The Game Changer
Maddie, 13, fought for a female avatar in her favorite iPhone game—and won!
Maddie Messer has always loved Temple Run, a mobile game that sends her racing through swamps and forests to outrun a pack of crazed monkeys. What she didn’t love was being forced to play as a boy avatar— unless she was willing to buy a female version. “I felt like I was being cheated or misrepresented,” Maddie explains. “Girls are just as capable of running away from monkeys as boys are.”
So last winter, Maddie, now 13, researched 50 of the most popular iPhone games. What she found infuriated her: 90 percent offered free male characters, but only 15 percent let you play as a female for free.
Armed with those statistics, Maddie drafted a spirited op-ed and fired it off to several major newspapers. The Washington Post agreed to run the piece, which attracted millions of readers around the globe—including the makers of Temple Run! “We realized she had a point,” says Natalia Luckyanova, the game’s co-creator. “It was the kick in the pants we needed to say, ‘We should fix it.’ So we did.”
Now you can play Temple Run with a female character for free, but Maddie hopes her campaign inspires something deeper. If you don’t see characters that look like you on TV or in movies or games, speak up! Just do your research first, says Maddie.
One well-supported argument is much more effective than a million angry tweets.
More game changers
McKenna Peterson, then 12, was furious that the Dick’s Sporting Goods catalog featured only male athletes. Her letter to the company went viral in late 2014, inspiring an apology from the CEO.
Andrea Gonzales and Sophia Houser met at a coding workshop, and didn’t like how girls were represented in video games. So the New York City teens created their own game with a strong female character.
McKenna Pope petitioned Hasbro to market its pink-and-purple Easy-Bake Oven to boys too. The 45,000 signatures she gathered in 2012 worked—now the toy comes in gender-neutral colors!
The Facts That Matter: Gender Representation
• 15 percent of video games have female characters (even though 48% of all gamers are female!)
• Fewer than one third of all speaking roles in movies belong to girls and women.
• In a study of ESPN’s SportsCenter, 2 percent of total airtime was devoted to women’s sports
Sources: 1. Entertainment Software Association, 2014; New Media Society, 2009; 2. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2014; 3. Communication & Sport, 2015