The Ambrov X Console Game

by Wendy Allison

Hey Look! A Woman!

Being a female gamer involves a lot of accepting that the development world sees men as the default gamer. This means accepting that in more games than not you will be forced to play a guy because a female protagonist is not an option. It means that playing a woman often means slaying dragons in a bikini. And almost without fail, it means that in marketing material you are invisible, even in games that allow female protagonists. Even my first and biggest love, Dragon Age, which is known for its inclusivity, is so far failing to acknowledge women as protagonists [1] in the marketing material for the latest instalment in the series.

Globally, women make up 45% of gamers [2] yet the majority of marketing of games is towards young men, and when women are marketed to, it's often under the assumption that what we like is pink frilly stuff and puppies. I have 29 games on my current game shelf, all more recent than 2003. Of those, 10 of them allow you to play a female protagonist. It's notable that of the 10, 6 are made by the same developer.

So imagine the thrill I got when Ambrov X came on my radar. The first thing I saw at the top of their Kickstarter page [3] was.. a woman. A female protagonist, featured in their marketing as default. This is a game that allows you to choose the gender of your protagonist, and they chose to feature women! OMG.

Scrolling down, I liked what I saw more and more. A story-driven sci-fi RPG set in a universe I'd never heard of, but with a pretext of being forced by circumstances into a dangerous symbiotic relationship with a companion, that you must maintain without fear or you both die. Meanwhile, you're investigating a mystery and solving universe-sized problems in the standard RPG way.

I like the story-driven aspect, I like the premise, I like the episodic nature of the game that means relatively low time-commitment, I like that it's DRM-free and will run on Linux (even though I don't use Linux, it's nice to see it getting a nod you know?), I like the paradigm conversation system, I like that combat is only a part of what the game involves. As a lover of RPGs, I am always disappointed when a game claims to be RPG but is really just combat with a loose story to tie it together. This promises to be much more.

But mostly, I like that the developers are acknowledging that women gamers exist and that some people actually like emotional content. I'm a fan of Jennifer Hepler's writing and would like nothing better than to see her come on board for this game.

But, by doing all of these things, by making women the default, by placing how the story might make you feel over how big a monsters you can kill or how many headshots you need to get a badge, they are taking a risk. Many people will see that woman at the top of the page, then read 'emotional content' and close it. You can see by the amount of pledges that the dudebro FPS crowd that the vast majority of big-selling developers generally pander to, are not interested in this game. Of course they aren't - it's not them in the picture for a change.

It's me. And I would really like to see this game get made, because few developers are brave enough to even acknowledge my existence when marketing, never mind place me as the default.

If we want to see games made that step outside the young-white-male-as-default paradigm, we have to support the making of such games. And this one looks like it'll actually be a good game too. So please, if you give a crap about changing the culture of gaming, if you've ever felt miffed that developers always seem to assume their audience is male, if you want content that's truly story driven, or even if you would just like to see a cool RPG from an indie developer get some success, make a pledge.

Or if donating to making games is beyond your resources or ethics, even just boosting the signal would help, eh?

[2] [ED: The Ambrov X game has been cancelled, failing to make its $500,000 pledge level.]