When Presuming Straight Male Players Makes Perfect Sense

In the latest of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos crusading against attractive women in video games, she introduces (and spoils the entire plot and ending of) Far Cry 3. With a condescending tone, she complains about the plot, where a white American man ends up on a pirate-controlled island somewhere in the Indian/Pacific Ocean. The white male protagonist fights dark-skinned natives and can romance Citra, an exotic, attractive, dark-skinned woman who is somewhat of a mystic warrior goddess.

Far Cry 3’s Citra, Courtesy of Far Cry 3 Wikia

Spoilers for the ending of Far Cry 3!

In the end you can choose between going home with your friends or killing them and staying with Citra. If you choose the latter, the game displays a final cut scene of the two of you having sex. It concludes praying mantis-style, with Citra killing the protagonist and promising him that their baby will become a mighty warrior. “Citra is yet another example of a female character whose sexuality is presented as a motivator and reward for the presumed straight male player,” argues Sarkeesian, before going on to bemoan the portrayal of dark-skinned women mystics as inherently racist, apparently regardless of context, and then going on to decry the national tragedy of white guys culturally appropriating sombreros and drinking tequila.

Throughout Sarkeesian’s videos, her modus operandi has been to make a series of shallow arguments in order to make a larger point. Video games somehow reinforce racist and sexist stereotypes, she often argues, without going into detail and without providing links to any research, despite being considered an “academic” by overly friendly media.

In this editorial I want to focus on just one of her minor quibbles: that Far Cry 3 presumes a heterosexual male player. Rather from being problematic, as Sarkeesian and her kind so love to say, Ubisoft was absolutely correct to presume a straight male player and there was nothing wrong with them doing so.

Quantic Foundry is “a game analytics consulting practice”, according to their website. They do perhaps the most comprehensive, relevant research of the video game market. They recently came out with a report breaking down the number of female players by genre, using their sample of over 270,000 gamers. Their numbers provide a stark contrast with the Entertainment Software Association’s report (PDF) that claims that 41% of video game players are female. According to Quantic Foundry, that number is closer to 18.5%.

Nick Yee, co-founder and analytics lead of Quantic Foundry, explains the delta between his data and that of the ESA in the comments section:

What we do know is [the ESA] sample is biased towards more casual gamers. In their 2015 report, their most frequent gamers are most likely to be playing social games (31%) and puzzle games (30%). Note that this is their “most frequent” gamers. We can assume that their less frequent gamers are even more likely to play casual titles. So a large portion of their sample may not regularly play AAA titles at all.

In Quantic Foundry’s report, only 7% of first-person shooter players are female. People who identify as non-binary comprise 1.1% of their full sample, which is not broken down by genre due to such a low base rate.

Quantic Foundry Women in Gaming
Quantic Foundry’s results are much different from the ESA’s.(Click to enlarge)

So it’s safe to estimate that around 93% of Far Cry 3’s players are male.

And how many of those are straight men? According to Gallup in 2015, around 3.8% of the American population identifies as homosexual (and, interestingly, Americans greatly overestimate rate of homosexuality). If you assume that FPS players are equally represented by sexual orientation (an assumption I’m not comfortable making – but Quantic Foundry does not ask sexual orientation), then 89% of Far Cry 3’s players are straight men.

It is not at all ridiculous to presume an audience of straight men when more than 89% of their market is exactly that.

An argument can be made that 89% of the market is straight men specifically because that is the only market they pander to. But in the Quantic Foundry report’s comments section, Yee mentions that Overwatch, a game praised for its diversity and female friendliness, has an audience of only 16% women. It’s an improvement, but not much. Besides, there is nothing wrong with making a game specifically for a targeted market. That’s just smart business. Given the amount of money donated to Sarkeesian, she should know all about targeting a certain audience.

I have reached out to Jeffrey Yohalem, writer of Far Cry 3, to see if he feels Sarkeesian’s criticism is fair, though he has addressed the racial issue in the past in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun here. On Twitter I asked him if he feels Sarkeesian’s criticism is fair and accurate, to which he replied, “Guess she hasn’t seen Starship Troopers”. If I hear more from him I’ll update this article or perhaps post a new interview.