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Thread: The Importance of Diversity in Game Development

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    Defamation Depression Moon's Avatar
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    Post The Importance of Diversity in Game Development



    In times of strife and depression, video games are a tool of coping and a form of escapism for people. Video games have can have rudimentary effect in numerous ways on society ranging from economics, pop culture, inspiration, and social engagement. Like other forms of media, video games can affect how people see each other and themselves.

    In the Brown v. Board of Education case a doll test was used for citation that segregation was harmful on the psyche of black children. This test involved giving a black child a choice between two otherwise identical dolls with different skin tones. The experiment revealed that many black children preferred the white doll and perceived the black one as ugly. The same experiment has been done decades after Brown v. Board of Education showing the same results. This indicates that there are still issues regarding race in America. As mentioned earlier, media representation can have an affect on self worth. There have been numerous accounts of black women expressing the feeling they aren't pretty due to their skin complexion, some I can personally attest to. With media, including video games, showcasing women of lighter hues as attractive while darker women generally being absent it comes to no surprise that women have such feelings regarding themselves.


    Representation for black women and other people of color in video games is quite underwhelming, but 2016 has seemed to improve with titles like Battlefield 1, Mafia III, and Watchdogs 2 which all have black men at the forefront. Leading characters of color other than black men and Japanese men still are pretty rare. In recent years there was only Connor from Assassin's Creed III and Aveline from Assassin's Creed Liberation in the mainstream market that deviated from those ethnic groups. Why are these groups so sparse? It could be acclimated to the claim that games with people of color sell less as that has been a defense for games with female protagonists. That claim is flawed considering there are so few games with protagonists of color that it would be fair to compare and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V are some of the best selling games ever. It is also unfair considering games that under perform with white male protagonists are never attributed to failing because of the race and gender of the lead character.

    In a study in 2014 it was revealed that almost 50% of people that play video games are women. These games also typically have 50% less of a budget compared to games with male protagonists. In addition, a study from Nielson in 2011 showed that black people and Hispanics spend more time playing video games than whites. There is obviously money to be found by making games aimed at these audiences, then is there so much aversion?


    Games with these characters tend to have difficulty getting published. Just last year, Lab Zero Games' Peter Bartholow said in a post on NeoGaf, “When we were pitching [Indivisible] to publishers, we had at least one comment that it was "ballsy" to have a dark-skinned female lead. One or the other would've been fine, but both was possibly a lot for them to process.” In 2012, Dontnod Entertainment reported having trouble finding a publisher for Remember Me which features a mixed black woman as the lead with such comments as the following from publishers: "We had some [companies] that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'" The same situation occurred when looking for a publisher for Life Is Strange. It seems no coincidence that Dontnod went with a Japanese publisher both times; Capcom with Remember Me and Square Enix for Life Is Strange. Games with female leads tend to be a selling point in Japan versus the West and their games reflect such with games like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Dead or Alive, Final Fantasy, Animal Crossing, Gravity Rush, Hatsune Miku, and Metroid all featuring playable female characters.

    The triple AAA market in the West has gotten a tad better. This past E3 we saw ReCore, Dishonored 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn all featuring female protagonists. There is still a ways to go here. It wasn't that long ago when Naughty Dog said how they had to fight to put Ellie on the front cover of the Last of Us and when Ken Levine said he looked at fratboys as the demographic for Bioshock Infinite and put Elizabeth on the back.

    Representation for women has been plentiful for women when it comes to games from Japan, but they're less frequent from western developers. This year however, gave us Dishonored 2, ReCore, and the announcement of Horizon: Zero Dawn.


    Not long after the US 2016 election, some game industry platforms have spoken about inclusion in the gaming industry. Double Fine notably put up a news bulletin declaring that they want to include more people of diverse backgrounds into their studio and are taking advice from anyone on how to achieve it. There have been diversity programs related to the gaming industry for years now. There is Black Girls Code which focuses on teaching coding to young black girls, La TechLa that focuses on Latinos, and Southern Methodist University started a scholarship program years ago for women wanting to enroll in gaming design programs to name a few. These programs are few in the grand scheme of things, but they do emphasize a problem in the gaming industry.

    The gaming industry is dominated by white and Japanese males and thus it would be naive to expect for major diversity in characters as the industry currently is. There are women, people of color and transgender people currently residing within the Indie scene, but the AAA field is even more important as these games reach more people. More people of diverse backgrounds equals more themes and settings to explore and more characters that deviate from tropes, cliches, and stereotypes. More representation could also deter subconscious thoughts when designing characters. It is not uncommon for someone black to make a white character given that's what they predominantly exposed to as is the case of this NeoGaf poster. White characters are typically considered the default in a lot of cases and In an audience that constantly complains about games becoming stale this inclusion can be only a good thing.

    2016 is almost at a close and like always there is difficulty to face. Diverse inclusion in the game industry seems to be needed now more than ever.
    Last edited by Depression Moon; 11-29-2016 at 04:47 PM.

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    Unfortunately when it comes to games, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome. I feel mainly some whites that play games tend to show the most discrimination toward characters in media that do not look like them. Hell, I recall reading some of the complaints in regards to Star Wars Episode 7 because a main character would be black as an outside example. It is true that most developers in the gaming industry are going to be Asian or white. Different ethnic groups of people getting more into those type of positions can in the long run fix the lack of variety that may be taking place in the gaming industry as of today.

    Personally, the ethnic of a character doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is if the character can be one I can relate with and/or enjoy for various reasons. At the same time, I am completely open to seeing a larger diversity of focal characters in games.

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    disc jockey to your heart krissy's Avatar
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    1) I didn't give a crap about Mafia until Mafia III, mainly because of the main character and the themes it engages with. So good job whoever makes Mafia games.

    2) Never Alone was great.

    3) I really like Beyond Good & Evil and wanted more. I really like Mirror's Edge.

    4) Good article I agree

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    I often play video games to be someone else. Always looking like a white dude in the games doesn't help with that. I like expanding my horizon, but good and relevant writing is important too to achieve that. Can't just reskin (hah!) a character model and leave it at that.

    I guess you could say that I want diversity because not having diversity is boring.
    Last edited by Mirage; 11-29-2016 at 11:08 AM.
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    Defamation Depression Moon's Avatar
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    More representation could also deter subconscious thoughts when designing characters. It is not uncommon for someone black to make a white character given that's what they predominantly exposed to as is the case of this NeoGaf poster.
    To quote myself on this, I also was subject to this. When I was a child about every character I wrote was either a white guy or girl. It wasn't until my late teens did I start thinking about making characters that looked more like myself.

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    I <3 this post so hard, Depression Moon. Thank you for writing this! It has made my morning.

    I think it can be extremely wearing to look around and not only see no one who looks like you but stories told from the same perspectives again and again. It's that whole thing about how not having your stories told is a kind of silencing or erasure over time. It just gets frustrating and exhausting to so often have to look past lack of representation to enjoy games and media.

    And I totally agree with Mirage that not having diversity is boring.
    "If I were a man, I would eat his heart in the marketplace." - Much Ado About Nothing


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    While I agree that less diversity is boring, I also think that issue ranks pretty low on the list of reasons why diversity in games is important. I feel like the main arguments must be that A) it helps validate the identity and bolster the sense of self-worth for less privileged people, and B) it allows people of privilege to experience perspectives different to their own and thereby develop their empathy for people who live those perspectives.

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    Yes but those things were already mentioned earlier .

    Your B point was kind of my point too.
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    A solid read. One criticism toward the end, though: You argue that Japanese games are more diverse than games developed in the west, but then attribute the lack of diversity in games to be due to the industry being dominated by Japanese white males?

    There are a few other thoughts/critiques I had, but they seem well outside the intended scope of this article and would probably land it in Academia forum territory.

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    Feel the Bern Del Murder's Avatar
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    Even in games where you can create your character you are often left with several subtle shades of pale or dark chocolate for skin color options. It has gotten better recently but in the past it has been silly.

    I like to play characters who are compelling regardless of race. Connor was diverse but a bland ass character. I think this all really starts in the studios hiring more diverse talent. That diversity will then show itself in games. You can't have white dudes trying to pigeonhole Latina or Middle Eastern characters into their games. That's a backwards way to approach it.

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    Defamation Depression Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aulayna View Post
    A solid read. One criticism toward the end, though: You argue that Japanese games are more diverse than games developed in the west, but then attribute the lack of diversity in games to be due to the industry being dominated by Japanese white males?

    There are a few other thoughts/critiques I had, but they seem well outside the intended scope of this article and would probably land it in Academia forum territory.

    In that case while the Japanese make more female leads than western developers it's still rare to find games with people of color or non-heterosexual characters in their games.

    I always wanted to make my own games since I was little and after reaching adulthood and seeing this problem my motivation for owning a game studio has added on a further purpose. I want to contribute adding more black and other characters into video games and become big enough so that others will follow. Like how Final Fantasy influenced me I would want my games to influence other people to get in to the medium.

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    A fantastic article.

    I've got a question for you, Moon: Do you prefer games with predefined black protagonists, or games which allow you to create your own characters?


  13. #13
    Defamation Depression Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Formalhaut View Post
    A fantastic article.

    I've got a question for you, Moon: Do you prefer games with predefined black protagonists, or games which allow you to create your own characters?
    I prefer predefined characters in general so that's what I go with, but to off a point from what Del Murder said, options for black characters in games are bad. Aside from the skin tones you usually might get one or two afro textured hairstyles and they're guaranteed to be an afro or cornrows.

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    Feel the Bern Del Murder's Avatar
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    Male hairstyle options in games are atrocious.

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