it’s not like WotC was doing anything special-they just started mixing in female names and pronouns into their descriptive text so that they could try to appeal to women. They barely moved away from the hyper-sexualized art or anything, but the second a company acknowledges that hey, women buy their games too, the male fans with their “no girls on the internet” signs act like it’s the end of the world.

    In the minds of the gamers who dominate speech on the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if “women are capable of wearing pants” actually is a radical new thought. This is a group of people who have yet to come to terms with the fact that women even exist outside of the bedroom and the kitchen.

    Conventional wisdom, of course, is that this is the prime demographic who buy all the games, even though the people who actually buy all the games are about twice their age, are 80% as likely to be female as any random person on the street, and don’t have to rely on their parents to buy the games for them.

    Gaming may have been mainstream for like over a decade now, but the idea that the mainstream contains anyone who isn’t straight, white, and male is a radical idea even in things that have been mainstream for nearly a century, like film.

    (I really wish there was a “preview” button here so that I could read this over and see if doesn’t look like a disjointed rant.)

  20. @Maverynthia:

    If you’re looking for Japanese female leads in pants (since it’s not really that uncommon in Western games), I’d nominate Aqua from Kingdom Hearts, who’s perfectly happy running around in bike shorts. For bonus points, her second outfit is a complete suit of armor that draws significantly less attention to her chest and backside than her older male comrade’s does.

    …and, actually, after having just played as a character who does so much right as Aqua does, this kind of nonsense coming from a developer whose game I’m really looking forward to is even more disappointing. It just makes it feel even more like they should know better by now.

    On the other hand, it also reminds me of another completely incomprehensible bit of Japanese thinking regarding women that I saw linked on TV Tropes, where the principal of some school refused to allow girls to wear pants instead of skirts with their uniform because he thought they were too sexual. Which might explain a lack of desire for Japanese developers to show their “good” girl characters wearing pants, but just adds in a whole ton of problems of its own.

  21. @Ikkin, it always bothered me in anime that girls ALWAYS wear skirts, even in future sci-fi societies. It’s not long skirts either, it’s always the short ones. If it’s a uniform, women are in skirts no matter what. (Though the long ones mean your a “yankee” in Japan for some reason.)

    I wonder if we only have ourselves to blame for that though (by us I mean Europe/America). Since we more or less forced our culture and the culture of dress down their throats ._.

  22. I’m amazed, really. A studio that somwhow retains such goodwill would not only have a gaffe of this nature now, but make it plainly obvious that their last two games weren’t exactly progressive in their attitude to feminism either. What is going on this week? Next thing I’ll learn GoG is actually funded by the BNP.

  23. I am trying to get into blogs, blogging, commenting, so here’s the first opinion I am ever going to post-
    I think they probably just should have said, “We chose a dude because that’s what we wanted to do.” The statement seems odd and probably a failed remark at trying to appease feminists. Well, at least he tried. I have been trying to read a lot of female game bloggers lately and there seems to be so much snarky rage over designers choosing not to make girl characters—or when they DO make girl characters, a bunch of girls decide that the designs of the game women offend them. Though I agree it was weak of Team ICO to make that silly statement and I agree with your points, at the end of the day, it is their game. If the feminist game bloggers I’ve been reading decided to make their own games, then they could get what they want. But the fan isn’t in control of the artist. That’s how the world rolls.
    And here’s what you left out about strength and pants:
    SOME girls are strong. If a designer chooses to make a wispier lady or no lady at all that’s his choice.
    SOMETIMES girls wear pants and sometimes they don’t. Why is there so much mini skirt rage in the world?
    (Sidenote: I do gymnastics and I fence.)

  24. @MaryBeth You agree that the excuses are stupid, but think I shouldn’t criticize Ueda for making them? You realize that is part of what we do here, is criticize sexism in the game industry?

  25. @MaryBeth “But the fan isn’t in control of the artist.”

    Uhm.. YES… YES they are. Why do you think we get so many oversexualized women in games in the first place. It’s the game companies appeasing the “target audience” AKA the “fanbase”. When they don’t do is listen to the other voices of the group that are trying to say “You want my money, include me please too!”

    Also the problem with your last two statements is similar to the “In the fridge” thing. It’s because it’s been done SO. MANY. DAMN. TIMES. that it’s no longer a “oh it was a choice” and more of a “we want women to be this way and look this way.” It’s why there’s “mini-skirt rage” because most all of the women are catering to men and are not being realistic in terms of place (mini skirt in a barren icy tundra?) or in terms of time (mini skirts for everyone in the future when it’s been said there’s equality? Wouldn’t everyone be wearing more differing clothes?) the list goes on.

    Also, the statement “Well if you want your own game why don’t you make it yourself!” is very uninformed. You make it seem like it’s easy to choose a programming language, learn it in a few months, learn to make good art, plot a good story and have it all come together just like that. Even then it’s a title that won’t get very much notice as it’s not from a AAA company. Why do we want it from a AAA company? Because that’s the way society changes. People only pay attention to the big forerunners and hardly the little people. That’s why you get a ticket for speeding and Paris Hilton doesn’t.

    True enough little voices get together, it makes change. That’s why we complain, to show them that it’s not just one or two people, it’s a whole freaking LOT.

  26. @MaryBeth: Hello, person studying to be a video game designer here. As Maverynthia said, saying that “If the feminist game bloggers I’ve been reading decided to make their own games, then they could get what they want.” is incredibly uninformed — both in assuming that there aren’t game designers (and/or game design students) among feminist bloggers* and by assuming that making a game is easy. It’s not.

    I know it must suck to get piled on for your first comment, but when you’re commenting on a blog that you’re still fairly unfamiliar with it’s generally better to ask for clarification than to assume that the bloggers and other commenters haven’t already considered (and addressed) your arguments at some point. Everyone wants to help out a newcomer who is trying to understand, but most people don’t want to deal with the commenter who doesn’t know the context of the argument but wants to tell us how We’re Doing It Wrong anyway.

    * Taking a few minutes to look at the contributors to this blog would have told you that, for instance, Tami is a producer of social games (and a community manager), Deirdra Kiai is an independent game designer. And they are far from the only bloggers here who are in the industry.

  27. Wild Arms 3.

    Pretty well recieved game. Main hero? Female, longish skirt, leggings below it.

    (Most badass character in the game? ANOTHER female. She’s not designed in a sexualized way, either, is technically a geek, and on official artwork is shown to give the main heroine romantic gifts [And if you say that girl/girl interaction is pandering to male fans, I'll shot you. It isn't. What is pandering to male fans is girl/girl making out with the promise of men joining. The young male audience flips out over actual girl/girl monogamy])

    This sold pretty well. Nobody screamed about it. It’s clearly possible to make something like this and the game to sell well, and japanese developers know it. The designer here is just making excuses, and showing his misogyny.

    “Uhm.. YES… YES they are. Why do you think we get so many oversexualized women in games in the first place.”

    Because people THINK it is what sells. It isn’t really. People believe it does, so they almost exclusively do it, which is why it sells. Snake bites its own tail.

  28. And not to pile on more but the sentiment behind the ‘skirt rage’ isn’t rage about how women should never ever wear skirts or dresses. It *is* about how absurd it is for the designers to assume that if they were to have a woman as their main character, then they would *have* to have worn a skirt, and to top it off couldn’t have possibly had shorts on underneath it to alleviate any problems that could have arisen from an unfortunate camera angle.

    The upper body strength excuse is similarly specious. A man is just as likely to not be strong enough to manage to hang off a ledge by his fingers alone as a woman. Both sexes have to work to develop strong muscles, there’s some super minor differences where male and female bodies are predisposed build muscle but those aren’t differences that matter in this context (or really any context outside of raw statistics, it’s not like we’re spiders or any of the numerous other species with more pronounced differences between the sexes) since regardless of the sex of the character, they would have to be stronger than the average person.

  29. LOL, yeah, the first thing I thought when I saw that quote the other day was “Why the hell do they think a girl has to wear a skirt? And why would any girl wear a skirt if she was going to be climbing things?”

    It really does sound like a poorly thought-out excuse for not having a female character but still attempting (very poorly) to appear like they actually considered having one, to appease women. It’s like they even think so lowly of our intelligence that we’d just accept that reasoning as valid. What a shame.

  30. If you’ve ever played ICO–I haven’t–or at least watched videos of the game, you’d have probably noticed the utter uselessness of the female companion character whom the protagonist, a boy with horns, must rescue and drag around by the hand. You have to occasionally summon her to hurry the fuck up and come along by yelling at her in the game’s incomprehensible language.

    Every other segment of the game consists of battling against smoke demons that resemble Lost’s smoke monster, who make feeble attempts to take her from you.

    Having watched a couple hours worth of video, I can say that their depiction of female characters, or at least this one is offensively banal. The only other female character in the game is the girl’s mother, who’s a tall, shady figure draped in smoke. Eschewing female company altogether, the only girl in Shadow of the Colossus lies lifeless on a marble slab.

    It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to see Team ICO’s dim view of women. Before anyone chimes in about “Japanese culture”, I’d like to point out that even though they may make good, and arguably very artistic games, their views are so far from the enlightened perspectives of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli team that it isn’t even funny. Not in this age, anyway. If studios like Studio Ghibli and Production IG (Ghost in the Shell, Blood: The Last Vampire, Guardian of the Spirit, all of which feature strong female leads), why can’t Team ICO?

  31. The annoying thing is that without knowing that *stupid* thought actually went into their character designs for either game, it’s entirely possible to not read either game as sexist.

    Again, yeah, Yorda isn’t able to fight her way out of a paper bag, The Queen is more or less evil, and Mono is *dead*, but like I said before, the sex of the characters in both games could be swapped and there would be zero difference in the story.

  32. When this incident happened, I was shocked at the people who thought it wasn’t sexist. Even among people who thought it was sexist, there were some of them saying that a girl really wouldn’t have that strength. How the hell do you be sexist like that in the very same sentence you’re condemning sexism without getting whiplash? I haven’t played Ico despite many people telling me how great it is, but hearing about all this makes me really not want to.

  33. the skirt thing was really annoying for me playing resident evil 4. Not only for the general uselessness of the girl you drag around like some ogre, but they had to include a upskirt joke. Like she would give a rat’s ass if anyone could see her underwear being chased by zombie hordes…

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