Around the time I first got to TAY, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a great article written by Nyren about what video games meant to the gamer. Nyren discussed, and I’m paraphrasing, how morality and politics were diluting the game space because they were trying to force an agenda on developers that conflict with the artistic freedom of genre. We had a great conversation about it in the comments of their article. His piece as well as the current climate in gaming definitely inspired me to offer my own thoughts on this issue; where do we draw the line between political and moral agendas negatively impacting art? What do we say to the diverse consumer base clamoring for more representation in the genres that they love and spend their money on?
disclosure, I’m an African American woman who has been enjoying games for my 29
years on Earth. When games were more cartoon-like or pixelated I don’t think
this was much of an issue. We had dragons, plumbers, spacemen and whatever the
fuck Crash Bandicoot could
officially be called. Thoughts about realism didn’t really matter to the masses
back then because the technology hasn’t caught up. But now that it has we have
new issues that come with it.
as long as I remember I have usually played a male main protagonist and
he was usually white. If there were women around, they were a love interest, a
hooker or a secondary character to the main protagonist. Sure some of them may
have been powerful background players but I couldn’t actually play them. Some
people may mention the Tomb
for a successful female lead and
you’re right. Lara was a very popular female protagonist who also happened to
be very brilliant as an archaeologist. However, she was also hyper-sexualized
even in her very polygonal form. Some people may mention The Fear Effect franchise too and, if I’m not mistaken,
those women were in a lesbian relationship complete with sex scenes if you were
ambitious enough to get them.
the issue of diversity of race in games, if there was a person of color in the
narrative it was always surprising and welcome to see but they fit the stereotypical
mold too. They were usually male and placed in the underbelly of the games
underworld. I know what you’re thinking, we have white male criminals too, and
you’re correct. But, you
also have white male protagonists who are seen in more hero roles as well to
help balance it out. It can be a disappointing to only see people of
color in the narrative where they are only a part of the negative aspect of the
game. But what I can say is that the environment is changing in a good way (I’m
looking at you Watch Dogs 2,
Mirror’s Edge). That could be attributed to the consumers or advocates in
the industry clamoring for different concepts.
how has this mindset continued on for so long? When it comes to female
representation, the thought may be that women/girl’s don’t play games. Or those
women only play cutesy games that don’t require a lot of complex mechanics like
First Person Shooters (FPS) or Role Playing Games (RPG). Growing up I didn’t
know too many girls who openly discussed playing games. If they did, it wasn’t
talked about or you may have been ostracized for not wanting to do “girl”
things. I wasn’t ashamed that I played games so I just ended up hanging out
with boys who played them too and I was usually the only girl present. Even with the introduction of
Twitch, more women present at conventions and more women trying to break into
the video game space it still seems like the industry primarily caters to men.
the issue of cultural diversity in games I have some thoughts about it. It
could be that there are not enough developers from diverse backgrounds making
these games. Perhaps they don’t know how to tell a story with a character from
another ethnic group. And because of that, they end up making characters that
fit into certain tropes based on their limited scope of interactions with
whatever ethnic group they want to use. However, that’s not a good excuse. There
are numerous games on historic eras that none of us were present for but
somehow developers managed to make it work. How did they make it work?
Developers conducted research on the topic of their game before making their game. They could do this by having focus groups
and consulting with their fellow developers about how this character would see,
feel and react to “X” situation. It’s doable but isn’t done or isn’t done
frequently enough with the question being “why not”?
some candid conversations with my gaming buddies some of the responses to the
issue have been interesting. One response I have gotten from a white friend was
that he could not imagine playing as a character that wasn’t white or male. A
sentiment that I have gotten from my fellow minority gamers is that diversity
doesn’t matter as long as the game is good. A much more troubling but pervasive
response is the thought that, this is how it always was so why expect it to
change now? Now mind you,
these responses are paraphrased from my collective gaming conversations so you
are free to take them with a grain of salt. I can even freely admit that I have
played as a carefree Japanese girl with a skirt that’s a little too short on my numerous JRPG adventures.
I frolicked along without giving the race of the character too much thought
because I enjoyed the story.
post is getting a little long so I’m going to try to get to the point.
though some of my fellow minority gamers, whether they are of a different
cultural background, race, gender or sexuality, say that seeing themselves
reflected in games doesn’t matter I believe that it does. When they revealed
that the main protagonist of Watch
Dogs 2 was going to be black
our community was more hype for that game than ever because he wasn’t in the “stereotypical”
role. I remember when I was playing Dragon
Age: Inquisition the
developers discussed how your character can have homosexual and heterosexual
relationships that were well developed in the game and the community was hype
about that. Factor in that you can create your avatar in the beginning, you
have the all of the ducks in a row for a great gaming experience. In Final Fantasy 14 when Square Enix announced that the
Eternal Bonding ceremony in game could be with any gender you wanted the community
was ecstatic. For the people who identify as heterosexual they could care less
because it didn’t affect their gaming experience. But the point was that people
who didn’t identify as “heterosexual” also had the option to play and
experience the game how they wanted with
no limiters on it.
believe that is the whole point that I’m trying to make. The normal game
developer’s demographic is white, heterosexual males between the ages of 13 to
30. There are a wealth of gamers that fit different molds than that target
group that play and love games. Developers have an opportunity to show unique
perspectives to different populations that wouldn’t normally get to experience
it through a good narrative and game play. I’m not saying that there isn’t a
space for mindless smut in games with hyper sexualized men and women or the
time for white male protagonists are over. Perhaps I’m asking to have more
variety in my games just like movies.
the end of the day, I love games and if the game sounds good to me I’m going to
play it regardless. If I see a game that is different for whatever reason and
it seems like it’s going to be a good game I will support it. My support will
hopefully send a positive message to the developers and the community that we
want more games like this. I’m not asking for gamers to change their gaming
preferences. You have the right to like what you like. But I am asking that the
gaming community not shoot down others in the community that ask to be better
represented in the games. I would also like the labels of “Social Justice
Warrior (SJW)” and accusations of “trying to infringe on the creative process
of the developers” to cease as well. I don’t want developers to shoehorn in underrepresented
groups for the fuck of it either because they probably won’t pull it off well.
I just want a variety of different gaming experiences because the gamer in me
loves getting lost in all of these adventures.
But Until Next Time Guys,
Edited on 10/27/16: Originally posted on 7/5/16 and edited due to my liberal use of bold text print and grammatical errors.