Diversity in Games: Part 2

Note from Phantomrachie

After an epic battle, my mighty foes ‘Stomach Bug’ and ‘Procrastination’  have been defeated and I’ve been able to finish this post.

I hope you enjoy it.

Have a deadly week!

Quick Recap

In Part 1, I discussed my issues with Ubisoft failing to continue their previous work on making Assassins Creed more diverse. In this post I’ll be delving into the importance of diversity in more detail.

Disclaimer

In order to avoid being called out as some ‘feminazi’, I would like to start off by stating that when I’m talking about diversity, I’m not just talking about the inclusion of more women. I’m also talking about being able to play as any protagonist who is not a white male.

Some of them have more facial hair than the others, DIVERSITY!

Some of them have more facial hair than the others, DIVERSITY!

Not that there is anything wrong with being a white male of course, but considering not everyone in the world is a white male (with short brown hair), it would be nice to see other ethnicities, genders and sexualities, represented in games.

Most of these arguments are also valid for other media because it’s not just videos games that have a diversity issue but I’ll be focusing on the gaming industry.

Right! Happy enough with the above disclaimer?

Then let’s begin.

 

The Past

In the not so distant past it seems like video games were actually more diverse than they are today. The protagonists of first few generations of arcade machines and consoles,  could be anything from a hedgehog on speed, to an overweight plumber having an LSD trip.

Generally they were male of course because, let’s not go crazy here, but they weren’t just the same basic guy like they are today.

Look! They're all different.

Look! They’re all different.

So what happened?

As graphics got better and as gamers got older, the gaming industry moved away from cuddly animals and  towards ‘realism’. In their haste to create this realism, they got rid of what little diversity games had.

Today we’re supposed to be grateful that a developer had a bit of a think about adding a non-white guy protagonist before deciding not to

The Present

Today the ‘white male character’ is the default character.

In games like Call of Duty (COD) and Battlefield, where what your character looks like doesn’t matter because you’re in first person for the entire game, you’re still a white guy, with short brown hair.

In these games, no additional animations would be needed to create a female character and since most of the time they don’t talk, there would be no need for much additional voice work, just a few grunts.

Even if those few grunts would cost too much to add, surely we could at least pick between a variety of male characters to play, I’m not even asking for a character creator here, just a list of characters of various ethnicities to choose from at the start of the game. They could all even have the same name so there’d be no additional voice work needed.

Is this too much to ask?

It’s not like this has not been done before, the excellent FPS, ‘Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Los Vegas 2’ had a simply character creator, where you could choose your gender, race, face paint and gear.

You’re always called Bishop regardless of what your character looked like and it made no difference to the game, except for the fact that you could play as someone who looked like you if you wanted to.

Check it out here

If a game released in 2008 can do this, why can’t a modern FPS?

Story driven games get most of the flak for not have enough diversity but there are countless generic FPSs that could add a simple character creator and increase the diversity in games by 100 fold.

So why don’t they?

I’m seriously asking, I’ve no idea why they don’t. It seems like it would be such an easy thing to do.

 

Telling a Story

I’ve more sympathy for the game developer who is creating a story driven action game, like GTA or Uncharted. Their entire game is based around one person, so they tend to choose a static character who they can develop throughout the game and it’s their story so they can choose whoever they want as their protagonist, BUT does it always have to be a white guy?

90% of story driven action game are white guys, in their 30’s with short brown hair and possibly some stubble. Are game developers not bored of this same old character being used in all of their games? I know I am.

At this stage, I’d be pleased to play the same exact character but with red hair instead of brown because at least it would be something different.

I realise that it’s the developer’s story and it’s up to them how they want the protagonist to look but it’s come to a stage now where they are simply defaulting to this generic male character without any reason too.

Take GTA5 for example, it has 3 protagonists and the player switches between them. One of the protagonists, Franklin, is black, which makes him one of only two black GTA protagonists , so score one for diversity!

When the news of GTA5’s 3 protagonists was released, Rockstar was asked why one of them wasn’t a woman. This was the response from Dan Houser, Rockstar Games co-founder and vice president of creativity

“The concept of being masculine was so key to this story”

After reading this, I expecting to find lots of masculine based plot points while playing the game and I didn’t find a single one. Gender swap any of the GTA protagonists and it doesn’t make a huge difference to the story.

Make Michael, Michelle and you could still have the same story of a retired bank robber with a love hate relation with her husband and kids, with the added bonus of the tension that can happen in a couple if the wife makes more money than the husband.

Leave Amanda a woman and BAM! you’ve created even more diversity by having a lesbian couple.

A female Franklin is basically just my character from Saints Row 2, only with no gang, so there is no change there.

I can’t see Tanya being that different from Trevor either, (I couldn’t think of a closer female equivalent name).

Masculinity is not key to the story of GTA5, the lives and personalities of Michael, Franklin and Trevor are and this is what game developers have forgotten.

They have forgotten that unless you are making the story about the characters race or gender, that the characters race or gender has very little to do with most stories.

Why is diversity important?

There are lots of reasons why diversity is important:

  • It creates an environment of inclusiveness
  • It means people who are not represented by the ‘default character’ don’t feel segregated
  • It means more people represented in games
  • etc

But to me the biggest reason why diversity is important is because it helps create empathy I’m a woman, yet I’ve spent most of my gaming life playing male characters.

As I’ve played these characters, I’ve gotten to know them, gotten to know their personalities and their stories, this makes it easier for me to empathise with them.

I’ve had to travel in the shoes of a person of another gender and this helps me to empathise with men I meet in the real world. I’ve learnt that the world is not centred around me and my needs, but around the needs  of the human race in general.

Not everyone learns these lessons from games and games are not the only form of media that taught me these things but they have certainly helped.

I’m not sure if I would’ve learnt this lessons and become as empathic as I am, if all the protagonists I’d ever played where Irish blonde women.

Would I be different if I’d never had to step outside my own skin and had to identify as an American white man?

I’m not sure, but I know by having most protagonists as white males, we are denying any white men the opportunity to be taught the same thing by games that I was.

And the world can always use more empathy.

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Posted in Opinion By Rachel
2 comments on “Diversity in Games: Part 2
  1. Nerd on the Internet says:

    I would love to see more diversity; However, from an economic point-of-view it makes perfect sense to sell video games that have white, straight male protagonists. It appeals to the largest demographic and produces the most money. Plus, consumers love repetition; look at the Call of Duty series. Perhaps in the future when minorities grow and the demographic begins to sway, we’ll actually see some diversity. Until then, there are always indie titles like Child of Light.

    • Thanks for following my blog 🙂

      Are white straight gamers the largest demographic though? China and Japan are two of the biggest markets for games, even in the US minority and female gamers make up quite a big slice of the gaming pie.

      They are traditionally thought to be the biggest demographic but other gamer demographics are gaining fast.

      That said, even if they are still the biggest gamer demographic why would only straight white male characters apply to them?

      Women, members of the LGBT and men of other ethnicities continue to play games even though the characters they play do not represent them.

      Is it not shorting ching straight white male gamers to say that they will only play straight white male characters?

      Indie games have led the way in this but AAA games need to take up the diversity banner too.

      Hopefully we’ll get more diversity sooner rather than later.

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