The video game industry still has to take into account its lack of diversity
The entertainment industries have the demanding task of creating content that properly reflects the communities that consume it. Movements such as #OscarsSoWhite have sparked important conversations about diversity in film and television, and while there is still a long way to go, audiences are seeing a greater variety of actors and stories out there. ‘screen. The gaming industry, however, hasn’t seen such a big push for diversity and representation in video games.
What sets the gaming industry apart from other entertainment industries is the audience itself: “gamers” are still viewed as predominantly heterosexual white males. Although at one point this generalization may have had a certain degree of correctness, in part because the industry itself has largely focused on this demographic throughout its history, the gaming audience. today is continually diversifying. Women make up almost half of the people who play games, and around 10% of gamers are part of the LGBTQ + community, according to last year’s Nielsen Games 360 survey.
A major and growing divide within the community was revealed by GamerGate in 2014, which has largely contributed to the rise of right-wing ideas among gamers. Women in games, from developers to critics with progressive ideals, were subjected to sustained harassment from misogynists, trolls and reactionaries who believed that women were changing the video game industry in a way they did. did not agree. This incident was a revealing look at the mindset of a community that feels entitled to the entire industry itself, and it revealed a political shift to the right within the community that was a direct retaliation for diversification. The retreat of progressive ideals has since continued within the community, and these incidents do not exist in a vacuum.
It has also been clear for years that developers and large companies in the industry have not properly recognized the change in their audience, which can be attributed to the toxic behaviors taking place within the community. In addition to the notoriously hateful online lobbies towards women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ + community, businesses are also facing fan backlash for the smallest of in-game changes that symbolize progression.
Just a few weeks ago, following the Horizon forbidden to the west gameplay reveals, many fans were upset that Aloy lacked “female characteristics” and said she should be “prettier”. Games featuring LGBTQ + characters are also susceptible to hate online. Reactions such as Aloy’s declining appearance might make developers more reluctant to create diverse characters.
The industry is slow to move, and it may appear that these companies are co-signing the behavior of a toxic and hateful audience rather than raising the voices less often heard within their community. Despite much of the backlash targeting LGBTQ + characters, video game franchises such as The last of us and Borders represent change. However, not all characters have their sexuality explicitly revealed, and it is often hidden. This may be due in part to a backlash, but for LGBTQ + fans, it feels like the identities of these characters are being purposely withheld. An example can be found in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Players have a short quest where they are accompanied by a hunter. If they ask a series of correct questions, players discover that the character is gay. If they don’t ask the right questions, it’s never revealed. LGBTQ + characters, while often overshadowed by their identities, are also generally smaller characters in the story.
Diversity in the game is an extremely important aspect of creating representation within the community, but other aspects of development also lack variety. According to a 2018 survey released by the International Game Developers Association, 74% of workers in the industry identify as cis men, and 61% of them are white. This lack of diversity translates into the content of the game.
With the mainstream gaming industry lagging behind, small developers are struggling to represent minority communities. Itch.io currently has 488 indie games listed under the LGBTQIA tag and features a queer pride month game bundle that includes games, software, and zines from over 190 queer artists. The industry as a whole should look to developers like this, not only for an example of how representation can work in games, but as a talent that can help shape the successful games of the future. .
Representation means that these characters cannot simply be symbolic members of the included gaming experience for the sake of diversity. Creating games that properly represent your audience means not only including diverse characters, but representing them in a precise and honest way led by a more diverse set of developers. Players want to be able to see parts of themselves as they play and deserve their lived experience represented in the game, and it is in the industry’s best interest to provide that to them.
Katherine Long is an intern at Paste and a rising senior at American University. She loves hyperpop, rollerblading and video games and can complete Sudoku in 43 seconds.