Racial Diversity  Tagged Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Racial Diversity  RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Why Representation Is Important in Video Games https://www.gameskinny.com/gi2j2/why-representation-is-important-in-video-games https://www.gameskinny.com/gi2j2/why-representation-is-important-in-video-games Fri, 10 Nov 2017 11:58:34 -0500 Sarah Elliman

We live in an incredibly diverse world, where people from different ways of life and culture can meet on a regular basis. The vast majority of people may not have had this much interaction with those of different origins in the past -- certainly not to the scale the modern world can achieve. Considering that video games are now even more popular than other entertainment mediums such as film or TV (four out of five US households own a device used to play video games), having greater diversity and representation of a variety of people is an especially prevalent and pressing issue with respect to video games.

Given the wide range of people that video games are accessible to, the lack of representation of diverse groups of people is shocking. In recent years there have been more females and people of color serving as primary characters in video games, but the statistics are still overwhelmingly negative in terms of diversity. Recent games such as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy feature two female protagonists who are both women of color. Most importantly, these characters break certain tropes and stereotypes, which makes their character development and story even more important.

Diversity and representation aren't simply about throwing women and people of color into video games. You don’t want a female character who is simply a guy coded as a female character; there needs to be a subtlety and skilled writing for these characters.

Women in Video Games

Many of us can see with our own eyes that there aren’t as many female characters in video games as there are men. Forget historical accuracy and those arguments for a second, and focus on the pure statistical representation statistics. There is a roughly even split in the world between men and women, so that should be represented in video games. 

According to a 2007 article from Monica K. Miller and Alicia Summers, "of the 49 games included in the[ir] analysis, 282 male humans and 53 female characters appeared," translating to roughly 5.3 men to every 1 female character. Other research has found large discrepancies between the number of games in which men are playable and those in which females appear as playable characters. The excuses of old (e.g., women simply don't play video games, so it's a male-oriented environment) aren’t viable anymore. In fact, a 2015 study found that women make up 44% of gamers. This is a staggering figure compared to the overall representation of women within video games.

It isn’t simply lack of representation that harms people’s view of the gaming industry but also the many ways in which women are presented in them. A 2009 analysis found that "fifteen percent of (M)ature games also included characters that were coded as being naked," and "of the characters coded as 'naked,' 88% were female." That is an overwhelming figure compared to the presentation of men. 

As a gamer, you may have heard the term the “Lara Phenomenon,” which researchers Jeroen Jansz and Raynel G. Martis coined to describe "the appearance of a tough and competent female character in a dominant position." It is worrisome enough that it was known as a phenomenon to start with, suggesting the lack of female characters who ascribe to this description. However, in recent years, I believe we have moved further away from the two drastic stereotypes of the “Laras" or "damsels in distress." The importance of representation is to present realistic and depth-filled characters that audiences relate to. Although the Lara type is strong and powerful, seeing a depth to a character is much more constructive to a storyline; this is shown in the most recent reboots of the Tomb Raider series.

Overall, the position of women in video games is becoming stronger. To me, it is about what powerful and emotive characters bring to the story. Women in games undeniably tend to be beautiful, and it’s not about changing that perspective but rather adding a new dimension to these characters other than being just eye candy. 

Ethnicities in Video Games 

This is another aspect of video game representation that is seriously undervalued. It can be as ridiculous as the French Arno in Assassin's Creed: Unity having a British voice actor or even different ethnicities or cultures completely missing from games. Once again, we are seeing a slow improvement in this representation, even from the Assassin’s Creed series. Adaptations of Egyptian history and tales tend to be acted by white actors in these scenarios, so it is brilliant to see Assassin's Creed: Origins bringing in accurate depictions of those who live in the region.

However, there are massive disparities when it comes to the white versus ethnic ratio of characters in video games. Karen E. Dill and her colleagues in 2005 shared that within their research, "68% of main characters and 72% of the secondary characters were white.’" This is astounding considering the vast world we live in and the variety of inhabitants in it.

Other studies have shown that black, Asian, and Hispanic characters make up much smaller percentages of character, and considering that these can include secondary characters, it appears that some game developers just be throw in those of different ethnic backgrounds as a token gesture.

 LGBT Representation 

There is a recurring trend in the way those who are gay or transgender are represented in video games, with many shown as villains or something to be disgusted with. In the video below, MatPat of The Game Theorists looks at the disturbing representation of those who belong to the LGBT community in video games. 

There are approximately 8 million people who fall into the LGBT category in the USA alone, but in recent years, a study has shown that only 12 characters were depicted as being LGBT. There are tons of people crying out for this representation that isn’t being given the light of day.

In a 2014 interview, Lucien Soulban, an openly gay lead writer for Ubisoft, stated that it will be quite some time before we see a gay character make a meaningful impact in a video game: “So when are we going to see that gay protagonist in a AAA game? Not for a while, I suspect, because of fears that it’ll impact sales.”

Rhianna Pratchett, the lead writer for the Tomb Raider reboot, appeared slightly optimistic in an interview with Motherboard on the possibility of greater diversity for LGBT characters: “I think folding them in as regular secondary characters who are just part of the fabric of the world will be how things progress,” suggesting she believes that the LGBT community will be represented but at a relatively slow pace. 

The awful truth is that many LGBT characters, even when present in video games, are portrayed in a completely disrespectful light. Even recently, characters such as Trevor in GTA V are expressed as openly gay -- but Trevor’s character is a complete psychopath. This doesn’t provide a rounded view of gay characters, and why is this type of character reserved for the openly gay Trevor? 

In the end, the gaming industry has come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. Gamers want to see themselves in the video games they play and not feel demonized even when they are.

 What are your opinions on representation in video games? Are there any games that you believe represented different types of people well? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Dissecting the problems with political correctness arguments in gaming https://www.gameskinny.com/09fz3/dissecting-the-problems-with-political-correctness-arguments-in-gaming https://www.gameskinny.com/09fz3/dissecting-the-problems-with-political-correctness-arguments-in-gaming Mon, 28 Sep 2015 07:06:09 -0400 Destini Islands

Politically correctness (otherwise known as "PC") has been the subject of controversy among American gamers. Some think a healthy dose of PC is due in a landscape that has a long, ugly history of discrimination. Some are more cautionary, thinking that worrying about being PC is ruining the creative freedom of developers.

Ironically, the term was brought into the modern day by Toni Bambara as a way to call out those who hid behind the wall of being publically "polite" to continue holding their bigotted attitudes and avoid discussion of social change. As we know it today, it has been warped to simply mean "adhere to proper social standards and watch what you say," which is exactly the opposite of what Bambara wanted. In the gaming community, political correctness simply has two sides: you're for or against it.

However, both of these ways of thinking have one huge flaw: Being politically correct or not politically correct has nothing to do with games. Half of the problem with games are the anti-PC crowd, and the other half is the pro-PC crowd. Let's look at the flaws of both of these ideologies.

The problem with the anti-Politically Correct crowd

It's easy to think of the anti-PC crowd as one that is anti-progress, stuck in the 1800s with how they think people should or should not behave. For the liberal, they are the Conservatives "ruining" the country's potential and stuck in a past where it was OK to be discriminatory.

In the gaming world, the anti-PC crowd is half of the problem. Arguments include: games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary, some games are realistic and that includes politically incorrect things, if you don't like a game don't buy it, make your own PC games, and PC ruins creative freedom.

Let's dissect these arguments:
  • Games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary

When it comes to games set in real-life settings, this argument pops up that the video game world is fantasy. If someone complains about how someone is represented, whether that be body image or stereotypes, people are quick to say that it's "just a game" and no one should take them seriously. Developers have a creative take on history and can spin it as they please to make a fantastic game. However, the problem with this train of thought is that it throws out any accountability for real-life issues that bleed into the gaming world and reinforces outdated ideas.

It's a psychological fact that seeing the same ideas in our entertainment without criticizing it does, in fact, affect us. This particular study is an easy example of how race is portrayed in games and is only one of dozens of studies that come out annually on the subject. All games don't need to be realistic, but they certainly don't all need the same exact fantasy either.

Next:

  • Some games are realistic, and that includes politically incorrect things

If someone complains about the lack of women soldiers or ethnic minorities in a Call of Duty game, people are quick to say that it's meant to be realistic, as there are far less women than men in active duty combat. That's true. But it's also true that Call of Duty is a hyper-fantasy game. If it were meant to be realistic in any way, there would be a lot less shooting, a lot more sitting around waiting for orders, and no way to heal your bullet wounds by simply ducking behind a counter. In fact, it would look exactly like this:

This argument falls flat on the notion that your typical video game is realistic in any way. People can't pick and choose what they deem to be a necessary "realism" factor without becoming hypocritical.

  • If you don't like a game, don't buy it
Without constructive criticism, games can't get better.

This argument is the most understandable. If you don't support an organization's ideals for any reason, you're in your rights to boycott said organization. However, the thing about entertainment is that it is made by humans who are flawed and have opinions. If someone were to only buy, watch, or play things that perfectly lined up with their worldview, the entertainment industry would have shriveled up decades ago and we'd all be outside.

The world is not a perfect place, but it is one full of the means to better it. With open communication and internet, it is easy to voice your concerns and find others to support you. In the end, this argument falls flat because it's one against constructive criticism. Without constructive criticism, games can't get better. People will buy what they enjoy, but they can also be aware of its shortcomings.

  • Make your own PC games

Possibly the most political answer of them all is this one. People are already making their own diverse games that they feel represent them better. The problem is that the gaming industry is like any other American industry––discriminatory, biased, and under the thumb of mostly white men. It's difficult for an indie company to break into the "AAA" side, but statistically, it's even harder for those who are in the minority.

A more appropriate response would be to tell people to support the already existing alternatives or tell companies to take diverse initiatives if they haven't already. Ultimately, this response is one of ignorance. There are already PC games, but it is up to the gamer, whether pro- or anti-PC, to seek them out in a world that typically does not support them and relies on the consumer to vote with dollars.

  • PCness ruins creative freedom

This is the most ironic response of them all, considering creative freedom is already ruined. The creative process is stifled by publishers forcing developers to appeal to their wanted demographic. Typically, this is a white man. Being PC in this case would actually encourage creative freedom. Having to create the same, heroic, white, and muscular man with a scruffy beard, "hard" personality, and who probably lost a loved one is an old trope that is mostly prevalent not because developers like creating the same person over and over, but for safe marketing purposes.

There's nothing wrong with creating a character you identify with, but when that character becomes indistinguishable from the rest, it's hard to believe that it's anything but intentional. The white, scruffy, heroic man can work - but not every game has a Joel from The Last of Us. In conclusion, this response is an insult not just to the creatives, but to all white men who don't think of themselves as a singular audience who need pandering to.

The problem with the pro-PC crowd

On the flip side, some can find the pro-PC crowd as one that is ridiculous, touting freedom of expression while also demonizing those who don't agree with them. For the conservative, they are the Liberals "ruining" the country with their need to feel fawned over and don't care about the realities of things like money or politics.

In the gaming world, the pro-PC crowd are the other half of the problem. Arguments include: games can have social consequences, games are fantasy and should not be subject to real-life statistics, if the game industry wants to be taken seriously it should conduct itself in a more responsible manner, and appealing to more demographics increases profitability.

Let's dissect these arguments:
  • Games can have social consequences

Of course. As already discussed, games are a form of entertainment and like all entertainment, subconsciously reinforce or debunk cultural biases. However, because of the prevalence of entertainment, this is a moot point. If people are playing a game with a positive representation of Native American women, that's great! But chances are they might go watch Peter Pan right after, and it ultimately doesn't matter. Cultural biases do not just exist inside the realm of gaming; they are a complex network with influences anywhere from television, advertisements, radio talk shows, and clothing.

Even if every single game in the world were to suddenly be politically correct, the world would most likely not change in the slightest. Attacking games exclusively then becomes an "easy way out" for social change, where efforts should be divided if people truly want positive change.

  • Games are fantasy and should not be subject to real-life statistics

Exactly, so why should a game need to have a certain amount of representation? It would be just dandy if every game had a diverse set of characters so anyone could feel represented, but this argument falls under nitpicking when the outward appearance is a sole concern. Sure, it statistically would make a lot more sense for most game characters to have brown eyes, but people pick and choose their battles.

It statistically would make a lot more sense for most game characters to have brown eyes.

It's not too difficult to find real-life statistics, but it is difficult to have a checklist of characters to make to not fall under scrutiny. Furthermore, people write what they know, and unless you want more stereotyped characters to reinforce negative biases, it's actually better to not include them if the creator is doing things for their empty sake of diversity. Developers who don't know anything about other demographics do not include diversity for any reason other than to pander and do more harm than good. This is the flip side of the "Games are fantasy so being realistic is unnecessary" argument.

Next:

  • If the game industry wants to be taken seriously it should conduct itself in a more responsible manner

Sorry, but the game industry is already taken very seriously, considering it's one of the most profitable things in the entire world and bigger than Hollywood. To be fair, other entertainment industries don't conduct themselves in a "responsible manner" either, but they still are taken very seriously. Money talks and money listens.

To use this argument is to be in denial about the reality of this country and media industries. The people at the top of the food chain can be morally corrupt and sometimes it impacts their business if enough consumers are aware, which they're usually not. Being PC has monetary and PR benefits, but gamers have to be aware that they're commonly eating up garbage. Source? Current discrimination practices, despite "initiatives" and "policies." Private email and phone leaks tell the truth about people, not PR stunts.

  • Appealing to more demographics increases profitability

Statistically, this is true. But the problem is that companies themselves simply don't care enough. Many higher ups are in denial about the benefits of having "deviating" leads, and -as a result- give those titles less marketing, advertising, and even funding. It creates an illusion of being less profitable, creating a vicious cycle and reinforcement bias.

The problem isn't just appealing to more demographics; it's more demographics creating games and having other options. Truthfully, people are going to continue buying their favorite franchise even if it has a terrible legacy of representing them because it's simply what they love and what they're used to. If you look back at the "Make your own PC games" argument, you can see how this becomes a loop.

Being politically correct or not politically correct has nothing to do with games

The issues that both side present have their points, but in conclusion, are weak.

The problems with games are a result of the society they are created in (which is a surprise to no one) and 'fixing' games is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. There's no way to truly even fix them without serious social effort on the side of gamers to support developers, major or indie, who they feel are doing the right thing. Gamers can't force companies to get rid of their subconscious biases and hire diverse developers, but they certainly can help each other become better-than-average developers to be hired despite them.

Gamers are what drives the industry forward, and they have a much bigger impact because it is on their dollar that the industry survives.

'Fixing' games is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

There's no real way to tell how putting good representation of queer people in everyday television helped push the legalization of same-sex marriage. But we do know that it helped. The problems with gaming culture are much bigger than what people want to believe. Solving big cultural problems trickles down to smaller ones. When same-sex marriage legalized, suddenly every game company had rainbow flags and others even removed orientation restrictions they previously had in their games.

At the end of the day, the anti-PC crowd needs to re-evaluate the hypocrisy of their own arguments, and the pro-PC crowd needs to be realistic about where the problems are. Games are going to stay the same as long as those receiving their profits do.

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Lack of Inclusion: Racial Minorities in Video Games https://www.gameskinny.com/rwfmg/lack-of-inclusion-racial-minorities-in-video-games https://www.gameskinny.com/rwfmg/lack-of-inclusion-racial-minorities-in-video-games Sat, 08 Aug 2015 02:30:01 -0400 Samantha Wright

I recently took a class called “Gender and Sexuality in Gaming.” Towards the end every student had to present a topic. Our teacher didn’t really care what it was about as long as it somehow connected to gender, sexuality, or video games. One girl discussed a topic that had honestly never even crossed my mind. She told the class that she liked to play RPGs. She would customize her character’s hair, eyes, sex, height, weight, class, abilities, and weapons, but she couldn’t change something as simple as skin color. As a result, I began to think about just how many racial minorities are present in video games and how accurate of a representation they actually are.

African Americans

My mind first jumped to Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Lee Everett was a great male lead and African American. He was strong, wise, and caring, even taking Clementine under his wing. 

However at the beginning of the game, he starts off in a police car, arrested for murder. I’m not going to argue the morality of his actions, but starting off in police custody probably isn’t the best representation of a character outside of the white norm, especially when considering male African American stereotypes.

So I continued thinking and came up with very few additional examples. There’s Franklin Clinton from Grand Theft Auto V, but those games tend to make everyone out to be a criminal and the game itself probably isn’t the best judge of character. I have the same issue with Sean Johnson from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Pokémon X and allowed a change in skin color, thus making the character African American, but didn’t allow for facial reconstruction to allow the character to possess typical African American facial features. Not to mention, a lot of players considered the skin tone to be tan rather than black. There are a couple of African American characters scattered throughout other games, but either as side characters who don’t have much importance, one of many fighters to choose from in a fighting game, or a game that just didn’t do well or gained little publicity. There are very few African American characters playing a lead role in a cinematic, mainstream video game.

Asians

I decided to move on to other racial minorities, hoping to find something a little more promising. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. There are quite a few Asian characters ranging from Faith in the Mirror’s Edge series to Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs. There are other characters like Chell from the Portal series and Chun Li from Street Fighter. Surprisingly enough, most are portrayed quite well too. These characters aren’t every Asian stereotype thrown together into one person. The characters have personalities, talents, and traits beyond just stereotypes. However, their lack of portrayal in games still fall shorts in comparison to the exorbitant amount of white characters.

Native Americans

There are barely any Native American characters in video games and most are presented poorly. Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3 was Native American, but only half Native American. Many who played the game also thought his character was boring, making him a rather unappealing character and not the best representation for Native Americans. There are other Native American characters, but most of them are just laughable in my opinion. Chief ThunderChief Thunder from Killer Instinct, pictured above, is so stereotypical it’s a little painful (he doesn’t need two tomahawks). Tala from Darkwatch is completely over sexualized and honestly just looks ridiculous. Though, on the other hand, there are more realistic Native American characters like Delsin Rowe from Infamous: Second Son and Tommy from Prey. Neither one are stereotypical Native Americans, both being more modern characters. Both accept their heritage and, best of all, they have real personalities; they’re not just there for aesthetic value. However, those listed above are almost all of the Native American characters in video games. There are some supporting characters here and there, but it’s still not nearly enough to come close to the number of white characters portrayed in video games.

Hispanics

The only Hispanic character I could think of was Rico Rodriguez from Just Cause. I had to turn to Google entirely for this one. I recognized characters like Dominic Santiago, Gears of War, and Isabela Keyes, Dead Rising, but most others I had never heard of and didn’t look familiar. I know I haven’t played every game in the world, and never will, but with the amount of games I do play, I think I would have a familiarity with more than three Hispanic characters.

White

Now think of all the white characters in video games. I can name at least fifteen off the top of my head. I could definitely name over one hundred if you gave me a couple of minutes. There’s a lot. Though quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. There are some great white leads. Joel and Ellie from The Last Us were a dynamic duo. They were strong, smart, and well-rounded. Not to mention, they brought emotion to their characters. It was so easy to connect with them because of how diverse they were and how you could see at least one part of yourself in their characters; you felt their pain and happiness as they experienced it. Like the other races though, there are white characters that miss the mark. A good majority of white heroes are brown-haired males somewhere in their thirties. While there are noticeable differences between most of them, you can’t just ignore how similar they are. Not everyone white person is a brown-haired male somewhere in their thirties. If we can't add diversity to the numerous number of white characters, how can we expect to do so for other races?

What’s the problem with this?

Well, games are supposed to be evolving. People call for more accurate representations of women and the inclusion of LGBT characters and forget something as simple as including more racially diverse and accurate characters. I’m not saying adding more LGBT characters and accurately portrayed women should be pushed aside, but we can’t just strive for those two varieties. Many different types of people play video games. Contrary to the old stereotype, it’s not just white male teenagers with nothing better to do. Racial minorities need to be represented too. Every gamer wants a character they can connect with, that they see themselves in. This is the 21st century after all and the video game industry makes more money each year than Hollywood. We are in the forefront of the entertainment industry and should show that we know inclusion off all types and backgrounds.

What are other people saying?

The issue has become so big I’m not even close to the only one talking about it. People on Twitter have expressed their negativity at the lack of diversity:

 

 

That’s not all either. Dr. Samantha Blackmon, a professor at Purdue University, has started a Kickstarter project entitled, “Invisibility Blues: Exploring Race in Video Games.” She plans to create five episodes covering various topics ranging fifteen to twenty-five minutes in length. To check out the Kickstarter page, click here.

We need a change in the game industry, and it needs to be a big one. Game developers need to bite the bullet and not worry about a possible hit their games could take fiscally for doing something out of the ordinary. In the long run, the change will be worth it- more diverse games, bringing in more customers and allowing more creativity. We can’t keep living in the past.

What do you guys think? Leave your comments below.

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