Game changer: Girl questions lack of female characters in apps

Game changer: Girl questions lack of female characters in apps
A 12-year-old's wrote an opinion piece published by the Washington Post. It asked why there were so few girl characters on apps like 'Temple Run' she and her friends played. (Source: Apple App Store)
A 12-year-old's wrote an opinion piece published by the Washington Post. It asked why there were so few girl characters on apps like 'Temple Run' she and her friends played. (Source: Apple App Store)

(RNN) - A 12-year-old girl's thoughtful points on the lack of female characters in app games have gotten the attention of many people, including the ones who make the games.

Madeline "Maddie" Messer looked at 50 games to see how many of them offered a girl or woman character for players to use. What she found was disappointing - only 15 percent had a free female avatar, and fewer than half even offered the option to purchase one.

So the sixth-grader called out the video game makers. She said Thursday that she and her dad "wanted to start big," so they submitted an opinion piece she wrote to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

"A couple of days later, the Washington Post responded, saying they were interested but had to be sure I was really 12," Maddie said. "To assure this, they called after school one day and talked to me for a while. They also had to fact check my numbers and data."

It was published in March under the title I'm a 12-year-old girl. Why don't the characters in my apps look like me?

She discussed in the op-ed how she had been playing games on her iPhone with friends and noticing how few offered the option to play as a girl or woman. She discovered through her research that apps that sold girl characters charged an average of $7.56. The games themselves ran an average of 26 cents.

"These biases affect young girls like me," she wrote in the WaPo article. "The lack of girl characters implies that girls are not equal to boys, and they don't deserve characters that look like them. I am a girl; I prefer being a girl in these games. I do not want to pay to be a girl."

Her words went viral. Among the people who took notice was Natalia Luckyanova, co-creator of the monster hit Temple Run. The game has been downloaded more than 1 billion times, and 60 percent of its players are female.

But Temple Run's free character is a guy; a person has to pay to play as a girl. Luckyanova told NPR it was "embarrassing to read" what Maddie had written, and they reached out to tell her changes were coming.

"The creators of Temple Run said they would be making (the character) Scarlet Fox free and would be putting out more female characters in the future," Maddie said.

She also heard Disney's Temple Run Oz would be removing the $29.97 price tag of its lone girl avatar and offering it for free. She said she continues to play it, as well as Temple Run and Temple Run 2, while monitoring the prices of the female characters.

In addition, a creator pledged to change his lead character from a white male to a non-Caucasian girl after hearing Maddie on the PlanetMoney podcast, she said. Another game maker was so inspired by Maddie that she was put in the game.

"The game Noodles Now made me into a character I got to help design," she said.

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