Girl hero who took on sexist gaming just landed her own game character

Maddie Messer, a 12-year-old girl who had enough of the lack of female characters in smartphone games, made headlines around the world when she wrote an awesome op-ed in The Washington Post calling out game developers for their total lack of gender diversity. And apparently, developers were listening. Maddie not only started an important dialogue about gaming culture; she now has a female character named after her!

It all started when Maddie noticed how most gaming apps featured boys as default characters—and to play as a girl character you had to pay extra for the privilege. So she downloaded the most popular “running games” on iTunes including Temple Run, one of the many games that features “a character running, jumping, sliding and generally avoiding deadly obstacles in a game that does not end until the character dies,” according to Maddie.

Then she put together a chart of over 50 top games and crunched the data on girl characters. What she found was startling: 98% of all game characters are male, and female characters often cost extra. Why is that a problem? Maddie explained it perfectly in her op-ed:

“These biases affect young girls like me. 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.”

The developers behind Temple Run took note, and acknowledged that it was a problem. “It was embarrassing,” Natalia Luckyanova, one of the creators of Temple Run, said in an NPR interview this week. “It was embarrassing to read that.”

“For all of our good intentions, and for all of my good intentions, it’s true that you start out with this male character,” she acknowledged. “The white male is always the default, and anything else, it’s like, you have to work for it.”

She and her husband/co-developer wrote a letter to Maddie to let her know that they plan on making female characters (for which users previously had to pay) available in their games for free. According to NPR, Disney is also planning to stop charging extra for female characters.

 And that’s not all: In recognition of Maddie’s efforts, the Temple Run creators developed a new female character and decided to name her Maddie! While we haven’t seen a preview image of the new Maddie character yet, we can bet she’s going to be kick-ass.

We’re thrilled that Maddie was able to bring about some change, and we hope other developers take note.

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