This story is over 5 years old.


'Minecraft' and 'Kerbal Space Program' Finally Accept Girls Can Do Science

Both popular games get girl characters for the first time.
​Image: Mojang

For the first time ever, you can ​play as a girl character in Minecraft. Meanwhile, the official release of Kerbal Space Pro​gram (a popular NASA simulator) brings with it female Kerbal a​stronauts for the first time in the game's two year existence in beta. Both moves are encouraging signs in a world in which many games don't offer the option to play as a girl (and one in which many games charge extra mon​ey to play as a girl).


The portrayal of women in video games has been generally flawed since, well, the dawn of the video game age. But KSP and Minecraft aren't just two random action titles or games that are pure entertainment. Instead, there's the growing thought that both are gateways into a love of science for young people and, maybe, an early stepping stone on the path to a career in science (as a side note, Temple Run is also getting ​a free-to-use woman character).

Maybe some Minecraft players will become engineers and architects; maybe some KSP players will become the next Elon Musk. So it was a shame that in Minecraft, you could only play as Steve, a stubbly dude who is, well, a guy.

Markus "Notch" Persson, the founder of Minecraft (who recently took a $2 billion from Microsoft and moved on) wrote in 2012 that he intended Minecraft to be a "genderless" game. He said the naming of "Steve" was an accident, an impulsive response to someone asking what the character's name is:

"The human model is intended to represent a Human Being. Not a male Human Being or a female Human Being, but simply a Human Being," he wrote. "The blocky shape gives it a bit of a traditional masculine look, but adding a separate female mesh would just make it worse by having one specific model for female Human Beings and male ones. That would force players to make a decisions about gender in a game where gender doesn't even exist."


Somewhere, in some classroom, there's a bratty boy who's tried to take over the keyboard and mouse from a girl who was playing because Minecraft is "for boys"

The sentiment is nice, but "Steve," the male Minecraft player you play as, was and is a boy. With Minecraft capturing the imaginations of young boys and girls (it's one of the few games that's played in pretty even numbers by children, teens, and adults), there's no reason that a third grade girl should have to wonder why she can't play as someone that looks like her.

The game is being used in classrooms around the country; somewhere, in some classroom, there's been a bratty boy who's tried to take over the keyboard and mouse from a girl who was playing because Minecraft is "for boys."

It's an easy fix, as Owen Hill of the Minecraft team wrote in a blog post announcing the change.

"Jolly old Steve doesn't really represent the diversity of our playerbase," he wrote. "For that reason, we're giving all players opportunity to play with an Alex skin instead. She brings thinner arms, redder hair, and a ponytail."

Over on planet Kerbin, my favorite green little astronauts have made it out of their period of gender primitivism—Valentina Kerman is the game's first female scientist (she's named after Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to have ever been to space). The fact that most Kerbals in the game ultimately die in some fiery accident is beside the point: As one member of the KSP forum wrote nearly three years ago in a post asking for female astronauts, "shouldn't everyone have an equal chance to die horribly?"

It's a good point, and let's hope it's about more than making some token attempt at equality. Women aren't just underrepresented in video games, they're also horribly underrepresented in STEM careers. These games excite kids to pursue science—if they can excite girls as well as boys, well, that's a step in the right direction.

And maybe it'll help prevent threads like these: "Female Minecraft players do they even exist?" and "Do ANY females/girl gamers play KSP?" Though informal polls show both Minecraft and KSP are predominantly played by men and boys, women and girls do play them. Now they can play as someone who looks like them.​