Repeating An Experiment

Damn that’s a boring sounding title; but bear with me! You may remember a long while ago that CakeBoxFox and I did a joint post – an experiment – in the world of Guild Wars 2.

The Great World Versus World Experiment I called it back then, and it was probably one of the most controversial and most shared posts I’ve ever done. It hit the GW2 Reddit and caught on like wildfire, all over our little experiment.

I like to think that means we were doing some good science, but I guess we must have just poked a beehive of feelings. Either way, I thought it was about time to dust off the proverbial lab equipment and delve back into video gaming experiments to find out something new!


Both CakeBoxFox and I greatly enjoyed our first experiment; controversial as it was. With the benefit of hindsight I would most likely have toned down my conclusions, but I wanted to be bold as our results had been fascinating! This time we’ll take it a little easier, but no less controversially.

The topic this time is gender in video gaming.

Just this week there was a tremendous internet storm over the decision by the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) to have separate male and female competitive tournaments for Hearthstone, as well as some other popular games. The insinuation was that females weren’t capable of competing with males, regardless of the true intentions of IeSF.

To their credit I must mention that IeSF very quickly backtracked and introduced unisex tournaments for Hearthstone (although some others such as Starcraft remain segregated so far). Needless to say this kind of bad press didn’t do the public perception of video gaming much good and undid much of the good work done to demystify gaming and open it up to all sorts of diverse groups of people. There is no reason whatsoever for gaming to be a segregated pursuit for a specific group and it benefits immensely when all sorts of players come together as one community. We’re not there yet though, as IeSF showed this week.

This experiment is delving right into the dragon’s den of diversity in gaming.

The Concept

The idea is a simple one, to do a census.

The sample set is the top ten selling video games on Amazon and Steam right now. We’d look at the games and note down whether they had a male playable character and/or a female playable character. The answers were coded in binary, so a 1 for a yes and a 0 for a no. Which games had more than one of either gender was noted to bring in in later analysis.

So lets see how it went!

The Results

First off, we discounted Minecraft and Spintires as they don’t really have a gendered main character.



Bit of data overload there, but if you’re interested in the detailed spreadsheet breakdown I have that available; these are graphs drawn straight from those.

Key finding? The one that jumped out most of all was that every single game across both Amazon and Steam (chosen for their different customer bases and styles) had at least 1 male playable character. Only a fraction had even one female playable character.

Interestingly, the games with more than one playable character always had many more male choices than female. So our binary results have actually skewed the results slightly more in favour of female playable characters, meaning that the reality is even lower than shown in the pie charts.

The Analysis

What does all this mean?

Well, a simple census has actually told us quite a bit. In an era where its often estimated that 50% of gamers are female, some of the biggest names in gaming have an atrocious percentage of male-female characters.

There’s a good case that says that female gamers actively choose to play as male characters in game for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the gender players choose to play as, it’s not revolutionary to expect that in a market where 50% of gamers are female, that 50% of playable characters should also be female. Indeed, the only change needed would be to offer more choice of playable characters; and that has to be a good thing. Choice is the key word; more choice is needed.


There is a gender crisis at the heart of gaming, at both the Indie level and the blockbuster level. There is simply not enough diversity, and the male-female imbalance in playable characters is only the smallest aspect of the surface of this huge pot of problems. Its a good place to start solving the problems though, with a simple change by bringing in more playable female characters making good progress.

What do you think? Do you agree with what we found? Make sure to comment!

Digital Salad –


One thought on “Repeating An Experiment

  1. James Melton January 1, 2015 / 10:06 pm

    Playing WoW (2004-2010) and GW2 (release-present) extensively plus some other MMOs for brief periods, I have observed that female players consistently play female characters. In the past 10 years I have never once known a female player who chose to consistently play a male character, and most I’ve played with have never played a male character. So yes, I think female players like female characters. Interestingly, male players on average seem have no issue whatsoever with playing female characters.

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