I’ve had a notion of a post pinging around in my head for a while, and as today is International Women’s Day, it felt like a timely moment to get to it. What I’ve been thinking is that I would really like to see some high-visibility game titles featuring an older, highly competent female professional woman, as the protagonist/avatar. I don’t mean as something you can make from character creation tools, like in Skyrim or Saints Row, which to their credit do let you do this; I mean a set protagonist with a pre-determined look, like Lara Croft or Nathan Drake, and for the game to be truly centered on her story. (I’m seeing something like this myself: broad strokes, I’m thinking she’s Bolivian+Peruvian, CEO of an private, multinational company with headquarters in the San Isidro district in Lima…a bit Largo Winch adventure, a bit Noble House intrigue…the senior staff is skilled and loyal…her control of the company is being seriously threatened by the maneuverings of a rival firm that has secured a family connection to the political leadership…)
Okay, so, I wanted some photos to go with the post; I’d saved just a couple to my drive already to help develop my line of thinking, but they’re stock photos and I wanted open licensed ones. So, just as a first foray, I try a Google image search for professional business woman older “creative commons,” which turns up:
Google image search result for ‘professional business woman older “creative commons”‘. Top two rows. More results here.
That is just the very top part of the results; I’ve preserved a lot more of the results here. Wow, this is clearly not what I was going for. That bleak first image heads an article on Business Insider entitled “I Started Saving For Retirement At Age 48 — And Still Retired Early.” (The photo itself is titled “The Old Lady was resting.”). Why a predominantly gray-toned, down-angle, lonely shot for a relatively upbeat article? I wouldn’t predict seeing a shot of a similar aesthetic accompanying an article of a man retiring. And how on earth is this the first image I get from those search terms?
Three of the results are not “older.” and there is a clear slice between stereotypical images of “older” and “professional” going on, as well as quite a bit of sadness. Going further down through the results is dispiriting, including a lot of babies, a woman lighting a glass pipe, a woman applying mascara, Steve Jobs, high heels, really a lot of babies, a some dogs, bridges, cows, women out shopping, and more babies.
So, I try female business leaders “creative commons” and this is the top result:
“Business Meeting”, Credit: thetaxhaven on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
A man reaching past an out-of-focus woman to shake hands with another, older man. This is from an article entitled “World is Ready for Male-Female Leadership Mix” on WomensNews.org. I have not words; I will reiterate, this is the TOP result (that I get) for female business leaders “creative commons”. Here is the first couple rows; I have again preserved quite a bit more of the results in a larger image.
Google Image search result of “female business leaders ‘creative commons'” – top rows, click here for more
Why are these not shots of women looking like leaders? The second shot is nicely business-oriented, but the woman is in a fairly static pose, thinking over some paperwork. Top right, it’s David Cameron in focus. Bottom left is like a papparazi stalking shot. Bottom middle and right, it’s a man doing the talking. In every case, the women are in relatively passive positions – sitting, listening – and these are the top results! For leaders! Scrolling down through the more complete results, we get more generic stock photography (again, for line-ups, often the man in focus), a lecture-hall seating shot of a man with his arms around two women and a tagline “Want to Help Women Achieve Leadership Roles? Bring on the Men” (the image seems to no longer be in the article) , a picture of Catherine Casserly, which does makes sense (ex-Creative Commons CEO) but the pose does not say “leadership”….some from Australian politics which at least finally have a “leader” aesthetic…this one, though, has this profoundly doublespeaky caption:
“[…] it should be asked: was she truly a female prime minister or a prime minister who was female?”
What? Seriously, what?
One of the stock shots finally has a woman in the front, in focus, standing in a confident pose that looks like she actually leads the other people in the shot, but it takes until the 23rd photo that I get the kind of dynamic image that approaches what I think should be first…and it’s a photo (which does not seem to be CC licensed, so I’m just linking to the Google storage of it) of Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” in an article on the Huffington Post entitled “Why Aren’t There More Women in Leadership Positions?” (yes, she is also in #3, but static and off-angle). This version of the photo seems to say it is okay for non-commercial use though, so here it is:
Now I can’t help but try business leaders “creative commons” – will I get a mix?:
Google image search result for “business leaders ‘creative commons'”. More results here.
Most emphatically, no. Certainly no pair of women reaching past an out-of-focus man to shake hands here. Actually a lot of politicians, a power tie and a very prominently held, ahem, cigar. Again, longer results here. 17 down before I get to the first woman – Sheryl Sandberg again.
So, now I know that Google has in the search tools an option to narrow the results by usage rights, so that is definitely going to come in handy from here on out. Right away, given the character concept above, and what I’ve seen so far, I try latin woman business suit podium:
Google image search for terms “latin woman business suit podium” and licensed for reuse with modification
Oh, come on!
Let me just say, in closing, that I think it is high time to see more games with a protagonist (and I’m just going to put stock images with the watermarks here….) like this: