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Here's what needs to happen for equality in gaming in 2016 after 2015's good progress

What needs to happen in 2016 for gaming to be more diverse and equal.

Every year in gaming finds the world of gaming evolving and maturing to deliver more interesting and diverse experiences. 2015 was no exception.

We saw releases this year such as Fran Bow, Dropsy, Her Story ,Cibele, Life is Strange, Sunset, Bedlam, Sunset, Armikrog, Jotun, Splatoon, and Masochisa, among many, many others. Each of these titles did something different compared to most titles released, especially the major AAA releases.

As great as 2015 was for having more diverse experiences and gaming as a whole, there are some things that could happen in 2016 and onward to see more diverse games and equality in the gaming world.

Take Some Chances and Make More Games

As the hurdles to get into game development have drastically decreased in recent years, we have seen the flood of great indie games come onto the market. With the rise of indie games, we have seen fantastic and interesting games that would not be able to exist in the AAA world.

However, as we go into 2016 and further, we need more developers making the interesting and uncommon experiences that bring the diverse experiences to gaming.

While more developers making more games is good, we need more developers willing to take risks and deliver games that aren’t afraid to challenge our preconceptions do something no one else is doing. Fran Bow follows a young girl who is struggling to live life with a debilitating mental illness following the gruesome murder of her parents; she is then institutionalized in an asylum and seeks to escape.  

It’s a drastically different experience from most games, and we need passionate developers who aren’t afraid to make more games similar to it: a game that takes a chance on something different than the norm.

We can’t have diverse experiences and equal representation of different perspectives until we have people making those experiences for us. If you are an aspiring developer seeking to make a game that delivers something different, there’s a key point you need to remember as well as developers already at work in the scene.

Make Sure Inclusive Games are Amazing

This seems to be the biggest pitfall these (let’s just label the games that strive to deliver diverse experiences as “snowflakes” for the time being) games is so many of them are, well, not good. Don’t misconstrue these statements though. Not all of these snowflakes are lacking in quality, several are quite excellent!

Life is Strange, Fran Bow, Splatoon, Jotun, and Her Story have all garnered solid reviews from gamers and critics. Her Story even nabbed an award at some game awards thingy people seem to get worked up about.

However, for every Fran Bow and Her Story, we get games like Sunset, which failed to deliver.

Sunset places the players in the shoes of Angela Burnes, an American tourist who becomes trapped in a politically unstable and fictitious South American country in the 1970s. Burnes is hired by the obscenely wealthy Gabriel Ortega, who is a leader in this political revolution underway in the country, as a housekeeper for his extravagant penthouse.

Sounds like an interesting experience right: getting to explore a politically unstable country from a distance, playing not only as a woman, but an African-American woman, and exploring a culture markedly different from North American or Asian cultures (which obviously dominate and influence most games made).

The problem was; the game beneath those ideas was lacking in many ways. My own outlet, Artistry in Games, published a positive preview of the game, only to lead to a middling and negative review upon release. Once players and outlets got their hands on the game, we realized all the brilliant potential was wasted on a lacking narrative that goes nowhere; pointless player choice that has negligible impact on the story; and the cardinal sin of video games: being boring.

While I enjoy games with grizzled, middle-aged Caucasian male characters, especially deconstructionist games such as Spec Ops: The Line, there’s also a great joy to be found in playing games with a more varied cast and a different perspective on the world such as Fran Bow, Life is Strange, To the Moon, Two Brothers, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and a slew of others. They just need to be good games, first and foremost.

We Need to Give These Games More Visibility

Let’s look again at the list of games I mentioned at the beginning of this article: as Fran Bow, Dropsy, Her Story ,Cibele, Life is Strange, Sunset, Bedlam, Sunset, Armikrog, Jotun, Splatoon, and Masochisa.

Before this article, how many of these games have you heard about? One? Two? More?

Could a mother love this face?

Doubtless, some of you reading knew about these games and were naming off other games you believe I neglected to mention. However, others may have not heard of many of these, much less all of them. The fact of the matter is a lot of games slip through the cracks nowadays. I hate to pick on Sunset, but it is a prime example of a problem here.

The game ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that managed to raise $67,636 dollars to bring the game to life. The developer, Tale of Tales, hired a PR firm to promote the game. The firm did an admirable job and sent numerous emails (I know, I received quite a few about the game prior to release and some after release). Despite all of this, the game sold poorly. In fact, the game only really garnered attention when Tale of Tales took to Twitter to behave like spoiled children and insult the very audience who supported them for not boosting the signal enough. (I recommend this read about the situation.) Classy! 

Keep Talking About Good, Inclusive Work

On the other hand, Her Story has gained a lot of attention from media and players alike. As I mentioned earlier, the game even won an award recently.

Now, obviously, visibility of the game has increased due to the quality of the game, but people took the time and talked about the game. I saw Twitter users discussing the game. Some outlets published pieces about their experience with the title. Players blogged about the game. People heard about the game because people talked about the game. Word of mouth is a powerful promotional tool.

Whenever you play a game that is a little different, share your experience. Even if the game has some problems, tell your friends about it. Write about it, telling others about what you experienced. Games that are different from most and have uncommon characters need to be shared in order for more people to know about them.

Even if the game has some issues, a few flaws shouldn’t stop people from experiencing a game that could be a fantastic experience for some. No game is perfect, and what you think is a deal breaker may not perturb others.

Leave Your Hashtags at the Door, Please

Twitter can be a wonderful way to interact with people and start trends or bring attention to an issue that needs addressing. However, they are a poor place to have sort of discussion, especially with issues such as race portrayal and equality in games.

In order to really become more inclusive, the bickering over Twitter and Tumblr needs to be foregone and replaced with thoughtful discourse with all sides being civil.

Too many times attempts of discussions of uncomfortable and tough topics (in general, but especially with games) devolve into a sideshow not far removed from apes flinging their offal at one another. This needs to stop.

We Need More Voices to Champion Inclusiveness and We Need to Listen to Them

Along with being civil, we need more bloggers, pundits, and people putting their thoughts, experiences, and opinions out there. I may not think a game may be sexist or racist, however, if a female or person of color points out the issue and explains why it is problematic, I can understand their reasoning and possibly identify problematic issues on my own.

Without more voices addressing these issues, we can’t address them. A problem that goes unidentified cannot be rectified.

Diversity is More than Skin Color and Gender

Honestly, I don’t see why so many people seem to gloss over this point whenever a discussion about diversity and equality in gaming is mentioned. People seem to focus only on the skin color of characters, their sex, or their gender, eliminating so many other facets of diversity.

Why do we not have people clamoring to play as games with characters who follow a certain faith?

What about characters from different countries, no matter what their color of their skin may be?

What about characters of different ages besides “mid 20-30s?”

What about more characters suffering from a mental illness (which unfortunately still has a huge cultural stigma attached to it)?

There are so many factors of diversity, to focus on only a few is a disservice to the idea of diversity. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing as good female characters. I want to see more characters of color such as Lee from the Walking Dead.

Even characters with a different sexual orientation than mine is something I want to experience because it’s different than who I am. Games are a wonderful to experience a different perspective of the world we normally could not otherwise.

How else would I have met Red?

We need more female characters. We need more characters, especially protagonists, of color. We need all of these and more, but what about playing a Buddhist who is unsure of his faith in a land where no one practices Buddhism? Wouldn’t that be something off the beaten path and more diverse? Yet all we hear about with diversity is about sex, gender, and skin color.

To be truly diverse, we need to broaden the scope of the discussion and our imaginations.

2016 Could be a Huge Year for Progressive Inclusion!

2016 is on the horizon and there is no telling what the future holds. There are big games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Mafia III, Pathologic, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but there will be plenty of smaller games and surprises next year as well.

While a new Mirror’s Edge is more than welcome and Horizon Zero Dawn has grabbed my attention, we need the games like Fran Bow, Bedlam, and The Cat Lady too: the indie titles that can take risks and deliver what the big games aren't willing to. At the end of the day, games are a business and an art form. The major studios will only take so many risks and will continue to sell their games to same audience until convinced otherwise.

While diversity and equality in gaming have made great strides during 2015, we have a long way to go.

What we need to realize is the power we hold as consumers. We decide what makes a game a success or failure (unless you’re Square Enix, and then millions of copies are a failure). If companies see games with uncommon characters and are more inclusive than others doing well, we can see more being made.

Even if the big companies don’t respond, we have a slew of passionate indie developers keen on making more diverse experiences for us all. We need to do our best to support them and bring attention to them. If the game has flaws, the criticism needs to be taken professionally and with grace.

You're doing it wrong!

While we have a long way to go, we can only do so much if we continue to argue and bicker among ourselves. As players, we need to not take criticism of the games we enjoy to heart and respond with polite conversation instead of jumping to extremes and potentially scaring away developers aiming to make a different game.

Any discussion of a tough topic needs to be met with respect, even if the person introducing the topic or authored the article is not being respectful. A little respect goes a long way.

In fact, we should all just settle our differences in games of Super Smash Bros instead of this constant bickering. That would fix all of our problems, right?

 

Published Dec. 16th 2015
  • Mathenaut
    The problem is that because the push for 'diversity' is kinda shallow and not well thought out, the games pandering to that crowd trend to be outright mediocre. That's what you get when making games that aren't meant to be games.

    Her Story was good because it was a good game. It's elements weren't designed around shameless pandering to a non-gaming demographic. Alot of the great classic titles staring 'diverse' leads all fall down to that same element: They were good games with solid artistic vision and strong, coherent concepts.

    Exactly the opposite of games like Sunset. Anything that praised Sunset deserves 0 credibility.
  • Jay Ricciardi
    Contributor
    I will praise Sunset for trying and taking the risk. Not every game can be perfect, but I'm happy to see that the developer was emboldened to at least try in the first place. That counts as a win, even if it wasn't a great game. Not every non-diverse game is perfect either, after all. I would even venture to say that there is a much greater volume of mediocre and bad games with zero-risk, non-inclusive characters.
  • Mathenaut
    The important distinction is that non-diverse games don't receive the same level of deceptive praise and pandering. Sunset was a very bad game that sold itself solely on pandering and little else, and there are people that praised it for that alone with no regard to it's gameplay or design or really any other merit.

    The whole notion that 'diversity' (in the sense that it's more a buzzword than anything substantial) is worth deceiving people into spending money is.. it's low. It's damn low.

    That isn't worthy of any kind of acclaim and the blow to credibility is well deserved.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    If you try to push a message and pander first and make a game second, you won't succeed. That's why I emphasized any game trying to do something different needs to be quality.

    People don't care if your protagonist is a transgender schizophrenic of Asian and Islander descent if the game that character is in is utter rubbish.

    We do tend to see media sites praising games that try different things. Sometimes the praise is merited. Sometimes, it is not. However, you have to keep in perspective that many of these writers on game media sites have been doing their job or writing for some time. They have seen many of the same things; so when something different comes along, they usually jump at the chance.
    Remember Mountain?

    I am certainly not defending a product that is shallow or lacking in quality, but it is easy to forget just how many games these writers play. Hell, I work in this field only a small amount, and I am exposed to more games than I have ever been.
  • Mathenaut
    Mostly agree, and I'd like to lend benefit of the doubt and take your word for some things. Not so sure in some cases though.

    What makes some of that trite praise so awkward is that it's expression trends to give the impression that writers aren't exposed to as much as one would think.

    When writers praise qualities that aren't at-all revolutionary or, in some cases, at-all uncommon, and fail to substantiate what is unique.. it is telling.

    On a side note, Mountain was cute and the pricetag was worth the risk. The story of Sunset might have been different if it was on a similar pricepoint.

    What seems most disappointing about Sunset is that those developers have put out solid quality in the past. Quality such that I wouldn't even think that they are the same people. They seemed to have well and burned their bridges with that twitter sperge, though.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    I can't say what I said applies to all games media personalities as many have some agendas, biases, or topics they clearly wish to pursue more than others, but many do just enjoy trying something off the beaten path from everything else.

    That is on the writer then. When i render a verdict on a game in a review, I tell you what to expect, the flaws, the strengths, and more. If I find something that I enjoyed, I tell you what is was and why. Some writers fail to explain in some cases, but most seem to do a decent job at it. In my experience anyway.

    Yeah, the Twitter tantrum hurt. They just Kickstarted a new project not too long ago. It's a VR art experience thingy.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/taleoftales/cathedral-in-the-clouds-contemplation-in-the-digit

    Also, labeling your studio as "avant-garde" just screams "pretentious."
    Take notes kids!
  • Mathenaut
    If only more writers could be so honest.
    Though I can say that this site has quite a few of them.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    Some of us who write for smaller sites bank on our honesty and relatability to most people.
  • Mathenaut
    It may not seem like much when you do it, but it shows. People notice.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    The only problem I see now is that developers are scared of doing diverse characters. If a game is made with a black women as the protagonist, it's only a matter of time before the outrage crowd comes along and shames the developer for "problematic" things about the character, even though the developer was probably well intentioned to have a diverse character. It's known as the Galbrush Paradox. A male character is easy to give flaws and any number of negative traits to make a character more relate-able, give some stereotypical flaws to a female character and all of a sudden it's a big problem.
  • Jay Ricciardi
    Contributor
    Unfortunately, the Galbrush Paradox is ill-conceived and paints with too broad of strokes - so, I'm going to have to call BS on this. Guybrush of Monkey Island is a bumbling stereotype who rises above his flaws to become a hero. He follows a typical hero's path and shows, through agency, that no one should be defined by their shallow traits. That's a very feminist character: he doesn't conform to stereotypically heroic masculine traits and yet his progression allows him to become heroic, regardless. There are plenty of feminist narratives that do this exact same thing with non-white and/or non-male characters - Legend of Korra being a prime example, but some games that do this include Walking Dead, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    That could arise as a problem in the future, but I have not seen or heard of anything recently along those lines. (If I am missing something, please let me know!)

    The things is, some people will always complain and seek to stir controversy. Some people are not happy without conflict and jump at the chance to raise Hell.
    I have faith in my fellow players (well, some of them anyway) to be more level-headed and not succumb to knee-jerk, inflammatory reactions. We need more logical and informational discourse period. This "taking sides" and squabbling is reminiscent of playground behavior children partake in. It gets old.

    Nice mention of Guybrush Jay! Always good to show him some love.
  • Mathenaut
    Guybrush's story is more about comically managing his way through to save someone that arguably doesn't need much of his help. The irony is that they are all tasks a better-suited hero could manage with ease, but Guybrush is the only one that bothers to try.

    The Galbrush Paradox is simple enough to see in just looking at the awkward, inconsistent criticism and standards that feminist critics hold up with respect to prominent female characters.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    You and Jay are both correct here with the Guybrush assessment. He has numerous flaws, yet overcomes them to be a hero
    and save the day, even saving the person who may have not needed his help.
    At least we all agree he rocks!
  • Mathenaut
    He rocks because the writing of his character is solid, the setting is well done, the humor is witty and even off-color in some instances. The fact that Guybrush is a flawed character isn't, in and of itself, an inherent merit.

    Giving those attributes to any other character without the same solid structure in character design, gameplay, and setting, just amounts to an unappealing character that few relate to. The least a game like that could do is set a low pricepoint so gamers don't waste their money as well as their time.

    This awkward sense of defining anything that isn't CoD as 'feminist narrative' also doesn't make sense. How is Mass Effect feminist while Bayonetta is a vile agent of the patriarchy?

    What is feminist about restructuring Laura Croft from a rich entrepreneur with near total control of her destiny into someone fragile and frail with barely the strength to pursue her ambition?

    There is something fundamental that these people do not understand about games and the people who take up the hobby. Take this line for instance:

    "Why do we not have people clamoring to play as games with characters who follow a certain faith?"

    As if it's such a radical and unfathomable idea that social politic isn't a guiding factor in what determines the merit of a game. The whole idea that the merit of a game should be determined by that moreso than anything that makes the game actually worth something is what results in Sunset.

    Though, I suppose at that rate, they can just burn themselves out of the market in time.
  • TiquorSJ
    Featured Contributor
    The Galbrush Paradox has very little to do with the reality of the character's progression, but is a thought experiment relating to a theoretical analogue of that character and perception. Your analysis of Guybrish is spot on and in many ways only proves the value of the thought experiment. Guybrush accomplishes all of that despite his story provided flaws and a female character would too. However, it is likely in the current climate that that end state reality would not be the focus. This is why the paradox deals not with possibility, but perception. Now, the Paradox isn't like the theory of relativity, but it is hard to say that it doesn't outline a real phenomenon.

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