Make game characters more interesting, unique, diverse, and approachable

It is easy to miss the good news around these days when the information flow is massive, but one of the recent Bloomberg’s posts by Jason Schreier got my interest immediately with the title Video Games Are Slowly Opening Up to More Black Characters.
Just reading the topic alone, I mumbled in my mind, “frickin’ finally!” 

Diversity comes in many shapes, colors and forms, and it has been very insightful to be part of game making, where we, the developers, create these interesting characters from scratch and have the power to affect how they turn out.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to understand more about what the market thinks about character design, what the players need, and how we could improve our character diversity here at Nitro Games, so I made a study case.

Honestly, the results shocked me in many ways.

It became crystal clear to me how much the industry caters to the stereotypes and how simple & doable requests our players have to make them feel happy and considered. I analyzed hundreds of comments and feedback, which condensed into “normalizing normal things in games”.

We could make a drinking game out of stereotypes in games characters; “take a shot every time you see…

… an evil doctor with eyeglasses

… bikini armor on female

… US navy guy being toxic and arrogant

…You know the drill, so what can we do about this? 

My study revealed many significant actions that we developers can take to offer more diverse characters with fewer stereotypes for our players! Here’s just a few to chew on!

🎨 Consider androgyne characters; plenty of my study’s comments highlighted that you often need to pick the busty babe or alpha male. Simple example: often you are allowed to pick either girl’s hair or guys hair, or have a muscular body only for the guys and thin torso for girls if you have a customized character builder – Why limit this? I won’t be telling you not to wear pink pants because it’s a “girls’ color.” 

🎨 Disabilities and enchantments were highly requested – not in a funny cartoony way but in a more relatable way: eyeglasses, a hearing device, braces, cane – and one of the most requested approaches was a character in a wheelchair! Regarding eyeglasses, there were multiple mentions of the harmful swan storytelling that women can be pretty and beautiful only by removing the glasses. It’s all about normalizing these instead of making only the evil geniuses or ugly ducklings wearing eyeglasses and, by doing so, reinforcing the stereotypes.

🎨 Shades and colors! At the time of the study, we thought we had nailed one example of a dark skin character, but in reality, we were far away from what we were trying to portray. The common ground for the feedback was that developers often go with the “coffee with milk” rather than ” dark coffee”, leaving out a vast population without character to relate to. The usual excuse is about the lightning and shaders of the game, which should be a positive challenge to be able to mimic realistic lightning and tones rather than a reason to do only fair-skinned characters.

🎨 Don’t be scared to do “coarse” characters; many respondents requested to see more options for crippled, harsh, ugly, old, and even mental illnesses in character design. And please, please please, in a more profound way, not an overly caricatured way.

Ever since the study, my eyes have been more open for expanding the traits of our characters and while we still have a lot to learn as a company, developers and artists; we were so happy to hear amazing feedback about some of our characters in a game that’s being developed. We organized a playtest session to mostly focus on the technical side of things such as movement and shooting, but the one thing that caught players eyes was our female character with afro hair. Our female testers mentioned this as a positive thing multiple times.

In addition we made one character without a leg, having a mechanical leg instead, with some funny take on it as our game concept was a bit goofy and dystopian, with this choice, we were also able to give the character an unique idle animation.



Concepting by Antti Pesonen for the game Lootland

For some inspiration, please take a look at Fallout 4’s scars and pimples in the character creation, Sucker Punch Productions Sly Cooper series with Bentley in the wheelchair or Supergiant Games Transistor for having character(s) like Bailey Gilande brought up as a great example of androgyne character.

When designing the next character, take a moment to challenge your team to think about what would make the character more interesting, unique, diverse, and approachable? What would it take to make it memorable and even cosplayable! 🙌💖

Gender in Play: character diversity

This article is the second part in our blog post series on representation of women characters and character diversity in Finnish games (click here for the first part and the introduction to the series). In this post, we will highlight some positive examples and good practices regarding character diversity and representation in Finnish games.

When looking for diversity of characters, three games were of particular note, Your Royal Gayness, for its portrayal of its gay protagonist and a non-binary support character, Raanaa, for its Sámi main character and themes, and Control, for its leading women characters and subversion of a common videogame trope.

Your Royal Gayness

Your Royal Gayness is a game that puts the player in control of Amir, a gay prince, who is left in control of a not-too-LGBTQ+-friendly nation when his parents leave for two months. Besides being the only game found in the previous analysis to have characters explictily described as gay, YRG also puts the protagonist’s sexuality as an important part of both the game’s plot and mechanics.

Instead of going for the more utopic option of having the game set in a place where there is no prejudice, the game chooses to go for a more “realistic”, yet still humorous, approach to LGBTQ+ issues. At the start of the game homosexuality is illegal in Amir’s kingdom, and throughout the game the player must balance a “suspicion meter” in order to avoid being discovered by the people beyond his close circle of advisors (who are very much supportive of him). These choices in plot and mechanics bring experiences relatable to many queer players into the game. While most LGBTQ+ people have not had to rule a kingdom for a couple of months, many have had to hide their identities from the world. The close circle of advisors, who know about Amir and help him navigate through the game, is also something relatable to the “queer experience”. 

Picture 13. Prince Amir and two of his advisors, Seraph and Magda.

Despite touching on those heavy subjects, however, the game is not a heavy drama in any way. Instead, it has a tongue-in-cheek narrative through and through using parody as a way to expose the absurdities of homophobia, such as when the prince is brough to judgement accused of being “really, really gay” and the judgement itself involves the prince having to quickly choose between objects related to stereotypical ideas of sexuality.

Picture 14. The final judgement of Amir depends on his choice of vegetable.

The prince is not the only LGBTQ+ character in the game, as there are a number of other such characters in the cast. One deserving special recognition is Seraph, the non-binary spymaster and advisor of prince Amir.

Seraph is a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns. While not every character really understands their identity, through the game the matter is always handled with respect. Depending on the player’s choices, Amir can talk with Seraph about their identity and what being both non-binary and pansexual means to Seraph. Once again, those conversations are handled in a natural and sensitive way, with Seraph scolding the prince when he brings up their deadname (i.e. name they were assigned at birth) and explaining that it is hurtful to do that, the prince listens to Seraph and learns from them. 

Picture 15. Seraph tells Amir it is bad manners to look up into someone’s dead name.

Another interesting way in which Your Royal Gayness promotes the portrayal of a diverse cast is with its random body generator, used to create the other kingdoms’ princesses and princes. Those are secondary characters which are different in every playthrough, as the game creates new ones every time, taking from a pool of different body shapes, skin colours, hairstyles and outfits. This is a very interesting and well-meaning idea, which in most cases seems to work as intended. However, a few times it seemed to backfire, as some kingdoms had random characters all with the same skin color or some characters who looked exactly alike.

Picture 16. Kala and Juliet look like twins.

Raanaa – The Shaman Girl

Raanaa is the only Finnish game found in the previous analysis to have a definite Sámi character. This is especially noteworthy as the Sámi people are a historic minority as the indigenous people in Finland. In Raanaa the player takes control of a young Sámi girl who is called in her sleep by the Foremother Goddess Máttaráhkká to come and help her in the spirit world.

Picture 17. Raanaa the shaman girl.

Throughout the game Raanaa finds other figures of Sámi mythology like Ruonánieida, the Maiden of Spring and Barbmoáhká, the Guardian of the Birds. With their assistance, as well as with her shaman abilities and magical dress, Raanaa helps to maintain balance and protect both the spirit and the human world.

The game not only is inspired by Sámi mythology, but it also has an interest in being accessible to Sámi players, having the option to be played in Northern Sámi language. The game was also supported by the Sámi Parliament in Norway and Sámi people were involved and consulted during the development of the game, which is a good practice if the intent is to have positive representation. The game’s narrative designer and producer is also Sámi.

Both the recognition of the Sámi players by giving them the option to play in their native language, as well as the involvement of Sámi people in the development of the game are meaningful and imply an interest in a sensitive portrayal which does not fall into the sometimes caricatural depictions of Sámi people found in media.

Control

In Control, you play as Jessie Faden, a young woman with strange powers who is investigating the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) while searching for her missing brother. Shortly after arriving there, Jessie ends up receiving a new weapon, and with it, the position of Director of the FBC. From then on she has to defend the building against the invasion of a paranormal entity known as The Hiss, while finding out more about herself, her brother and the friendly paranormal entity called Polaris.

Control is a game with a strong cast of women in different positions. Not only the main character, Jessie, but also three notable side characters: Helen Marshall, the African American, grey haired, Head of Operations for the Federal Bureau of Control, Emily Pope, who is the FBC Head of Research, and genius scientist Raya Underhill.

Picture 18. Helen Marshall introducing herself.

While these three characters require assistance from the protagonist to achieve their goals, they are generally represented as capable in their own roles, and retaining some sense of control despite the exceptional events happening during the game. Pope wants to research Jessie and understand what is going on with The Hiss, while at the same time organising the survivors in the building and assembling protection equipment. Underhill is in the building’s basement focused on her own research, about a different type of entity than the game’s main enemy, and does not seem to care much about the problems happening above ground. Finally, Marshall is commanding the larger group of security officers in the defense against the Hiss, and has her own objectives which are further explored in the game’s downloadable content (i.e. expansion), The Foundation.

Beyond that, Control subverts one particular trope of videogames with a woman protagonist. It is often the case in such games that the player exists as a “protector” of the protagonist. Whereas in games with a man as the main character the player gets to “be” the character, games with women often focus on the idea of “helping” or “defending” them. This can be understood as part of the male gaze at work in video games.

In the start of Control, it seems that the game is following that trope, as Jesse appears to talk to the player about how they have helped her get in the building. As the story progresses, we learn that the invisible presence that is assisting and watching Jesse is not the player per-se, but Polaris, an entity from another dimension who has been with her since her childhood and is in fact gendered as a “she”. To an extent Polaris can still be understood as a stand-in for the player, as she is not seen by the camera, but still always present in the game and assisting Jesse, who constantly speaks to her. In that way, the gaze of the camera/player is also the gaze of Polaris. This turns what could have been seen as a paternalistic/male-gazey relation with the camera into what can be seen as an alliance between women.

Picture 19. Jesse having a conversation with Polaris.

Narratively, Polaris also works as a motherly figure, with Jesse’s original mother having disappeared when Jessie wished her and her father away with strange magic. This idea of motherhood is further seen when the player eventually finds the body of Polaris, which is a construct in the shape of a  womb/egg which eventually bursts, appearing to die.

Picture 20. The body of Polaris.

After the burst of Polaris, Jesse seems to experience a rebirth experience (accepting her role as the Direct of FBC) and realises that even if that form (womb/egg) of Polaris died, the Polaris she knew was still with her and had never left her.

This is of note because it does not assume the player as a man. The recognition of an audience other than the stereotypical straight man is valuable and opens possibilities for more diverse games and characters. While research points out that the distribution of women and men in gaming are much more even than what common stereotypes still point to (as noted in our literature review of character representation and diversity in games), games themselves often seem to be interested in catering primarily to a mostly hetero-masculine audience.

Returnal

In Returnal, you play as Selene Vassos, a space scout who is stranded on mysterious planet Atropos after crash landing her spaceship, Helios. Selene quickly discovers that she has been on the planet before, and that she cannot escape it, not even through death. As death on the planet only means that she wakes up again at the crash site.

Picture 20. Selene is reborn in Atropos once again.

The story of Returnal, and Selene, is not told in a straightforward manner. Instead, it is inspired by the roguelike mechanics of the game and told in little pieces, which are unlocked as the player advances through the death/rebirth cycles of the game. The narrative and gameplay help connect the player with Selene, as she experiences the frustrations of failure — the game is not easy — in a similar way to what the player may be experiencing. Many of the pieces of plot uncovered through the game are also mysterious, and highly symbolic, and the player may not get a full sense of what exactly is happening to Selene, until finishing the game for the second time.

The nature of Returnal’s narrative leaves much of its understanding up to the player’s interpretation. Much of its imagery, cutscenes and even action is highly evocative and metaphorical. Therefore, much of what is discussed here reflects the interpretation of the authors and seeks to raise discussion points and considerations about the character in the context of the game, and games in general, rather than provide objective facts.

Picture 21. Returnal’s narrative is often told in flashes.

What is learned, however, tells an interesting story, with themes unusual to a triple-A game. Themes of mental health, motherhood and guilt, which are discussed through the complex character of Selene. 

As the story advances, it becomes clearer and clearer that Selene has depression, there are references to medication and grief spread throughout the game. Selene handles depression actively, if indirectly, by battling the actual monsters inside her mind.

Mother protagonists are rare but they are not unheard of in video games, for example: Kara from Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream, 2018), Sally from We Happy Few (Compulsion Games, 2016); woman main character in Fallout 4 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2015); Bayonetta in Bayonetta (PlatinumGames, 2009), Edith Finch in What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow, 2017). A middle aged mother who can kick ass in an action game is significant and opens the door to new possibilities in a genre and medium where mothers are not usually present or are relegated to supporting roles when they do appear. As mothers in games go, Selene is even more unique in the fact that she is not only a mother, but a bad one.

Selene can also be read as disabled within the narrative frame, despite not being so gameplay-wise. As the end of the game is reached, we learn that the action scenes are not happening in the real world, but in her mind. Even more, she was in a car accident which led to the death of her son, Helios. It is clear that that loss has left her severely depressed, and while the extent of the physical consequences are not clear, the wheelchair is a common motif in different scenes in the game. In the true ending of the game, Selene’s mother, Theia is shown in a wheelchair.

Picture 22. Theia’s wheelchair.

The game seems to be very interested in harming Selene. Not only will she die over and over, she will also experience many forms of physical and emotional pain throughout the game. Her moans of pain when grappled by tentacles are particularly gruesome. This pain caused upon Selene is expected when considering the death/rebirth tropes of the roguelike genre, and the overall themes and narrative of the game itself, which focuses on the repetitive nature of grief and guilt. As we learn that all of the action is taking place in Selene’s mind, in a way all the violence in the game could be interpreted as a metaphor for self-harm, something made clearer when we see Selene shooting down her own ship. Mental health and self-harm are sensitive topics rarely approached in mainstream gaming and the choice of a triple-A game to address them, even if not explicitly, is a courageous one. 

It could be argued that the choice of a woman protagonist makes it easier for the audience to digest such topics; Carol Clover’s theory of the Final Girl mentions how a woman protagonist in horror movies can make it easier for the audience to experience feelings of pain and fragility. A few other games which explore themes of mental health also choose for women protagonists, such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory 2017), Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment 2015) and Gris (Nomada Studio 2018). It is important to note that this is not a criticism of such characters or games, as the exploration of these topics and existence of these characters is a positive thing that expands preconceptions about games. On the contrary, this might indicate a limitation in the way men are portrayed, attached to the sexist idea that men do not cry or feel emotions as strongly. 

Taking all that into consideration, as well as the complexity of the narrative and the way it is explored, the extent to which Selene’s pain follows the trope of women having to suffer pain and punishment in order to be allowed as action heroes is not clear-cut but her representation is multilayered.

Games:

Bethesda Game Studios. (2015). Fallout 4. Published by Bethesda Softworks.

Compulsion Games. (2016). We Happy Few. Published by Gearbox Publishing.

Giant Sparrow. (2017). What Remains of Edith Finch. Published by Annapurna Interactive. 

Housemarque. (2021). Returnal. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Lizard Hazard Games. (2018). Your Royal Gayness. Published by Lizard Hazard Games.

Miksapix Interactive. (2019). Raanaa – The Shaman Girl. Published by Miksapix Interactive. (Version 1.2., latest update January 21, 2021).

PlatinumGames (2009). Bayonetta. Published by Sega.

Remedy Entertainment. (2019). Control. Published by 505 Games.

Quantic Dream. (2018). Detroit: Become Human. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Women character representation and diversity in Finnish games: a qualitative analysis

Introduction to the Blog Post Series on Representation of Women Characters and Character Diversity in Finnish Games

As the Gender in Play project continues, after our large-scale analysis of Finnish games released from 2018 to 2020, the next step was to take a closer look at several selected games from the previous sample. The games were selected for standing out as positive examples of gender and diverse character representations. The objective of this analysis was to look for what those games did well in terms of gender and diversity representation, as well as possibly identify spaces for improvement in that regard. Those insights were summarized in this blog post as a useful reference for developers interested in good practices for the representation of their own women and other minority characters. 

Unlike the previous large-scale analysis, which consisted of 117 Finnish games, this one focused on a smaller sample of selected games (6), thus providing space for a more detailed approach in the analysis. Each game was played through at least once (with one exception explained below), with a second playthrough being also done when possible and deemed necessary. By playing the games we were able to gain deeper insights and a more holistic understanding of the games, which was not possible during the previous analysis, considering that with a large sample of 117 games we were not able to play all the games and our complete data was gathered from gameplay videos, wiki pages and other marketing materials available for each of the games. Moreover, differently from the large-scale analysis, this time around we did not look for the same things in every game, instead we chose to focus on what was most interesting in each one in regards to our topics.

The games chosen for this analysis  were the following: Your Royal Gayness (Lizard Hazard Games 2018), Small Town Murders: Match 3 Crime Mystery Stories (Rovio Entertainment 2019), Raanaa – The Shaman Girl (Miksapix Interactive 2019), Ignis Universia: Eternal Sisters Saga DX (Random Potion Oy, Hologram Monster Oy 2020), Control (Remedy Entertainment 2020) and Returnal (Housemarque 2021). Most of the games were published by Finnish game companies in 2018–2020, and they were selected based on our previous quantitative analysis. The selected games stood out as distinctive examples relevant for our analysis due to their addressing of positive representation of women characters, inclusion of underrepresented features (in terms of characters’ gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity and disability) or showing a perspective on how gender-based violence against women can be addressed or found in games. The game Returnal, however, stands out for having been released in 2021 and therefore not being present in our previous analysis. Nevertheless, as an internationally acclaimed title which had just been released and features an interesting woman lead, it had been agreed to include it in the analysis. In the case of Small Town Murders, an online mobile game with an ever increasing number of levels, a limitation on the sample was needed, so for the scope of this analysis we decided to examine only the first two murder cases in the story.

This blog post series is divided in three parts; the first part focuses on the representation of women characters, the second on the representation of diverse casts and other minorities, and the last one on aspects of gender based violence against women in the selected games.

Representation of Women Characters

This qualitative analysis follows the principles of the framework to examine and analyze women characters in games by Usva Friman (2015), which suggests the following five character construction themes: 1. presence, 2. background and role, 3. participation and goals, 4. speech and 5. gendering. More specifically, we analyzed the way women characters are represented in Finnish games by answering a number of pre-created open questions focused on how the representation of women characters is being carried out and can be seen in the selected Finnish games. 

Presence

Before proceeding to examining how women characters are represented, it is important to determine whether there is any representation at all. Therefore, the first category in the analysis questions was whether women characters are present in the games at all and if yes, to which scope. The features examined in this part of the analysis were the existence of women characters (including women main protagonists, allies, opponents and main antagonists), existence of named as well as playable women characters.

Considering that the games were selected due to their incorporation of women characters, in this part of the analysis we will provide a list of all named women protagonists in the examined games. Five out of six games included at least one named playable women main protagonist (including Small Town Murder’s Nora Mistry, a character indirectly controlled by players through solving match-3 puzzles). To define a character as a woman, we looked beyond physical appearance or names, taking into consideration their own expression and the pronouns used. 

Table 1. The list of women main protagonists in the examined games.

ControlJesse Faden
Ignis UniversiaEleanna, Mordina, Silvanna, Zena (The Chosen Sisters)
Raanaa – The Shaman GirlRaanaa
ReturnalSelene Vassos
Small Town MurdersNora Mistry

Women allies and antagonists were also present in the named games. For example, in order to save the world, the four Chosen Sisters of Ignis Universia need to fight the wizardess Galgatax and one of the first suspects in Small Town Murders is the first case victim’s daughter. On the other hand, women allies, like Mrs. Mangroove in Small Town Murders or Emily Pope in Control, are also there to support the main protagonists, mostly by providing important information relevant to the story and player’s progress in the game. 

Table 2.Women allies and other prominent women characters in the examined games.

ControlEmily Pope, Helen Marshall, Raya Underhill
Small Town MurdersMrs. Mungroove, Bonnie Pirello
Your Royal GaynessDrakemaster Magda, Princess Roxanne

Table 3. Women antagonists in the examined games.

Ignis UniversiaWitch Galgatax
Small Town MurdersChelsea Higgnis

Background and role

The background of women characters varied from game to game. Looking at the mentioned protagonists as well as the allies and antagonists we saw that their backgrounds were defined based on their professions, statuses or relationships they had with other characters. Depending on the game genre and complexity, the women characters (be it protagonists, allies or antagonists) were developed to a larger or a smaller extent and the information about them was shared in a larger or a smaller amount. In that context, in Control we got to meet several prominent (and accomplished) women characters in high positions or in positions of power: director, head of research, head of operations, threshold specialist. Nora Mistry (Small Town Murders) is a crime novelist who helps the police solve crimes and we meet Selene Vassos (Returnal) at the beginning of the game as a space scout. The four Chosen Sisters of Ignis Universia are destined to save the world while Raanaa uses her magic to save the Goddesses of the Sámi mythology. Finally, the Drakemaster Magda of Your Royal Gayness is Prince Amir’s trusted advisor and an expert on war and battle.

The actions of women protagonists in these games also represented their backgrounds. For example, the Chosen Sisters (Ignis Universia) are fierce fighters destined to save the world. They are an opposite of “being silent, being subdued”, as the game introduction told us. Their mission is to fight the evil witch and save the world from destruction. Their actions are following this goal, they go on adventures, engage in combat and slay dragons and other fantastic creatures. Jesse (Control) as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Control uses her powers to defeat enemies and cleanse the Bureau taken over by a hostile force referred to as “the hiss”. Nora (Small Town Murders) is asked to give professional inputs in murder case investigations; she inspects the crime scenes, searches for the evidence, connects the clues and solves murder mysteries. Her actions often overpower her background – as “only” a crime novelist she takes on the role of the investigator in the cases and even throws herself in dangerous acts, such as posing as Bonnie Pirello, the target of a what is believed to be a hitman sent directly to take out the wife of an Italian mobster. Magda (Your Royal Gayness) carries her sword all the time and is always ready for action. On Amir’s command she attends different matters to keep the situation in the kingdom calm. She controls the guards and leads the army. 

Participation and goals

As it could be seen from the examined representative sample of Finnish games, women characters are no longer merely following from the sidelines, they are equally participating and are as important for the narrative and gameplay as are the men characters. They are influencing the story and the events in the game and their actions have consequences. This positive development is noticeable in video games since the past decades, both in games creation and games research which calls for more diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups (which we also noted in our literature review of character representation and diversity in games). To illustrate this on a few examples; faced with his first dead body on the job, Deputy Shanahan of Small Town Murders might not have been able to solve the cases without Nora’s inputs; in Ignis Universia, the world was destined for doom without the Chosen sisters; Magda’s actions in Your Royal Gayness directly influenced the story and the course of the game.

Women characters in the examined games mostly followed their own goals, such as Nora who self-willingly offered her help to solve crimes as a means to gather inspiration and fight off her writer’s block, or Selene (Returnal) who defied orders and was determined to follow her own path (be it in real life in terms of following her career, or in the never-ending space mission she kept waking up to). However, there were examples when the action of women characters was dictated by the choice or upon a request of another character – who was often a man. In Ignis Universia, the Chosen Sisters were gathered and led by a man; in Control, Jesse’s objective was directed by the search of and finding answers about her missing brother; Small Town Murders’ Nora decided to join hands in solving crimes as a helping hand to an incompetent deputy whereas Drakemaster Magda of Your Royal Gayness served her liege Amir to keep the kingdom safe and protected. This does not, however, mean that women characters did not have autonomy while pursuing these goals and actions. For example, during her journey to find her missing brother, Jesse  realizes that she was also searching for information about herself, and when asked to train prince Amir with the sword, Magda refused stating that she had a different, personal priority at that moment. 

Nevertheless, our findings do show that, although we are seeing a positive representation of strong and powerful women leads in Finnish games, their goals are still directly or indirectly often set out by or related to men. This shows that men characters are still very important key figures in games, also in Finland (according to our large-scale analysis of Finnish games, the ratio of games which include playable men characters is approx. 10 % higher than those including women, with 63 games having playable men and 51 games playable women characters from a total of 117 analyzed games). What should be ensured in this case is that the actions of women characters are important gameplay features on their own and not only necessary if they are aimed towards supporting men characters.

Speech

When examining women characters representation in games, it is also important to include the aspect of speech and to examine whether women characters speak, to whom, as well as whether and how they are talked about. All main women characters and protagonists in the analyzed games spoke and were spoken to, more importantly, they were given a voice. They spoke in a curious, witty, often charming and clever way. Some were snappy, direct and sharp (e.g. Silvanna and Zena of Ignis Universia, when speaking with other characters, often in a sarcastic or cynical way) while some were more rational (e.g. Nora Mistry when solving the crimes) or reflective (Jesse Faden of Control in conversations with others and in her thoughts/conversations with the entity Polaris, often accompanied by a zoomed-in shot of Jesse’s face).

Picture 1. Speech examples: Silvanna and Zena (Ignis Universia).
Picture 2. Speech examples: Jesse Faden (Control).

It is important to state that there was a noticeable difference in the language used to speak about women protagonists and women antagonists in the examined games. This trend is not uncommon in contemporary video games and often relates to the gender role of a woman character, as Sarah Stang also points out in her speech about gendered monstrosities in games. Although the following example from our analysis refers to a human being and not a fantastical creature, one finding was the use of  an epithet “old hag” by which the spendthrift son of the first murder victim in Small Town Murders, a wealthy woman Elisabeth Higgins, spoke of his mother when he found out who was the sole beneficiary of her testament. Additionally, in the opening screen of the game Ignis Universia we saw the words of a Null Brother (man main protagonist) that “wizardess Galgatax was rearing her ugly head once more”. Following Sarah Stang’s point, the language to describe women characters in our examined games also depended on things such as their sexuality, gender role or age, so in that context a young and attractive women character was referred to as “sweet” and “nice” while an older one became “ugly” or “a hag”, especially when spoken of by a man.

Gendering

When it comes to gendering, the aspects we looked at were whether women characters were romanticized, sexualized and objectified and how, as well as whether their physical or behavioural femininity level was emphasized and in which way.

Sexualization and objectification of women characters in the examined games was present to a certain extent. The most prominent examples were the Chosen Sisters of Ignis Universia whose physical appearance and other features were an important aspect of the game’s narration. Considering the game’s parodical nature, sexualized scenes and references were used to emphasize and ridicule how women characters are often objectified and sexualized  in Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). The following images show some examples of objectification and sexualization of women characters in this game. 

Picture 3. Revealing outfits of women characters (Ignis Universia).
Picture 4. Sexual referencing through naming of the character (Ignis Universia).
Picture 5. Sexualized puns (Ignis Universia).
Picture 6. Objectification of women characters (Ignis Universia).

Another example of a character represented as an object of desire could be found in the character of Chelsea Higgins, one of the suspects in the first case of Small Town Murders, the girl of Deputy Shananah’s teenage dreams, with her lustful feminine figure, emphasized breasts, wide thighs and a tiny waist. As an isolated example, such representation is not necessarily negative. Having in mind that the story of Small Town Murders is located in the United States and that Chelsea was said to had been a cheerleader, we can see that the character of Chelsea was designed to follow the same famous trope from the US cinematography: she is shallow and superficial, beautiful, young, focused on her looks and popularity, she is the object of men’s desires and the evil antagonist of the woman non-cheerleader protagonist.

Picture 7. Visual representation of Chelsea Higgins (Small Town Murders).

On the contrary, the figure of the woman protagonist of the same game, Nora Mistry, remains hidden from the eyes of the player, thus showing that women characters can be developed as powerful, accomplished and likeable through emphasizing their backgrounds and actions and not their physical or sexual appearances. The comparison between the representation of Nora and Chelsea goes in line with the conclusion made by Lynch et al. (2016) in their Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years, which stated that women in secondary roles are more likely to be sexualized than primary characters. According to the same authors, nonprimary characters are not as important to the game’s story as the primary characters, and therefore the designers might sexualize them to make them more appealing to the player (or to be able to convey a specific message, as it might be the case in Small Town Murders). 

Picture 8. Visual representation of Nora Mistry (Small Town Murders).

When it comes to the women protagonists, the same article argued that the portrayal of [women] characters had been influenced by an increasing interest of women players in video games as well as the criticism aimed towards the industry which had been, and still is, largely dominated by men. Therefore, over the course of time we may be witnesses of an ever decreasing number of sexualized women protagonists.

“Conversely, a primary character is central to the story and aspects of the narrative give her significance beyond her physical attributes” (Lynch et al., 2016). In triple-A games, such as Control and Returnal, the bodies of women protagonists were not overexaggerated nor put in extremely revealing outfits, which is a positive development and an important finding that shows that the examined world-wide popular titles did not turn to hypersexualization of their women protagonists.

Picture 9. Visual representation of Jesse Faden (Control).

Selene Vassos is equipped with high-tech weapons and wears a strong space suit. The suit is moderately tight and follows Selene’s body shape. Although it could be argued that the suit is seemingly tight and possibly not suited for a space scout, Selene’s outfit is part of the game narrative. Resembling a contemporary sports outfit, the suit allows her to move fast, to avoid enemies’ attacks and other objects, and is as such consistent with the gameplay. This is a very important finding when having in mind that the bigger emphasis in the game is set on dodging and escaping damage and not as much on being protected from it.

Picture 10. Visual representation of Selene Vassos (Returnal).

An intention to objectify and sexualize women protagonists in these games was not found neither in the death scenes nor in the camera work and angles. Overall, this finding shows that there is a positive attitude towards women characters in the Finnish game industry when it comes to the aspect of gendering among big and popular titles. 

The following images represent the camera angles in the mentioned two games; they were taken during the gameplay, in a “safe spot” (e.g. at the beginning of a level or right after a checkpoint), meaning that there was no action happening at that time in the game and that the examiner had enough time to navigate the camera freely and take screenshots. The only angle which shows a tendency towards sexualization is shown in the last segment of Picture 12. This image was taken while positioning the camera to show Selene’s back, moving it to the lowest angle in the screen and facing up. Although this angle clearly puts Selene’s buttocks in the focus, it needs to be stated that this angle is not favored by the game nor is the player ever encouraged to use it (on the contrary, it makes the game unplayable). However, by comparing this image with the same angle of Jesse in Control (Picture 11, segment 2), we can see that Control offers a good practice example on how to program the camera in a way which doesn’t insinuate objectification, i.e. by focusing on the character’s back rather than her buttocks.

Picture 11. Camera angles in Control (eye level front, lower back, upper front and lower front).
Picture 12. Camera angles in Returnal (eye level front, eye level back, upper back, lower front, lower back).

Academic literature:

Friman, U. (2015). From Pixel Babes to Active Agents – How to Fix the Lack of Diversity in Female Digital Game Characters (essay). University of Turku. Open access: https://press.etc.cmu.edu/index.php/product/well-played-vol-4-no-3

Lynch, T., van Driel, I. I., Tompkins,  J. E. and Fritz, N. (2016). Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years: Female Game Characters across 31 Years. In Journal of Communication. Vol.66 (4). p.564-584. DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12237. Full text available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304661662_Sexy_Strong_and_Secondary_A_Content_Analysis_of_Female_Characters_in_Video_Games_across_31_Years_Female_Game_Characters_across_31_Years 

Monstrosity 21 Keynote: Sarah Stang. (2021). Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32gYU9kxEj4 

Games:

Housemarque. (2021). Returnal. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Lizard Hazard Games. (2018). Your Royal Gayness. Published by Lizard Hazard Games.

Miksapix Interactive. (2019). Raanaa – The Shaman Girl. Published by Miksapix Interactive. (Version 1.2., latest update January 21, 2021).

Random Potion Oy, Hologram Monster Oy. (2020). Ignis Universia: Eternal Sisters Saga DX. Published by Random Potion Oy.

Remedy Entertainment. (2019). Control. Published by 505 Games.

Rovio Entertainment. (2019). Small Town Murders: Match 3 Crime Mystery Stories. Published by Rovio Entertainment. (Version 2.0.0., latest update June 7, 2021).

Gender in Play – large-scale content analysis about the character representation and diversity in Finnish games

Following the publishing of the literature review about character representation and diversity in games, the next step in the analysis phase of the Gender in Play – Representations of Gender in Games project consisted of a large-scale analysis of character representation in the Finnish game industry.

Setting the base: examined content and analysis guidelines

The base of the analysis were games made by Finnish developers, released from 2018 to 2020. This list of around 240 games in total has been provided by Neogames. Considering the large sample and the short timeframe available for the analysis, the first step needed to be taken was deciding on the selection (i.e. exclusion) criteria which would make the workload realistic, on the one hand, and bear fruitful results in line with our project aims, on the other. Thus, when taking into account the large number of games featuring exclusively animal or abstract characters, the decision was made to only examine games with human characters, or those humanlike enough, with the presumption that those will bring out valuable results considering aspects of gender representation and gender-based violence in games. “Humanlike enough” refers to when despite not being human, the characters expressed decidedly human behaviors and performed human actions, such as going to work and having relationships. One example of such characters can be found in the game STONE, with its protagonist being a “hungover koala detective [who] wakes to find his lover Alex has been kidnapped.” (STONE on Steam, May 8, 2021) Additional to the games with no human or humanlike characters, educational, virtual reality and iWall games as well as   games based on intellectual property were excluded from the analysis. Limiting the number of games to one per company per year, our final sample size was reduced to the total number of 117 games.

Picture 1: Stone (Source: Stone’s Steam page.)

With that still being quite a large sample, the following strategies were agreed upon: 1) the focus will be put solely on the controllable characters and 2) the games won’t be played. Instead, the information was gathered from sources such as the marketing materials provided by the developers/publishers and, when available, gameplay videos, limited to 15 minutes of gameplay. This information, although very limited, paints the picture of the Finnish industry “at a glance”, as well as shows the general insight and provides key information to any interested person before buying or downloading the game.

Once the list of 117 games was finalized and the examination materials agreed upon, the different aspects of the analysis were organized. As the name of the project says, our interest lies in understanding representations of gender in games. As we also understand that there is a number of different factors that can affect how gender is experienced in society, we opted for a more intersectional approach, which in the context of this research meant looking not only at gender representation, but also the sexual orientation, the skin color, age, religious symbols and disability connected to the characters. Those were followed by specific questions regarding the presence of violence and possibly violence against women. The choice of, at this point, focusing on skin color rather than ethnicity was due to the brief nature of this analysis, which focused more on the visual and the “apparent” features in games, and thus does not allow going deep enough into the games to understand the ethnicity of the characters.

The analysis was based on the visual, written or audio materials provided by the game companies with a special attention dedicated to finding as much publicly available information as possible about the examined characters. In terms of gender, for example, with this approach a character simply looking feminine, androginous or masculine was not enough for us to mark them as a woman, non-binary or man. Instead, an effort was put into looking mainly for character descriptions and pronouns used. This led to many characters being marked as “unspecified” as we could not assume the intent of the developers when the descriptions were not clear enough. With that in mind, after the analysis was completed, the results were shared with companies whose games were analysed with a chance to comment on the results and notify us in case of misinterpretations. Although the findings presented in this article are those resulting from the conducted analysis, the information gathered from the developers’ feedback will also be provided where relevant as separate insights.

Results

Gender

Most of the games did not specify the characters’ gender (68). 39 games had character selection or creation offering at least one man and woman option. The ratio between games that offer men and women characters is almost equal, with the number of 63:51 in favor of men characters. Non-binary characters are recognized, however, in a small amount of only 3 games. Our analysis showed no indications of transgender characters.

Chart of gender of character in Finnish games 2018 - 2020. Women 51, men 63, transgender zero, nonbinary 3, unknown / unspecified 68.
Picture 2: Gender of characters in the examined games.

Skin color

The skin color of examined controllable characters is presented based on the colors’ hex codes (Picture 3). The samples were collected from the area of the skin most representative for the character (i.e. avoiding shaded areas, bright spots etc.). However, it is important to note that the samples were not collected from the games themselves but from the available materials and YouTube videos which indisputably had an influence on the quality of the sample and the overall end results. Additionally, in some cases the in-game scenes and characters were distinctively stylized, which influenced the skin color sample and might lead to possible non-realistic depictions of those characters (Picture 4).

Picture 3: Skin color gradient of controllavle characters in Finnish games 2018-2020.
Picture 4: Stylized character in Company of Crime (left) and their skin color as a hex code (right). Source: YouTube (screenshot)

Religious symbols 

Religious symbols were rarely depicted and often difficult to recognize and define. A total of 14 games included some religious symbols, specifically from Christianiaty, paganism, shamanism, or African and Ancient Egyption elements (e.g. Gods). Of particular note was the game Raanaa – The Shaman Girl which has the player playing as the titular Sámi girl as she goes through levels inspired by Sámi gods and shamanism. This was also the only game where we found Sámi characters.

Picture 5. Raanaa – The Shaman Girl. Source: raanaa.no/en.

Sexual orientation

It was not easy to tell the sexual orientation of characters, as it was mostly unspecified and irrelevant to the gameplay and story, with only one game having a character described as homosexual (Your Royal Gayness). Because of that, we chose to also look for the characters’ intimate relationships. This approach was not flawless, however, as a character being in a homosexual or heterosexual relationship does not necessarily mean they are homosexuals or heterosexuals themselves, for example. Taking all that into account, we found 8 games with playable characters involved in heterosexual relationships and 2 games with characters either described as gay or in a homossexual relationship. Finally, an interesting view on the expression of sexual orientation was found in the virtual world game Hotel Hideaway in which the players communicate and interact with others freely and have a possibility to express their own sexuality.

Picture 6: Sexual orientation/relationships of character in the examined games.

Age

This was the category most difficult to determine and gather information on; it was found that specific age of the characters and their age group is something developers do not often bring up in discussions or clearly state in the promotional materials. Therefore most of the characters in our analysis were marked as unspecified (108 games in total). However, in such cases an estimation of age has been added, so that a general view and indication of the most represented age category could be brought up and discussed. It might not come as a surprise that most of these characters were estimated to resemble the age category of young adults or middle-aged persons. Personal interpretation, however, can be misleading as it was shown in the example of the character Audrie Smoothspy from The Spy Who Shrunk Me. Audrie, who based on our interpretation seemingly fit the adult category, is actually in her 50’s as it was confirmed by the developers.

Picture 7: The Spy Who Shrunk Me Steam banner. Source: Steam.

Cases where characters’ age or their age category was explicitly mentioned in the game itself or the promotional materials were only a few, concretely: child (1), teenager (1), young adult (1), adult (2). Table 1 gives an overview of all age categories and their respective age ranges.

Table 1. Age categories with respective age ranges (as defined by United Nations for Youth and Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

CategoryAge
Child0-12
Teenager13-19
Young adult20-24
Adult25-44
Middle-aged45-64
Elderly65+

Disability

The analysis showed only 2 cases of explicit disability, one game included a character with a physical disability (a wheelchair user) while the other incorporated a character with mental disability (depression). The existence of disability (among other features such as sexual orientation or age) was very difficult to determine without playing the games. It is, however, important to note that in some games we have indeed noticed potential representation of characters with disabilities, which we unfortunately could not tell for sure from the examined materials. One such example, Lotus, a monk character from Friends & Dragons,  was actually confirmed to be blind by the developers of the game.

Picture 8: Lotus, the blind monk character from Friends & Dragons. Source: Playsome Ltd.

Violence and violence against women

Violence is a feature often present in games today so most of the examined games (87) also incorporate or depict some form of violence. Violent actions or behaviors found in these games mostly reflected the core game mechanics of fighting enemies and trying not to get hurt. When it comes to violence against women, violent actions or indications of violence against women were found in 8 cases. In-game violence is directed at women characters in different forms and it is important to make a distinction about how the character’s gender motivates these actions. Games were marked as depicting violence against women when they involved imprisonment of women characters (that needed to be saved), used gender-based offensive language towards women (e.g. “that old hag” or “the dread wizardess Galatax was rearing her ugly head”), or when violent actions were directed towards women heroes and/or villains. As it was the case in the previous category, this feature was also very difficult to determine based on the small sample of materials and the limitation of not playing the games. This limitation emphasized the need for a closer examination of the games where the examples of gender-based violence against women were found. Therefore, in the next phase of the analysis we will examine the aspects of gender-based violence against women characters in more detail, by playing the games and analysing them from a player’s perspective.

Limitations

As already mentioned, our main limitation in analysing such a large sample of games in such a short period of time was finding the best and most representative source of information. Making a comprehensive overview was rather difficult considering we were not playing the games and were basing our information solely on published materials and walkthroughs. This means that the examined content was largely influenced and our analysis steered by the choice of the providers of gameplay videos (e.g. often the videos will start only after the character selection has been made, which made it difficult to determine which characters were available at start; the character selection often depends on the person playing and as most of the video creators were men, data gathering about women characters was scarce). Furthermore, getting to know the characters, their stories and identities was not possible with just 15 minutes of observed gameplay. For this to be possible, one would need to watch/engage in full gameplay, do a thorough research of published materials and/or even ask the developers directly.

Future Steps

Considering the limitations of the large-scale analysis, a need for a more focused approach in examining character identities and the narrative elements in the games has emerged. Therefore, the next segment of the analysis will be an examination of a smaller sample of games with a special focus on:  

  1. representation of women characters and character diversity in Finnish games
  2. gender-based violence against women in Finnish games

The selected examples are games from the large-scale analysis which appeared as interesting and/or relevant examples of features mentioned above; they will be played and analyzed from a player’s perspective. As within the scope of this analysis we  cannot play all 117 games and therefore will not be able to address all interesting cases and efforts devoted by the Finnish companies, we also find it important to bring this topic into a discussion with developers themselves. While the presence of some specific groups was found to be lacking in the games analysed, there is interest and initiatives (such as this project) aiming to improve that. Therefore, in the next stage of the project, we will conduct interviews with the developers, discuss their good practice examples and challenges in creating diverse characters in the gaming industry.

Our findings about underrepresented features, as well as good examples of women and diverse characters and possible cases of gender-based violence will be added to the information gathered from the interviews and will be a source to inform and assist developers in creating and designing their future characters.

Planned actions for 2021

In the annual meeting, the action plan for the year 2021 was approved. The organisation decided to focus on the following topics for this year. If you want to help with any of the topics, contact the responsible persons! All help is welcome, and you can always contact the board or email info@weingames.fi to become a volunteer<3

We raise awareness of diversity and inclusion in the game industry

The association continues actively promoting diversity and inclusion within the game industry. Members of WiGFi will give talks at game industry events about diversity, inclusion, the association and its aims.
Contact: info@weingames.fi, the board

We share and promote best practices of diversity and inclusion in the industry, e.g. arranging events with companies willing to share their DEI practices.
Contact: events@weingames.fi, Emmi Hattunen / Essi Jukkala

The association shares fact-based information on diversity and inclusion via its own public channels and other suitable channels.
Contact: Tarja Porkka-Kontturi

The Inclusive Leadership program is an accessible eight month leadership training that aims to catalyse positive change in the way we lead, engage and retain our industry’s diverse talent. The project will be funded by Finnish game companies. The current plan is to start the project in autumn 2021.
Contact: The program is designed and led by Salla Hiiskoski.

We amplify the association’s expert role on diversity and inclusion in games

The association shares knowledge and provides fact based information on the state of diversity and inclusion in the Finnish game industry. In addition, it shares this knowledge to the international game industry in general, for policymakers, the public sector and other associations outside the games industry. Collaboration activities include, for example, working on the Generation Equality project, collaborating with Fairplay Alliance, and doing research with the National Council of Women of Finland on the Gender in Play project.
Contact: Taina Myöhänen

The association participates in the public debate around diversity and inclusion about the game industry.
Contact: info@weingames.fi, the board

We offer role models

WiGFi’s Speakers List facilitates the diversification of the conference scene by promoting the talents and experience of industry professionals. The Speakers List is our longest running project, it started right after the constitutive meeting. The project will continue for 2021 and focus on promoting the list as the most used source for seeking game industry speakers.
Contact: info@weingames.fi, Essi Jukkala

WiGFi is actively seeking possibilities to present the game industry in schools.
Contact: info@weingames.fi, Taina Myöhänen

We enhance the career of WIGFI members

The Mentorship program is aimed at WiGFi members at the beginning of their career, or at their career crossroads. The call for the third mentorship program closed at the end of February 2021, and the program is running from mid March until mid June. Planning of the Mentorship program 4 will start in late 2021.
Contact: info@weingames.fi, Salla Hiiskoski

Plans for WiGFi’s members working in middle management to advance their careers are ready, but the project launch is postponed until 2022 due to the difficulties that the coronavirus presented. In 2021, WiGFi will focus on events supporting career growth and personal growth.
Contact: events@weingames.fi, Emmi Hattunen, Dina Ramse

We enhance the position of LGBTQ+ persons in the industry

To increase LGBTQ+ understanding in our industry, WiGFi will partner with Helsinki Pride to offer education for Finnish games studios on how to support LGBTQ+ persons in the workplace. WiGFi will also act as the official Helsinki Pride partner and organise an event during Pride Week, and partner with Finnish Game Jam on organising Pride Jam.
Contact: Licia Prehn

We support gender equality in games

Gender in Play – Representations of Gender in Games project discusses gender representations. The project collects fact-based information about gender representations in Finnish games from 2018 to 2020, analyses gender-based violence in games and collects & shares best practices on creating more diverse characters in games and promotes healthier game words for all genders. The project is implemented in collaboration with The Council of Women of Finland / Making an Impact with Equality Acts project, and funded by the Ministry of Justice.
Contact: Taina Myöhänen

Our internal development

To strengthen the brand, WIGFI will allocate this year some money for visual presentations of the organisation. This includes photos of events, stock-photo-like photos for the website and other marketing materials and visuals.
Contact: Essi Jukkala

The second membership survey will be organised in autumn 2021.
Contact: info@weingames.fi

The WiGFi board responsibilities and practicalities

What is the board?

During the term 2020-2021, the board of We in Games Finland has had the president, eight board members and two deputy board members. The board can have two to eight members, and up to eight deputy members. The members are elected at the annual meeting. The term for the board members is two years, and for deputy members one year. Board members can also resign after one year, in which case a new member can be elected to their place in the annual meeting. The board is the entity that handles the association’s affairs. 

What do the board members do?

The president leads the board meetings, looks after the board, volunteers and the organisation as a whole, and in 2020-2021 the president has also actively participated in activities and discussions promoting diversity and inclusion in the game industry and society. The board needs to have a vice-president, secretary and a treasurer. The secretary handles all the practicalities regarding meetings: preparing the agenda together with the board, sending meeting invitations for board members, writes the meeting minutes and handles any space or equipment needed for having the meetings. The treasurer takes care of the financials of the organisation, paying bills when needed and manages the organisation’s bank account. For 2021-2022 Essi and Anna will continue in these roles. The vice president has been in charge of membership issues, internal communications, and has also been participating in discussions with our partners as well as running projects. The vice-president takes the responsibilities of the president, when the president is unavailable. 

In general, board members can quite freely choose what topics they focus on. As WiGFi has organised a lot of events before the pandemic, an events coordinator is a position we wish to have in the board every year. Other than that, any role can be suggested for the board. In 2020-2021 we have had two board members focusing on event processes and organising, one board member leading external communications, social media and diversity work, and two other board members who have been focusing on different projects and collaborations like the speaker list, UNICEF, LGIN etc. The two deputy members have been helping the board members with certain matters and they have also organised some things based on their interests. 

What are the responsibilities of board members? What about deputy board members? What does this mean in practice?

The board members and deputy board members are invited to attend the board meetings approximately every month. At least half of the board members need to be present in the meeting so that a quorum is present, i.e. the decisions made in the meeting are valid. If there are not enough board members, deputy board members can be invited to act in the place of the absent board members to reach quorum. Attending the meetings is very important as the decisions about the organisation’s affairs are done only in board meetings. The meetings last usually one to two hours, and the attendees are expected to read about the matters on the agenda beforehand. 

In addition to the meetings the board members work in smaller groups, or by themselves, to advance the topics they are responsible for. This workload varies a lot monthly based on the projects and responsibilities, but the board and the president are actively looking out for each other so no one has too many responsibilities on their plate.

The board members, deputy board members and volunteers communicate on Slack, so following and taking part in those discussions on a regular basis is highly recommended for all board members. 

Keeping track of your tasks, attending meetings and collaborating are the three most important things a board member needs to do. The association has to follow its rules and the association law, but you do not need to be familiar with these beforehand, the more experienced board members will help in any matters regarding the official business. The board works on topics the association members feel are important, and follows the members’ opinion in their decision making. All the work that the board members do is voluntary, so everyone, with even the smallest ideas to take forward, is warmly invited to join the board. No work done is too small and every little step takes the organisation forward!

Review of Character Representation and Diversity in Games Research

In 2021, We in Games Finland and The National Council of Women of Finland will implement a project “Gender in Play – Representations of Gender in Games”, funded by the Finnish Ministry of Justice. The aim of the project is to encourage the Finnish game companies to take into account the gender roles in games and to diversify these into their own games. The project will identify obstacles creating equal game worlds and stimulate discussion about gender stereotypes and gender-based violence in games as well as how those are constructed within the game industry. The project activates the Finnish game industry to promote gender equality and diversity.

This will be achieved in multiple steps taking place throughout 2021. First of all, an analysis will be conducted to examine the representation of women game characters in games made by Finnish games studios with special attention towards gender-based physical or mental violence towards women game characters. The analysis will consist of two parts: 1) a broader, quantitative, analysis (representing existing tendencies in the Finnish game industry) and 2) a more focused, in-depth analysis based on the framework created by game culture researcher Usva Friman.

Secondly, interviews with Finnish game developers will be conducted. The purpose of this step will be, on the one hand, to further examine and find explanations of the findings of the study, and on the other, to raise awareness of the existing practices and to collect best practice examples. These examples will, finally, be disseminated in form of implications for companies and game developers to support diversity and inclusion in the Finnish game ecosystem.

As the very first step to initiate this change, the following article will present how character representation and diversity in games have been researched until now and will draw upon some of the key findings and most relevant aspects examined globally. It will show that some important steps into examining the issues of characters’ representation in the game industry have clearly already been made. More importantly, it will discuss the lack of true diversity and will emphasize the limitations which are yet to be overcome on a global scale. At the end of the article, a full list of references will be included (with links for open source publications, when possible) for everyone who searches for inspiring and thought-provoking literature about the examined phenomena.

The authors of the article are Antonio Rodrigues, BA in Interactive Media from Tampere University of Applied Sciences, and Nevena Sićević, Master’s student in Games Studies at Tampere University.

Character representation and diversity in games

We’re a nation that believes in the power of play. No matter who you are or where you’re from, there’s a game for everyone”, are the words opening the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)’s Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry published in July 2020 (ESA 2020). According to the same report, 41% of all gamers in the United States are women; therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that games today are constituted by a rising number of playable women characters (Lynch et al. 2016). Gaming is also a popular activity among women in Finland, with 75.4% of them playing digital games and 54.5% of them playing digital games at least once a month (Kinnunen et al. 2020). However, the question of whether contemporary games can speak to each individual player still remains. Moreover, do we even dare to assume that the diversity of human identities and features that can be observed among the players is to be expected within the games, too? This issue has to a certain extent been closely researched and discussed among academic circles; mostly through the examination of the representation of men and women characters in games, depicted by the viewpoints of their (men and women) players.

Over the last two decades, women’s representation in digital games has been a rising interest of academic researchers and games studies scholars. Back in 1998, a research examining 33 Nintendo and Sega Genesis titles popular at that time has given important implications for the future researches dealing with this topic (Dietz 1998), stating that there is “[an] overwhelming tendency to neglect to portray [women] characters at all or to portray them in stereotypical traditional female roles” (p.439), portraying them as victims or “damsels in distress” (p. 434). This tendency does not seem to be a mere zeitgeist of the past millennium. The question of the over-dominant presence of men characters and protagonists has been examined and confirmed multiple times in the following decade (see examples: Janz and Martis 2003, Burgess et al. 2007, Williams et al. 2009, Hitchens 2011). Additionally, Dill and Thill (2007) found that there is a significant difference in players’ perceptions of men and women characters where the former were described by using the words “warrior”, “superhero” and “cool” whereas the latter were characterized as “helpless”, “victim” and “pretty” (p. 860). An interesting insight into the relation between women’s representation, sexualization and societal changes has been provided by Lynch et al. (2016) while, on the other hand, a (limited although) thought-provoking discussion about the traditional beauty ideals and non-traditional gender roles can be found in an article  about the woman protagonist in action-adventure video games by Grimes (2003).

However, with time passing, a noticeable shift was to be seen in the games creation and, consequently, in the games research; the option for character customization (Richard 2012) and genderless character selection (Fecher 2012) seemed to have ambitiously opened the space for diversity and inclusion within the gaming realm. Unfortunately, success of these efforts remained scarce due to the poor implementation of the new features. In case of the former (Richard 2012, p. 75), things like game glitches and unsynchronized animations lead to an inadequate addressing of the game towards the player (e.g. by using the wrong pronoun). In case of the latter and on the example of Leo (an androgynous character in Tekken 6), Fecher (2012) discusses how such efforts can backfire, emphasizing the importance of the game context and the limitations set by the traditional gender binary.

In terms of diversity and representation, features such as race, ethnicity and age have also found room in academic research. Unsurprisingly, the results in the studies about the characters’ race reveal that the majority of characters could be depicted as “Anglo” (Dietz 1998), “Caucasian” (Janz and Martis 2003) or “White” (Williams et al. 2009). It is perhaps unsurprising, yet still worthy of noting, that in the study of Janz and Martis (2003), a large number of even 83% of all leading women characters was Caucasian. In their study, Williams et al. (2009) examined the representation of different age, race and gender groups in comparison to the proportion of the same groups in the actual US society. The result of this analysis witnessed an over-representation and over-popularization of white, adult men in games.

Lastly, another important aspect of game research that must not be disregarded is the depiction of aggression and violence in video games. Even though the researchers do agree that the existence of aggression and aggressive behaviors in games is evident (see Dietz 1998, Dill and Thill 2007, Edenstad and Torgersen 2003, Henning et al. 2009, Brennick et al. 2007), their effect on players’ violent behaviors is disputed. For example, the mentioned article by Dietz (1998) examined violence and gender stereotyping and concluded that 80% of the examined games included some form of aggression or violence with 21% of the depicted violence directed at women (p. 437). Dill and Thill (2007, p. 859) elaborate on this finding by introducing the phenomenon of eroticized aggression, a combination of sex and violence which could pose as a threat towards real women. There are also findings, however, which state that there is no clear connection between gaming and violent behaviors (Edenstad and Torgersen 2003) or that playing video games doesn’t affect players’ attitudes considering that the players do not actually replicate the observed behaviors (Brennick et al. 2007). The study by Brennick et al. (2007) does, however, acknowledge a correlation between the intensity of playing and view on negative behaviors, stating that high frequency players (and particularly males) are more likely to condone and be less critical towards negative stereotypic images (p. 411). While it is clear that playing violent games does not automatically lead to violent behaviors outside of those environments, the relationship between game activities, behaviors and cultures is a complicated one. Games are both part of our culture and reflect it, which is why it is important to critically analyze the meanings, values, and behaviors depicted by them.

Throughout the history of feminist game analysis, a common figure often found is the one of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, the so-called “First Lady of games”. Much of the criticism of Lara has focused mainly on her sexualised appearance (MacCallum-Stewart 2014). The criticism of this voyeuristic appeal of Lara can be understood in connection with Laura Mulvey’s (1975) landmark film theory of the Male Gaze. Other articles, from as early as 2001 (see Schleiner 2001, Kennedy, H. W. 2002, MacCallum-Stewart 2014) attempt to look at her through different lenses, trying to understand the differences in the process of identification that goes on in movies and video games. This may be seen as part of the process in which the discipline of game studies formalised itself as a separate entity from film studies, a process discussed by Amanda Phillips in the book Gamer Trouble (Phillips 2020). In the book, Phillips also analyzes a few games and playfully problematizes the limits of Mulvey’s theory in the context of video games, even going back to Lara and criticising her not for her looks, but for her coloniser attitude in the latest games in the series. The limitations of Mulvey’s theory when applied to videogames was a topic also studied by one of our researchers in their previous work (Rodrigues da Silva Neto 2020). Among the new analysis methods tailored specifically for game characters, one that will be particularly relevant continuing this project is Usva Friman’s model for analyzing women character representations in digital games (Friman 2015).

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that games and their characters do not appear from a vacuum, but from real-life companies and real-life developers. The lack of diversity within the games industry is something that has been well documented (e.g. International Game Developers Association 2019, Interactive Software Federation of Europe 2020, European Games Developer Federation 2020), where in Finland the number of women employees in the game companies makes just a little over 20% (Neogames Finland 2019). Issues with misogyny within the gaming community came to mainstream attention during 2014’s Gamergate harassment campaign, which saw attacks focused against several women in the game industry, notably developer Zoë Quinn and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, along with conspiratory accusations against game researchers (Mortensen 2018). Moreover, reports of sexism, abuse and harassment in the industry have been cropping up in the media at alarming rates in the past years as a part of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (Lorrenz and Browning 2020, Orr 2019, Schreier 2020). The matter of diversity in the games industry is a global one and the media silencing of women’s disadvantage in the game industry has been observed both in the US and Finland (Kivijärvi and Sintonen 2021). If, as Philips puts in her book “critique is an important and vital part of achieving justice” (Philips 2020, p. 169), then the textual analysis and criticism of representation can be an important tool in achieving equality in game worlds. However, this improvement in representation should go hand-in-hand with improvements in equality within the industry itself. This is something this project will also seek to address in its next stages, firstly through interviews with the Finnish game companies about matters of diversity in their games and development teams. We will compile the results of these interviews with the findings from our game analyses and present them as a collection of good practice examples and implications for the developers. These implications will, finally, be disseminated nationally and shared with the whole Finnish game industry in form of a series of lectures and workshops advocating for and promoting equality and diversity among the Finnish game companies and their games.

Publications

Brenick, A., Henning, A., Killen, M., O’Connor, A. and Collins, M. (2007). Social Evaluations of Stereotypic Images in Video Games. Unfair, Legitimate, or “Just Entertainment”?. In Youth & Society. Volume 38, Number 4. p. 395-419. DOI: 10.1177/0044118X06295988

Burgess, M. C. R., Stermer, S. P. and Burgess, S. R. (2007). Sex, Lies and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers. In Sex Roles. Vol. 57 issue 5, p. 419–433. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-007-9250-0

Dietz, T. L. (1998). An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior. In Sex Roles. Vol. 38 issue 5–6, p. 425–442. DOI: 10.1023/A:1018709905920

Dill, K. E. and Thill, K. P. (2007). Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions. In Sex Roles. Vol. 57 issue 11–12, p. 851–864. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1

Edenstad, T. and Torgersen, L. (2003). Computer Games and Violence: Is There Really a Connection? In Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht: University of Utrecht. (open access: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/computer-games-and-violence-is-there-really-a-connection/)

European Games Developer Federation. (2020). European Game Industry in 2018. Available online at: http://www.egdf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/European-Report-on-the-Game-Development-Industry-in-2018.pdf

Fecher, D.L. (2012). Gender Issues, fighting games, and progress: Finding a place for a genderless character in Tekken 6. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 12(2). (retrieved from http://reconstruction.eserver.org/Issues/122/Fecher_Leland.shtml)

Friman, U. (2015). From Pixel Babes to Active Agents – How to Fix the Lack of Diversity in Female Digital Game Characters. Pori: University of Turku. (open access: https://press.etc.cmu.edu/index.php/product/well-played-vol-4-no-3)

Grimes, S. M. (2003). You Shoot Like A Girl!: The Female Protagonist in Action-Adventure Video Games. In Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht: University of Utrecht. (open access: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/you-shoot-like-a-girl-the-female-protagonist-in-action-adventure-video-games/)

Henning, A., Brenick, A., Killen, M., O’Connor, A. and Collins, M. J. (2009). Do Stereotypic Images in Video Games Affect Attitudes and Behavior? Adolescent Perspectives. In Children, Youth and Environments. Vol. 19 issue 1, p. 170–196. DOI: 10.7721/chilyoutenvi.19.1.0170

Hitchens, M. (2011). A Survey of First-person Shooters and their Avatars. Game Studies. In The International Journal of Computer Game Research. Vol. 11 issue 3. (open access: http://gamestudies.org/1103/articles/michael_hitchens)

International Game Developers Association (2019). Developer Satisfaction Survey 2019. Available online at: https://s3-us-east-2.amazonaws.com/igda-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/29093706/IGDA-DSS-2019_Summary-Report_Nov-20-2019.pdf 

Interactive Software Federation of Europe (2020). Key Facts 2020. Available online at: https://www.isfe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/ISFE-final-1.pdf 

Janz, J. and Martis, R. G. (2003). The Representation of Gender and Ethnicity in Digital Interactive Games. In Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht: University of Utrecht, p. 260–269.  (open access: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/the-representation-of-gender-and-ethnicity-in-digital-interactive-games/)

Kennedy, H. W. (2002). Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis. In Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research. Vol. 2 issue 2. (open access: http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/kennedy/)

Kinnunen, J., Taskinen, K., Mäyra, F. (2020). Pelaajabarometri 2020: Pelaamista koronan aikan. Tampere: Tampere University Press. (open access: https://trepo.tuni.fi/handle/10024/123831)

Kivijärvi, M. and Sintonen, T. (2021). The stigma of feminism : disclosures and silences regarding female disadvantage in the video game industry in US and Finnish media stories. Feminist Media Studies, Early online. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2021.1878546 (open access: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:jyu-202101281331)

Lynch, T., van Driel, I. I., Tompkins,  J. E. and Fritz, N. (2016). Sexy, Strong, and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years: Female Game Characters across 31 Years. In Journal of Communication. Vol.66 (4). p.564-584. DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12237

MacCallum-Stewart, E. (2014). Take That, Bitches! Refiguring Lara Croft in Feminist Game Narratives. In Game Studies. 14 (2). (open access: http://gamestudies.org/1402/articles/maccallumstewart)

Mortensen, T. E. (2018). Anger, Fear, and Games: The Long Event of #GamerGate. Games and Culture, 13(8), 787–806. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412016640408

Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen. Vol. 16 no. 3, p. 6-18.

Neogames Finland (2019). The Game Industry of Finland Report 2018. Available online at: http://www.neogames.fi/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/FGIR-2018-Report.pdf 

Phillips, A. (2020). Gamer Trouble. New York: New York University Press.

Richard, G. T. (2012). Playing as a Woman as a Woman as if a Man. In Well Played. A Journal on Video Games, Value and Meaning. Vol. 1 no. 3, p. 70–93. DOI: 10.1184/R1/6687059

Rodrigues da Silva Neto, A. (2020). Lara Croft and Jill Valentine : understanding the representation of female protagonists in triple-A video games in the #MeToo Era (Bachelor’s Thesis). (open access: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2020112424016

Schleiner, Anne-Marie. (2001). Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons? Gender and Gender-Role Subversion in Computer Adventure Games. Leonardo. Vol 34, No 3. P. 221-226. DOI: 10.1162/002409401750286976

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) (2020). Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry , 2020. Open access: https://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Final-Edited-2020-ESA_Essential_facts.pdf 

Williams, D., Martins, N., Consalvo, M. and Ivory, J. D. (2009). The Virtual Census: Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games. In New Media Society. Vol. 11 no. 5, p. 815–834. DOI:10.1177/1461444809105354

News articles:

Lorrenz, T and Browning, K. (2020, June 06). Dozens of Women in Gaming Speak Out About Sexism and Harassment. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/style/women-gaming-streaming-harassment-sexism-twitch.html

Orr, L. (2019, September 17). ‘This industry has a problem with abuse’: dealing with gaming’s #MeToo moment  https://www.theguardian.com/games/2019/sep/17/gaming-metoo-moment-harassment-women-in-games

Schreier, J. (2020, July 21).  Ubisoft Family Accused of Mishandling Sexual Misconduct Claims. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/ubisoft-sexual-misconduct-scandal-harassment-sexism-and-abuse 

Games referred to in the article:

Bandai Namco Games (2007). Tekken 6.

Eidos Interactive (1996-2009) and Square Enix 2010-present). Tomb Raider Series 

Notes about WIGFI vision and values

We in Games Finland’s board accepted and published WIGFI’s vision and values at the beginning of this year. They can be found here:

Our vision and values are not set in stone; on the contrary. We want them to stay up-to-date and to reflect the variety within our organization and the Finnish game industry. If you have any feedback for our vision and values, please send a message to me or use any of our channels that best suit you

Two years of making  

Drafting our vision and values started at the end of the first operational year of WIGFI. In December’s board meeting, the board 2019 summarised thoughts and experiences from the first year, wrote them on post-it notes, and tagged a wall full of post-its. Then these ideas were left to rest.

Why? WIGFI is not a homogeneous group. We are diverse in so many ways: we identify as women, non-binary, men, students, professionals, C-level people, parents, singles, entrepreneurs, persons with disabilities, persons of color; we have different religious views, sexual orientations, generational experiences, and we come from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. We can be many of these at the same time and even more that were not listed here. We unite in diversity – and in the fact that we are interested in making video games.

So it is possible, even quite likely, that when a small group of people representing many collects what we are and what we want to be, something might be missing. The very nature of diversity is to realise that your worldview is not shared by everyone. Giving ideas a bit more time, discussing them with many, and publicly asking an opinion can help to make the outcome better.

Listening and communications is <3 of what we do

Because of the diverse nature of our members, our experiences vary a lot. When some people might feel that there is nothing negative in a given situation, someone else might find the situation overwhelming. Nobody is wrong. The experience is different.

What would be wrong in a given situation would be to say “there wasn’t anything negative in that situation”. We can’t deny other people’s experiences. But neither can we deny other’s opinions. 

We are strong supporters of open discussion in our forums, as we believe that communication is the only way to understand others. We want you to share knowledge, listen, inspire, encourage, and to help others.

Following that, we are strong supporters of the possibility to disagree. If you feel that the opinion someone has presented is not quite right, you have all the right to say it aloud on our channel. 

But we hope for civilised discussions in our channels and events. There are plenty of ways to disagree, and we urge you to find a constructive way. It is very likely that the angry or uncompromising words will echo back. In our word, none of us is more important than the other. There is no need to find consensus, but there is a strong need to accept that others have different opinions.

We are the organisation our members want this to be

Our members make us what we are. In our annual meeting, our members define the focus areas for the next year. But everything we do is based on the ideas from our active members who are willing to work for the things they see important. So if you feel WIGFI is not doing the right thing: come to our annual meeting, raise your voice, and join our activist making this little corner of the world a little bit better place.

Questions and Answers about Finnish Labour Laws for Game Developers in Finland

This blog post is done in collaboration with Game Makers of Finland.

Earlier this autumn, We in Games Finland, Game Makers of Finland, and IGDA Helsinki collaborated in organising an online talk on the labour laws in Finland and the rights of employees. The event was specifically targeted to games industry employees.

This blog post includes questions sent anonymously for the event and after that. These questions cover some typical cases discussed in the games industry, so we believe that the answers will benefit all.

Answers are written by Maria Jauhiainen, lawyer and social impact specialist from Insinööriliitto. Please note that as the cases may vary, it is advisable to contact asiakaspalvelu@ilry.fi for further advice in the event of a dispute. 

As IPR rights are an important part of the games industry, there will be a separate post about IPR rights coming up!


Q: Can I download the slides?

A: Yes, totally. And I hope you got them already 🙂 (Editor’s note: slides of the Labor Law event can be found from here.)


Q: Can an employer intervene in an employee’s leisure activities, for example, if a person wants to stream their play? Or make their own game with own computer and or programs?

A: In principle not (the employer cannot intervene, that is), but there can be some limitations. A person cannot engage in anything that would compete with the employer’s activities or how the company makes money or harm the company in any way. Anything else is in principle – like said – allowed, but for that, you cannot use the company’s devices, ideas you sort of get from the company, your working time, or the company’s programs for this unless you get permission from the company.


Q: What are the employee’s rights to his/her own idea or artistic work (like graphic art)? What is a fair agreement for all parties on the use and rights of this work?

A: This is quite a complex question, but in principle, the work that you do in order to fulfill your working duties, the result of your work – all the results of your work – will belong to your employer. The rights that will remain with the employee are the so-called fatherhood right (to have your name mentioned in connection with the work) and the right that the work is not changed without your permission. The right to use the work for commercial purposes and to disseminate it belong to the employer. If the work has been done without an actual connection to one’s working duties and if you have not gotten “inspiration” for it from fulfilling your working duties, then the chances of it belonging wholly to you, are greater. There will be a separate post about IPR rights coming up!


Q: Non-competition agreements: Are they even legal in Finland for non-executive positions?

A: Unfortunately, yes. They usually rule out only shop-floor level/blue collar workers, and if you do something a little bit “brainy” work where you are involved in the company’s core work and that you get to hear the company’s trade and business secrets, it’s very likely to be legal in your case.


Q: If you are on unpaid leave (lomautettu) for over 6 months, can you disregard your 6-month non-competition agreement and start at another company immediately?

A: After the 200 days of furlough (laid-off) and if you are let go by the company or if you resign yourself, that is true: the non-competition agreement doesn’t apply to you anymore.


Q: If I have a fixed-term contract first (6months) after which I get an open-ended contract immediately, do I still need to go through the probation period?

A: No. Once is enough for one employment and for the same tasks.


Q: Quite many game companies in Finland are co-founded by a bunch of friends, how does union serve entrepreneurs – and does it at all? Or what is your suggestion for the entrepreneurs where they should get the support if/when needed?

A: Yes, we do serve entrepreneurs! Just send your questions to our Customer Service asiakaspalvelu@ilry.fi, and we will try and find you all the answers you need.


Q: What if, due to lack of resources, I am asked to take up other responsibilities in addition? Do I really need to have an addendum to my contract? What if initially asked temporary, but they become a more permanent part of my working day? Can you be let go off if refusing to take up responsibilities initially not mentioned in your contract?

A: My advice would be to make a temporary agreement about the new duties and yes, write them all down. And temporary so that it will start and end, especially if the employer just tells you “to fill in for a little while” without extra payment. And make it clear to the employer that if the extra tasks become a permanent part of your working duty, they also have to pay you more. In that case, you can also call our Customer Service (see contact info below) and ask them to connect you to our salary advisors as to how much more you would deserve extra money for the new tasks. But if you start doing the new tasks without anything written about above and you have been doing the work for a long while and then refuse to do them anymore, then yes, you can end up in trouble with the employer. Since refusing to do your work can be seen as a big neglect on employee’s part in the eyes of the law.


Q: I don’t live near Helsinki. If I have to move to Helsinki area because of my work, do I have a right to a better salary because of the increased cost of living, or am I meant to just suck it up?

A: Unfortunately, there is no direct right, but it can be used as a powerful negotiation tool, because where you live or have to live will have a big effect on your living costs. The best way is to call our Customer Service first and ask them to connect you to our salary advisors so you can come up with a precise sum of what to ask for when negotiating about the move with the employer.


Q: How well all of these Finnish laws transfer to other EU/non-EU countries?

A: Sadly, mainly only to the other Nordic Countries, not elsewhere. The employment laws are at their best in the North of Europe.


Q: When you say that the collective agreements usually give better benefits for employees, could you make sure you also mention that most game studios give much better benefits than any collective agreement to their employees?

A: I will remember to do that 🙂


Q: There are many creative artists working in the games industry. Part of an employment contract should mention Intellectual property. However, many people are uncertain of their rights in this area. This is especially relevant as the EU Digital Single Market Copyright Directive comes to force. Can you confirm that it is actually the employee who is first owner of copyright in an employment relationship and there is no regulation in the copyright act that compels an employee to give up complete ownership of their copyrights (exceptions to software).

A: Unfortunately, I cannot.

There will be a separate post about IPR rights coming shortly.


Q: In Finland it is common for firms to exploit loopholes in the law and hire professionals under “työharjoittelu” agreements (work-based training). This is where they can exploit professionals who are job seekers trying to get a ‘foot in the door.’ Can you confirm that it is illegal to commercially exploit creative work made by an “intern” who is actually receiving benefits from Kela rather than wages or other remuneration.

A: This is a little bit tricky, since the companies can get people who fulfill the requirements for työharjoittelu or työkokeilu and it’s legal unless otherwise proven. We are aware of some exploitation happening there, but since it’s Kela and the employer involved in this equation, the real exploitation cases seldom reach our ears. My best advice is to contact Kela if it’s obvious that the employer is just making improper use of the system without any real intention of hiring these people afterwards. When you let Kela know, it is more likely that the company will not get the subsidized trainees anymore.

But combining this question and the previous question, there is one major difference related to internship:

The intellectual property rights apply when the work has been accomplished in a working relationship, meaning when the employer actually pays the employee money. In an internship, the money is coming from Kela in this case, so all the (copy)rights will remain with the maker.


Q: I work in a game industry company, and my work contract is a full-time and fixed term. The employer made my full-time work to part-time in the middle of my fixed-term contract, based on financial and production-related grounds. At the same time, the employer has hired other employees, full-time and part-time, also for the same and similar tasks that I do.

The employer has emphasized that the change is not a lay-off but a permanent part-time job. No other employees will be changed to part-time or laid off. The employer has also emphasized that I have not been offered or will be offered any other job and no job other than this part-time job is available.

Thus, my working time has been reduced from full-time to part-time, which has a significant impact on my livelihood, but the employer has hired other employees at the same time. Since the contract is fixed-term, I have been under the impression that the employer must provide work until the end of the contract, and offer the other possible vacancies for fixed-term employers before the others.

Has the employer violated the Employment Contracts Act or the information sector’s collective agreement, and if so, what are the consequences? How are such violations generally monitored? For example, by Game Makers? What rights do I have as an employee?

A: The essential terms of the employment relationship may only be changed while the ground for dismissal is in force and therefore instead of and as an alternative to dismissal. Substantial change means, in particular, changes in working hours and pay, both of which are realized for you here. A fixed-term employment contract may not be terminated at all, unless otherwise agreed in the employment contract; of course, a mere mention of the period of notice which the employer must also comply with in the case of a change before the change enters into force is sufficient. And by law, there is no ground for dismissal if a new person has been hired or is hired after the dismissal procedure for work that the person could do. In addition, the employer must, in accordance with the law, offer a person working part-time, if he or she so wishes, more jobs if they occur. In other words, it would seem that there are matters that need to be settled with your employer.

On 1.4.2020, some changes in the law came into force on a temporary basis. According to these changes, the employment relationship can now also be terminated during the probationary period based on financial and production-related grounds if those actually exist. Normally this cannot be done. The employer cannot rely on this directly in your case either, because there have been and then apparently still is jobs.

In these kinds of matter, please contact our customer service (customerservice@ilry.fi) or directly to me (maria.jauhiainen@ilry.fi), and we will find out more and contact the employer if necessary.


Q: What are the employee’s rights to his / her own idea / artistic work (eg graphic artists)? What is a fair agreement for all parties on the use and rights of these works?

A: In these cases, the contract options are quite limited, although of course there are some contract options. In the case of a computer program and / or a database, there are no contractual possibilities, and in other cases, the commercial rights to the work (ie the right to make copies of the product and to place them on the market and for sale) always belong to the employer, but in principle – again for non-computer programs – right to modify and right to forward can be separately agreed. Moral rights, the parenthood right and the right of respect, always remain with the employee.

Take a closer look to our upcoming blog post about the IPRs, and contact us for a possible agreement!


These questions were answered by Maria Jauhiainen, lawyer and social impact specialist from Insinööriliitto. For further inquiries, contact asiakaspalvelu@ilry.fi or have a look for Game Makers of Finland’s website.

Working in the Finnish Game Industry

Game Makers of Finland, the official protector of Peliviikko, published game week related video series on YouTube. It shares narratives from people working in the Finnish game industry.

This year’s Peliviikko (Game Week) was held on November 9. – 15. Peliviikko raises gaming-related themes to public debate and aims to spread knowledge of the industry itself. Finland is full of talents, who all have their personal story to tell.

What it is like to work in games?

Problems and difficulties have been a strong focus of the debate when it comes to gaming industry and the individuals working there. Many see the position of women and other gender minorities as extremely challenging. Fortunately, we also have numerous positive stories colored by the warm experiences of solidarity and equality. Therefore, it’s important to hear different kind of narratives from industry professionals in the eye of the action.

Working in the game industry video series by Game Makers of Finland. Speakers on videos.
Working in the Game Industry video series by Game Makers of Finland.

Working in the game industry video series bring up the voices of different people. It dives into their diverse experiences, elaborating what it is like to work in the field.

Five different professionals share their stories

Working in the Game Industry playlist introduces five professionals and their career stories. Barbara Leal, Game Developer (Playsome), Minna Eloranta, CEO (Boom Corp), Marko Laine, Game Artist (Veikkaus), Sari Lindberg, Talent Acquisition Lead (Remedy) and Jyri Kuokka, Game Designer (Rovio) offer a peek behind the scenes. Game Makers of Finland produced this video series in co-operation with National Audiovisual Institute.

We in Games Finland’s board member Barbara Leal works as a Game Designer at Playsome. Besides telling her story, she shares tips on how to reach your dream of working in games.

Working in the Game Industry – Barbara Leal, Playsome

Minna Eloranta is the CEO of a fresh company , Boom Corp. Minna talks about her own path from a game enthusiast to a game developer.

Working in the Game Industry – Minna Eloranta, Boom Corp