The hot button topic in the video game industry today is the reoccurring exclusion of women. The low number of women behind the scenes has stirred frustration, but often times, the main concern is more about females not appearing in video games. While the discussion is warranted and admirable, it is far too narrow of a talking point and is more harmful to the argument of diversity due to the overall exclusion of other minorities whether it be racial, sexual or cultural when these conversations arise.
This shouldn’t be taken as an attack on the movement for more women in games. It is needed. As someone who enjoys playing a strong female character, I want to see more of them. As a white male, I can not fully understand the need to have a character I can connect with because there is an abundance of them throughout video games. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about everyone else.
The problem I find when I see an article clamoring for more women is simple: I don’t see them making the same argument for other underrepresented groups in games, even though many of them are in this media less than female characters. Do these articles come up? Of course they do. But from my experience reading these numerous articles that pop up multiple times a week on various websites, the main concern is women, women, women. I understand that many of these articles could easily have “women” switched out with any other much needed diverse character, but the article shouldn’t pick and choose which minority to represent.
Instead, they should take a look at the real problem in the video game industry. The argument is not “we need more women in games” but instead “we need less straight white males in games.” This eliminates the shallow barrier that somehow women are the only ones who deserve more spots in games when all minorities deserve a shot in the limelight. It doesn’t matter if they are black, Hispanic, transgender or even little people; they should all be included, not just assumed, when discussing diversity in video games.
I do want to touch on one thing that occasionally comes up, but is rarely included in the discussion. This encompasses everyone, including straight white males. It is the need for every hero in a game to be a model, whether it be male or female. I enjoy playing Nathan Drake in Uncharted, but I have a body type that is closer to resembling Zeke Dunbar from Infamous. The same can be said for women who always see female characters who are a size zero with breasts the size of watermelons. I’m not saying there are not people in the world who look like Lara Croft or Nathan Drake, but it is not the norm…except in video games. If games will not allow for customization of these options, I would greatly appreciate more realistic characters as main characters in video games.
But…should diversity only be reserved for protagonists? There is no reason to keep antagonists from benefiting from these changes as well. Main characters, side characters, villains…spread the diversity around. Straight white males are everywhere to be found in video games and rarely do they need to be straight white males. It would be great for every character to have a backstory that fits with their gender, ethnicity, race, sex or physical differences; but rarely is this the case. Most times they could be interchangeable and nothing would be lost on the characters.
So how do these changes occur? Well there are several ways to go about doing this, and everyone has a role to play.
The easiest lies in the hands of the consumer. Continuing to be vocal can not be reiterated enough, but there is more to it than that. While petitions and forum threads may stir the community, nothing hammers home the point more than money. The way to do that is not supporting games from companies not willing to make the changes requested. Yes, we all love to play games and sometimes we don’t want to give that up. We expect these alterations to just occur without the need to punish our interests. But that is the best way to be noticed by publishers. We want something different, and using our wallets let them know just that.
Publishers and developers have another approach that needs to be corrected. First off, we need more diversity behind the scenes. This is, and isn’t, entirely their fault. I have seen several companies mention that applications weigh in the favor of white males. Yes, there are other applicants, but they come far and few between compared to what we know to be the sad reality of limited diversity.
On one hand, they should be actively pursuing more diversity, not just waiting for it to show up on their doorstep. Whether they seek this out during the Games Developer Conference or look to many organizations (such as the Women In Games Special Interest Group); these companies should be finding ways to broaden the diversity within their employees. On the other hand, the same applies to people in the field expecting a call because they made a game or two. They should also be actively searching out positions in these companies to help change the direction of games. Both sides are at fault here, and both need to improve for changes to come about.
These companies should also be more willing to take chances. Understandably, these are businesses we are talking about here and what matters to them is the green rolling in. It’s not uncommon to hear that women characters are a harder sell compared to their male counterparts for example. The problem with that scenario is the sheer number of games with men. I am sure there are plenty of games seen as a financial flop that featured men in them. But because there are more men in video games, it looks like a wash. Compared to female leads, and the very few of them out there, when they fail it is more noticeable. If female characters, or any non-white male characters really, had as many roles as white male characters, the sales discrepancy between the two would be much closer or even non-existent.
Lastly, the gaming websites that promote diversity by writing numerous articles about it. They shouldn’t stop. I have seen many people get annoyed at the number of these pieces coming out, but these articles are not for them. These are for those who are willing to make changes, to educate those who aren’t aware of problems in the community and even for publishers or developers who take a gander at their websites. So whether you like it or not, it’s part of bringing the issue to the forefront to get the conversation rolling.
But recently, there was an article posted by Polygon calling E3 sexist. That in and of itself is okay, because all one needs to do is look around at what could easily be considered a 13 year old wet dream. When sex is used as a way to compel people over to the booth, there is an inherent problem.
However, Polygon was then pushed as to why they would then go to E3 and support something they viewed as sexist. It makes sense right? If consumers are supposed to vote with their wallet, shouldn’t the press vote against sexism at E3 with their attendance? Apparently not according to one writer who I will leave anonymous. The argument for them was: work. This is the biggest week of video games in the industry and it would be irresponsible for them to not report on it. You know, because Polygon is the only site to get news from the week of E3. When the same writer took a stand against the Tomodachi Life controversy by not purchasing the game, but defended attending E3 with “work,” it really makes me question how concerned they are about sexism in the industry. If they want to be taken seriously, they should put their attendance where their mouth is.
The last thing I want to touch on is a response that comes up anytime these articles are posted. That is a sudden list that is created to show diversity DOES exist in games and everyone is a fool for thinking otherwise. Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor from Assassins Creed 3). Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs. But these individuals are missing the point. These articles are not suggesting that diversity does not exist. They are claiming that there is NOT ENOUGH diversity. Anyone can come up with a list that includes non-white males. It’s easy. But then take that list and start separating it all out. How many women? How many Asians? How many Native Americans? How many are gay or lesbian?
When one list is then shifted into multiple lists for different types of diversity, it becomes alarming just how little diversity there is in video games, especially compared to an overall tally of straight white males. Again, these characters do exist, nobody is arguing that. But there is not enough of these characters. There are far less females in games then males. There are less black people then women. There are less Native Americans then black people. And this is why articles promoting diversity need to broaden out the scope from demanding more women. Because while there do need to be more female characters, gaming needs more diversity all around. Some of which are less represented than women.
That’s it. I voiced my opinion that has been brewing for a while now. I’m sure some of it will be glossed over or misinterpreted, as do most opinion pieces on the Internet. But it needed to be said. I look around at the call for diversity and I wonder why it’s so limited. We should not take a “wait your turn” approach. Everyone deserves a chance, and calling out one example of needed diversity is backwards thinking because it’s no different than what is currently going on. Articles focusing on the exclusion of women in video games is excluding the argument for other individuals as well. And it’s hard to accept a call for diversity when the only thing being argued is YOUR diversity. It is time to broaden the discussion, and in turn, our minds.