NEW YORK • In 1987, the video game Metroid was released in the United States. Featuring a masked and armoured space adventurer named Samus Aran navigating an alien planet, it was one of the first games to blend exploration, action and puzzle-solving.
At the end of the game, Aran is revealed to be a woman. Her gender surprised gamers and, in some versions, this powerful adventurer appeared in a bikini. In games of that era, women were princesses, damsels or sex objects, not heroes.
This seems to be changing. At least five major releases featuring female protagonists have recently debuted or will arrive soon for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One. They include well- known title Assassin's Creed and new ones including Horizon Zero Dawn and ReCore.
Official statistics are hard to come by, but experts see a distinct shift underway.
"There are more female-led titles than ever in games and that's in large part due to social media," said Sam Maggs, a game journalist and author of The Fangirl's Guide To The Galaxy. She said the Internet had given women a platform for their voices to be heard and it is hard for companies to ignore nearly 50 per cent of customers demanding better representation in games.
The online harassment of women who have spoken out against stereotypes in games has given the issue more visibility.
Ubisoft, the studio behind Assassin's Creed, faced criticism in the past for not having any playable female characters in major releases. But Assassin's Creed Syndicate, released in October, has the franchise's first: Evie Frye and her twin brother, Jacob, are the titular assassins who try to wrest control of 19th-century London from the Templars, an organisation seeking dominance over humanity.
Mr Marc-Alexis Cote, the game's creative director, said Evie was not created in response to the criticism. "From the inception of the Assassin's Creed Syndicate story, Evie has been part of the process."
He said the creators wanted a relationship in which Evie and her brother "challenge each other and provide different views". He added: "She's more intelligent, she thinks more about the consequences of her actions."
Jacob, he said, tends to charge in headlong, always eager for a brawl.
Hints of change have been found among young male players as well. In March, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the largest professionals-only industry event of its kind, educator and author Rosalind Wiseman and game writer and voice actress Ashly Burch presented the results of an informal study.
Wiseman asked middle- and high-school students about the role that gender plays in their choice of video games.
More than half of the girls expressed a preference for playing a game with a female lead; a little more than half the boys were concerned less about gender than about the abilities a character possessed, he said.
NEW YORK TIMES