Words can't describe how depressed I was when Epic's Chris Perna told me that a female Gears of War lead would be "tough to justify", given the nature of the game's market. Seems people who buy action videogames are all terrified baby-men who can't process the concept of an alternate in-game gender. Who knew? I imagine Remember Me creative director Jean-Max Morris was similarly narked to discover that nobody would publish his (quietly promising) game, on the strength of preconceptions about the audience.
"It was not a decision," he said, when the Penny Arcade Report asked why developer Dontnod went with a female lead character. "It was something that just felt right from the beginning. It's one of those things that we never looked at from a pure, cold marketing perspective because that would have endangered the consistency of the whole game."
Potential backers weren't quite as open-minded. "We had some that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'"
Publishers also had misgivings about the game's romantic content. "We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin's private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy," Morris said. "We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward.'"
"I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature,'" Morris went on. "There's a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it's not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don't know, that's extremely weird to me." You and me both, old chap.
"You can identify with people of the other gender in movies, why could you not in games?" he added elsewhere. "The fact that our core target is males 15-25 is not an excuse. We need to be able to create, and respect the audience enough to believe that they can be smart enough to identify with that type of character."
In a possibly vexatious display of his own gender politics, Morris described Nilin's gender as appropriate to Remember Me's universe and themes. "The fact is that we're doing a cyberpunk game, and there are cyberpunk games out there that are about physical augmentation and transhumanism, and those are very male worlds in a way."
"The world we were building was much more about emotion, intimacy, identity, and the way technology would intersect those. It just felt like the other side of the coin, the yin and the yang, and it just made sense to us that it would be a female character."