Oh but Shamus! Most gamers are guys so doesn't it make sense that most main characters are guys? I'm sure that's the same justification used by game designers, and it's silly. At the panel, the room was packed, the audience was predominantly female, and it was clear from their applause and cheering that these women were hungry for an experience that let them behave in a heroic way without requiring them to change genders. And if they did have to play as a man, they would at least prefer to not be humiliated by having the female support character be a useless doormat while all of the heroics and witty one-liners go to the man. If it really is too much to ask for a game to pander to women once in a while, can we at least get the games to stop actively alienating them?
Yes, my list of games is full of male leads, but look at it again. It's not just that the main characters are men. It's that the main characters are young, white, American men. (Or at least, guys with American accents.) Even characters that should hail from the dark side (like the Persian Prince) end up in the "would be played by Ethan Hawke in the movie adaptation" part of the pigmentation spectrum. Take away the costumes, and the only thing that differentiates these characters is their haircuts.
This is foolish. Even if you care nothing about diversity, even if you don't care about female gamers, even if you think that young white American males are the only force of good in the universe, you're still sabotaging your game by refusing to consider one of the many other sorts of human beings to be your protagonist.
Publishers are always reminding us how important it is to come up with strong intellectual property. They want recognizable names and iconic characters to set themselves apart, but then they give their game yet another hero off the Doom Marine conveyor belt. BioWare gets points for letting us choose the appearance and gender of our protagonist in Dragon Age and Mass Effect, but then they lose those points by making the default box-cover characters a couple of generic white dudes. If nothing else, it would make sense to try and make a dude that didn't look like all the other box-cover dudes on the shelf.
I know that the AAA games industry isn't considered a font of originality, but surely we can do better than this.