By the year 2020, the video game market is projected to make over 90 billion US dollars (Best The News 2016). This revenue not only includes the sale of video games, but also the gaming systems, additional gear like mouse, controllers, or headsets, and Downloadable Content or DLC as it’s known in the gaming world. So imagine how much the average gamer spends on all this equipment in a year. Then imagine how much the average Youtuber or Live gaming streamer invests to have the latest and greatest tech equipment to keep their content booming. I say this to emphasize how much money gaming companies make off the over 2 billion gamers in the world.
Now, to break this down further, there is still a strong belief that white males are the largest and most active group of gamers and while there is still some truth in this, the future is gearing up for the next wave of gaming. According to an article titled, “The Era of White Male Games for White Male Gamers is Ending” by Damon Packwood, about 83% of African American teens play video games compared to 71% white teens while Latinx youth have been found to play games for the longest amount of time. Female gamers are also grabbing more controllers and joining the gaming world making up about 45%. So, if the future of gamers are starting to be more diverse, why is it that some games are still lacking so much diversity?
Of course, diversity can’t be applied to every game. For example, unless there is an entire secret world of people that could turn into dragons, I’m pretty sure we can’t argue for Spyro to be more inclusive. However, game genres like Role Playing Games (RPGs), First Person Shooters (FPSs), Life Simulations games, and even educational games shouldn’t have many if any excuse to not be diverse. If the generation to come is going to be the predominant group playing videos games, they should have the option to both create avatars that reflect their reality and see storyline characters that do the same. This leads in main point which is the gaming world needs work in both the content available in the game and within the companies that develop the games.
In regards to character customization and avatar choices, the options have often been limited. To help explain this in better detail, I’ll using the book Gaming Representation by Jennifer Malkowski and Treaandrea Russworm. The author kicks off explaining the complexity of representation but stating “First, representation is not fully separate from the implicitly hard-core elements of games: it is achieved through and dependent on player and machine actions, on code, and on hardware, not just on surface-level images and sounds.”(2). Breaking down this statement, I understand the authors to be saying that representation in not a desperate element from the game. Instead it is deeply woven in for purpose of supporting a theme, storyline, or even time period. For example, when games only place female characters (whom are usually white) in them as damsels in distress, it’s to benefit the main protagonist or in other words, the character the games usually controls. In these cases, the protagonist is a white male character with an athletic build verifying yet another part of life dependent on the white savior complex. Male characters of color aren’t traditionally found in the hero role and if they are, it’s as a computer controlled sidekick that the protagonist interacts with. Instead, male character of color are often found in sports games like Maddenor Fifa. This can create a psychological effect that teaches men of color that they aren’t the heroes in the story and women feel gutted when they are limited to victim rolls.
This doesn’t stop at skin color or gender either. A characters hair type, body type, voice, and accuracy to the content matters as well. It’s nonsensical to describe a character as a southern male but the voice actor sounds like they never stepped out of the concrete jungle that is New York. Not every gamer wants to play with a super lean, athletic character either. There’s nothing wrong with providing options for curvy, short, and average built avatars. Now I understand how this may not make perfect sense in an action game but for Life Simulation games, this would be amazing to offer. Afros for black avatars shouldn’t look like cauliflower and not every Latina woman (when they are actually adding it the game) wears their hair in a top bun. Also, women don’t have to look like sex icons while trying to destroy their enemies. Thank goddess the newer Mortal Kombatfranchise has finally learned this which leads into the second tier of this representation problem.
You can’t create what you can’t sew and you can’t self project on someone you’re not meant to be anything like. In the year 2019, there should be no reason that development teams don’t have females and people of color on their payroll. It’s also extremely important to not just hire diverse people, but do not tokenize them. Don’t hire them to say you did, actually let them be directly involved in the creative process and don’t be afraid to ask them about accuracy. A middle eastern female would be much more able to tell the team if any accents or customs are accurate than an American white male would when create a middle eastern character. Job discrimination is still very real but if you intend to profit from people of color and women buying your product, you owe it to your gaming community to have those same kind of people creating your games. An example of this is the game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege which is owned by the gaming company Ubisoft. With a current count of 46 operator selection options in this first person shooter, the operators are from various different CTUs (counter terrorist unit) from their different respective countries and the devs responsible for creating these characters are both men and women from those countries. A great example for future FPS.
Overall, the gaming industry has some work to do if they hope to appeal to the coming generations. We need more badass female heroines like the revamped Lara Croftand more avatar customization options like Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. We need more gaming companies dedicated to inclusion and gender equality in their games and in their staff. The future is diverse.
Malkowski, Jennifer, and TreaAndrea M. Russworm. Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games. Indiana University Press, 2017.
Packwood, Damon, and Damon Packwood. “The Era of White Male Games for White Male Gamers Is Ending.” Quartz, Microsoft , 31 Oct. 2018, qz.com/1433085/the-era-of-white-male-games-for-white-male-gamers-is-ending/.
Tee-Tee is a senior in her last semester here at ODU. She’s super creative which can lead to her zoning out and creating different scenarios or ideas that may or may not actually come true. She’s super passionate about equal rights especially for the black community. She has no problem speaking her mind but she genuinely loves helping others in any positive way that she can. She loves decorating her body with tattoos, nail art (especially since she’s a nail tech), and changing her hairstyles as often as she can as a form of self expression.