One of the problems that any webcomic faces is the conflict between audience and profitability. In essence, the larger the potential audience the greater the potential profitability the webcomic has. By doing anything to limit the audience, you also limit the potential there is for profit. If I target a primarily female audience that means that I limit my potential to half that as much as if I went after everyone.
The bad news is that this means that I also need to keep in mind my operating costs. If my operating costs are relatively small, then I can ignore the profitability of my webcomic and do pretty much anything I want to without worrying about what other people say about the comic. On the other hand if I’m trying to make a profit from the comic, then I need to worry about what the public thinks about my comic, and I need as many people as possible to read the comic.
This is sort of what “Tropes against Women” gets wrong. Gaming is not about making progressive stands to better society; it is not about making a stand for or against something so much as it is about making a profit. In that regard it tends to operate on free market principles; whatever sells is usually what they produce. This means that whatever consumers buy the most of in a particular year will probably find itself being produced more of in the following years. The problem is that women make up less than a quarter of gamers, and developers are more interested in the majority of gamers, producing games for male gamers. Given the millions that it takes to develop games, this makes sense.
However, and contrary to what Sarkeesian thinks, the portrayal of women has improved over time. They have changed from merely the reward at the end of the quest to the motivation for that quest as well as aid along that path. Zelda may get captured, but until that point she proves to be an able ally, sometimes having to choose between her duties as princess and those as Link’s benefactor. At one point she even invents an identity, that of Sheikh, in order to adventure alongside Link. A decade ago she would have been limited to just being the object of the quest; now she is an equal partner, even telling Link what to do.
Obviously I’m not trying to say that things cannot get better, but that it takes a different approach to work. I think that webcomics can benefit from looking at some of Sarkeesian’s points. So I’ll be exploring those points over the next series of colums.