Diversity in Video Games: More Than a Question of Political Correctness

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In today’s video gaming society, it may be surprising to realize just how dominated games are by white male protagonists. I use a word like surprising because just last year, women made up almost half of the gaming industry’s entire audience.

And then, in June, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, took place. And just like that, all pretense of inclusiveness was summarily forgotten; the industry’s largest convention remains, sadly, a testament to the nerdy white male.

E3: More of the Same

Many reports of the event noted that it was largely attended and run by white males. Arun Rath of NPR, who reported at the convention, indicated that only five women and three people of color actually showed up at the event. Although this is an improvement from recent years, many attendees didn’t think enough was done to welcome people from all walks of life.

Additionally, the biggest upcoming games that were displayed at the convention were new releases of well-known titles like Call of Duty, Halo, and Assassin Creed. All in all, the vast majority of games that were presented at the convention featured white male protagonists, and were played by the white males in attendance.

Assassin’s Creed Unity Criticized

One game that is currently in the hot seat is Ubisoft’s new Assassin’s Creed title, expected to be released on October 28th for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The game, which was originally supposed to include female characters for gamers to play, has recently scrapped the female protagonists altogether.

Ubisoft’s answer to the controversy was a statement in which they claimed that adding female characters to the game would have “doubled” the team’s work load.  The company’s technical director, James Therien, stated that the team wanted to feature playable female characters in the game, but they had to be left out in order for Ubisoft to develop the game in time for its expected release.

The main reason why the title received a lot of criticism is due largely to the fact that a full 10 studios are actually working on the game. With this amount of help, you might expect that incorporating some female characters into the game would be quite manageable.

Here’s the twist: previous games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise have included playable female characters.

Diversity Could Revamp the Industry

In an industry where games continue to re-sell the unshaven, gun-wielding, white male protagonist narrative, companies that actually decide to create bold new narratives with playable female characters may find themselves breathing new life into a rather stagnant industry. True, with each new game release, companies may discuss better and more realistic graphics, as well as improved gameplay mechanics to make their game seem more real, but there are other areas in far greater need of development.

By exploring ethnically rich stories and themes, the gaming industry may begin to notice a new kind of excitement and buzz and, as a result, increased sales. In June, cosplayers who attended the GaymerX2 conference poked fun at Ubisoft’s decision to not include playable female characters. This convention celebrates the inclusiveness and diversity of the gaming community and took place in San Francisco. These cosplayers stood up to Ubisoft and other gaming companies, who think that female characters are harder to render and create, as compared to male characters.

Let’s be clear about this: the “diversity in video games” debate has nothing to do with affirmative action. We’re not saying that anybody has a right to be employed or – as the case may be – featured in a particular video game – because of the color of their skin or the shape of their body. No, this is about encouraging video games to portray reality realistically – that is, with a greater spirit of inclusion  than they currently have.

A Final Thought

To really gain the attention of the male dominated video gaming companies, individuals are going to have to speak up and make themselves heard. In order for change to really occur in this industry, gamers that don’t fit the “white and nerdy” stereotype are going to have to push for change. If this issue is something that you feel deeply about, you need to make these companies aware of it. If anything, the recent Assassin’s Creed Unity playablefemale characterissue serves as a rallying point for other demographics wanting to be recognized in video games.

Image credit: Flickr

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