Females are greatly underrepresented in video game dialogue, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow and Cardiff University.

Researchers led by Glasgow’s Dr Stephanie Rennick and Cardiff’s Dr Seán G. Roberts analysed dialogue from more than 13,000 video game characters across 50 games.

It was the largest study of its kind and uncovered what researchers called a “stark gender imbalance”.

The study reported that male characters delivered an average of twice as many lines as their female counterparts. The study focused on role-playing games (RPGs) which often feature large casts of characters.

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Only three of the 50 games featured mostly female dialogue.

Dr Rennick, Research Associate in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, said that the team expected the results would be uneven.

But they didn’t predict the scale of the imbalance.

“It isn’t the case that every game needs to reach parity. But the patterns across the industry were what we found most striking.”

Low scores for most games

The researchers ranked all 50 games according to their percentage of female dialogue.

“King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella” (1988) and “King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne” (1985) led the way with 80 per cent and 79.8 per cent respectively.

“Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” (2013) was the only other game with mostly female dialogue (54.6 per cent).

“King’s Quest VI” (1992) ranked at the bottom with only 6.4 per cent female dialogue.

While analysing dialogue, Dr Rennick and her colleagues also submitted the games to the Bechdel test. She said that the test sets a “very low bar”, asking that games, films or other media feature two named female characters who have at least one conversation that isn’t about a man.

“Monkey Island” (1990), failed the Bechdel test.

More opportunity doesn’t mean more equality

Despite the study’s grim findings for gender balance in games, researchers reported that female representation in game dialogue is slowly improving. From 1986 until 2020, female dialogue increased by 6.3 percentage points every decade.

But if the current trend continues, it would take until 2036 for male and female dialogue to even out in video games.

Some games featured a female as the main playable character, but the study found that this resulted in a female-dominant script only half the time.

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Even when game designers and writers make attempts to either include more female characters, the results don’t always mean more positive female representation. Dr Rennick said quality proved to be as much of an issue as quantity.

In “Final Fantasy VII Remake”– a 2020 remake of a popular 1997 RPG–one of the female characters, Jessie, has 10 times more dialogue than in the original game.

But Dr Rennick said that most of Jessie’s lines were used to flirt with the male main character.

Problem goes beyond primary characters

Although protagonists tend to dominate dialogue, most RPGs feature a wide cast of characters and extensive player dialogue choices to create an immersive experience.

In some of the games involved in the study, players can speak to hundreds of characters.

Still, just 29.37% of the 13,000 characters studied were female. There was also a disproportionate amount of non-binary characters in the games. Only 30 out of the 13,000 characters were non-binary, or roughly half as much as in real life.

In many cases, the balance of male and female dialogue reflects an overall lack of female characters, Dr Rennick said.

“We were surprised by how much of the discrepancy came down to not having enough women in games.

“But just having more women doesn’t necessarily lead to better gender representation. There isn’t an easy fix of just adding more women into a story.”

A new course for game development?

Dr Rennick said that the study was the result of over two years of work by a large team, combing through game data and online databases to collect and cross-check their findings.

“Anything like this is a collaborative effort. We have a very strong hope that this will be useful to game developers regardless of what their goal is.”


Gender bias in video game dialogue” is published in Royal Society Open Science by Stephanie Rennick, Melanie Clinton, Elena Ioannidou, Liana Oh, Charlotte Clooney, E. T., Edward Healy & Seán G. Roberts.