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Deep Down didn't include a female protagonist (but that's not the real issue)

Capcom's decision not to have a playable female character in Deep Down isn't as big a deal as made out, but that doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

opinion Capcom's decision not to have a playable female character in Deep Down isn't as big a deal as made out, but that doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

Deep Down. (Credit: Capcom)

Capcom's Deep Down, an upcoming game for the PlayStation 4, has been the subject of heated discussion around the gaming traps the last couple of days, and the game has not been faring well in public opinion. Why? According to a report on Dualshockers, the game's Japanese producer, Kazunori Sugiura, had mentioned that playable characters would only be male, citing "narrative reasons".

If true, this would certainly be a curious decision — particularly for what seems to be a medieval-fantasy RPG, a genre that traditionally has quite a large female audience. In recent years, most titles — particularly in the RPG genre — that allowed the player to customise their characters included female options.

Of course they do. At last count, women made up 47 per cent of gamers (in Australia at least; the most recent US figure was 45 per cent), and developers have been increasingly realising that, if they can cater to more demographics, they will make more sales. It does, indeed, cost more money to create both male and female playable characters. It's not as simple as a re-skin; you need to animate the skeleton and musculature differently, hire more voice actors. But if you can bring in those extra customers, it's worth the extra effort.

This was not always the case, though. The proven demographic in the past was significantly male-skewed, so, when making cut-throat commercial decisions, studios would more often than not choose to cater to men rather than an unproven, potential female audience. Some studios still do.

Capcom, however, is not necessarily one of them. In an email to CNET Australia — and on the Deep Down official Twitter account — the studio explained that Sugiura's remarks had been mistranslated.

"My name is Sugiura and I'm a producer at Capcom Japan," Sugiura wrote. "I was informed by a representative of one of our overseas branches that an article containing misleading information regarding Deep Down has been recently circulating and drawing some attention. This article makes the claim that the game has 12 playable characters, all of whom are male. As producer in charge of this project, I would like to respond and clarify. While the main character of Deep Down is indeed male, he is the only playable character in the game. The story focuses on him and a group of allies known as the Ravens."

This means that the protagonist is a fixed male character, and cannot be customised by the player.

The game also has a fixed story. The main character lives in the present day and travels back in time to a medieval-ish era to collect artefacts based on memories.

While, we dare say, that there is very little in that story a female protagonist could not do, especially in a fantasy setting, it would seem strange to single out Capcom for criticism for this. If anything was said about The Witcher's lack of a playable female character, we didn't hear it. Likewise Assassin's Creed. Or Gears of War. Or Devil May Cry. Or BioShock.

If there is a problem with gender representation in games — and we believe there is — it's that the ratio of male to female protagonists is deeply unbalanced. A fixed male protagonist isn't in itself a bad thing. Nor is a fixed female protagonist, and we've certainly seen games with female protagonists skyrocket into popularity — although not many of them, simply because the quantity isn't there. The recent Tomb Raider, for instance, which has always been a beloved franchise. Or Portal.

Capcom even has its own. Ōkami's Amaterasu, Resident Evil's Jill Valentine, even 2012 RPG Dragon's Dogma had a playable female character. Male protagonists definitely outnumber female by a wide margin — but it's an industry-wide problem. More than that, it's a wider problem with genre content — comics and, to a lesser extent, fantasy and sci-fi fiction.

This is not on Capcom — or at least, not on Capcom alone. More balanced gender representation is something the gaming industry as a whole has to work towards, and it's frustratingly slow going. But, as has been demonstrated — and continues to be demonstrated with independent games — if the gameplay is excellent, many gamers will play, even if the protagonist does happen to be a woman.

And what you as gamers can do is continue playing and talking about those excellent games that do make a point of inclusivity.