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RBinator avatar 12:58 PM on 04.26.2010
E for Effort: Diversity


When I sit down and really think about it, video games rarely star a main character that isn't a white heterosexual male. Iím talking about mainstream games here, basically, any retail or downloadable game that can be found on consoles or PC that isn't restricted like hentai games. You may get a white heterosexual female every once in awhile, but otherwise, it seems like developers won't expand outside the majority when it comes to gaming's main characters. Even female characters make up a pretty small percent of main characters, despite them being just about as common as males in real life. Racial minority characters are even less likely to show up than females, even when it comes to secondary and supporting characters. LGBT characters rarely show up at all, even as very minor NPCs. In fact, compared to other media, video games are the least diverse when it comes to this. Maybe I could be proven wrong on this. People may argue that video games are still young, even after 40 years, but I personally don't find that an entirely valid argument. Unlike when films were becoming big and were still young prior to Citizen Kane and beyond, we're not living in an era where racism was very strong, women had limited rights like not being able to vote, and LGBT people were hated even more so than nowadays. So why are the majority of main characters a white heterosexual male? There seems to be numerous factors for this.


Mario, proving that you can be popular and a minority.

Now, Iím not about to get all politically correct here and act like video games must include all kinds of minorities in every game in an attempt to make sure that ďno one gets offended or feel left outĒ. Itís almost like developers think that their target audience canít relate to a character that isnít like themselves or that they have to relate to them in the first place. Never mind that most minorities wonít match whomever their playing as, but they seem to still get by just fine. Still, wouldnít it be nice to know that developers can think outside the box? On the other hand, how many gamers can relate to being a soldier or the over-the-top male rage that makes up many male video game characters? Thereís also the factor that many games come from Japan, which tends to be what, 99% of one race? If art is a reflection of life, than this certainly holds truth here as well.


Many video games... they come from here.

We don't have to go the route of having a near equal male to female ratio, every race on Earth, and the whole LGBT range, including intersexual people, just to make sure everyone feels like their being included and that no one is offended. Ever felt like a minority character felt out of place compared to the rest or that they were hardly developed? It's a double edged sword. It's bad if you do it and bad if you don't. For games in a real world setting that primarily has one race, do we have to put in someone of another race altogether that would basically be out of place? In a war setting that is basically all men out on the battlefield, does there have to be one random woman out there whom would look really out of place?


How about more playable animals?

This is going mostly by human characters since I think itís more trouble than itís worth to argue what race furries or robots are ďsupposed to beĒ aside from voice. Think, how often has a nonwhite heterosexual character been the main star in a game? Again, I'm talking about the main character, not a main character or major supporting character, but the star of the game, the one that you will likely play as the most (if not the whole time), the one who is advertised the most, and so on. It's already rare enough for a female to be the main character, but even rarer for a racial minority character to star and pretty much non-existence for a gay character to be the main character. Another thing to make clear is that this is for pre-defined characters, not those games where you can create your own character. In that case, it would be quite easy to have an old fat Russian lesbian and otherwise be able to create a character to suit yourself almost exactly. That also depends if the character creation system allows you to create females and not just males. Also, race is more complex than a skin tone slider, although games nowadays with such features often give you almost complete control over the facial features as well.


Let's not count out those who wear glasses.

I could go even further, like appearance and disabilities, but this is mainly focused on race, sex, and sexual orientation. However, I'll quickly mention appearance and disabilities. While many male main characters will be average or even ugly looking, that's very rare in the case of female characters, main or not. Most will be pleasing to the eye, at least according to the Male Gaze. To be fair, I think even many female players would have trouble accepting a female main character who they don't think looks nice, based on the idea that women are supposed to look pretty. Most video game characters tend to be idealized after all. Many males would prefer to play a male character that is strong and not considered a weakling. As for disabilities, how often does that ever show up in video games? Maybe physical disabilities have shown up, but mental ones? Couldn't that lead to more interesting characters and story where everyone isn't "normal-able" or super-able? In fact, I think disabled video game characters are even rarer than LGBT characters. What about hovering wheelchairs equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers? Surely that's been done. However, characters with disabilities does pose a great risk of backlash if done wrong, like with any other kind of minority, but maybe even more so.


Somehow Chell got away with not falling high on the pretty scale.

I think that many developers are too scared that they might screw up a character that is part of any minority. The more of a minority a character is, the more of a risk it is. How many developers want to work on a big budget game that's supposed to be "the next big thing" for over three years and risk getting blasted by tons of gamers and the media when they can play it safe? It's already hard enough to make a female character, that even if not sexualized, will have some aspect that will lead to backlash from certain people. A black character? Well, gonna be extra careful there. Iíll get back to that in a moment, especially due to a certain game that got a lot of backlash for racism, real or not. A gay character? Good luck getting great sales since many people don't like homosexuality and most of them are the ones looking to buy the game. A transgender character? Forget it. Many people don't even know what that word means. Even a lot in the gay community would have trouble accepting a transgender character or just flat out hate such a character. Just because the LGBT community has the name LGBT doesn't mean all the letters of the community get along that well. 'Course, any community has a chance to not get along that well, but just saying.


Beyond race & ethnicity.

On the subject of racial minorities, how many are the main character of a game that isn't an IP from another media or 50 Cent? Now I'm not saying that 50 Cent's games were designed to appeal to blacks because that's what the developers thought the community wanted, but instead, may have been designed more for well, 50 Cent fans. Many black characters often tend to be supporting characters or NPCs. Black characters also tend to be "gangsters" or comedy relief. Not saying that's always the case, but it's there.


Might as well cup a feel out of this before things get ugly...

I think Resident Evil 5 might have a big factor in this. I know this is digging up a dead horse that everyone pretty much decided where they stand on the issue, but how can I talk about race in gaming without bringing this up? After all the backlash it got, how many other developers want take a risk like that? The first trailer has a white man (Chris Redfield) fighting a bunch of black people. Well, we know how well that went over with certain folks. Nearly a year later, we would learn that Chris has a partner who is non-white and other races show up among the enemies. The developers claimed that this has nothing to do with the backlash, but how many people brought that, including those who defended the game? Later still, we found out about Sheva's bonus outfit and enemies later on in that game that dress like tribesmen and throw spears. Regardless of where you stand on the subject, the end result is that I think many developers won't want to get near a subject like that for a while.


Rockstar Games has a habit of having diverse playable characters, at least males.

I donít want to make the big mistake of talking about race and acting like only whites and blacks exist. There are other groups too, like the Hispanics, Latinos, Spanish, French, Russians, Germans, and more. Heck, one of gamingís biggest icons is an Italian-American, along with being shorter than average and somewhat fat. Fighting games tend to feature a wide range of ethnic groups. While fighting games tend to lack a truth main character, the closest thing to them will often be one or two characters that will likely be Japanese or American.


Hey ladies, these games are what you gals like to play right?

As for women, well, that's still rare. Even "noble" efforts to apply to females have been highly stereotypical. Look at how many games "for women", especially on the DS, imply that women are interested in cooking and other household duties instead of punching someone's face in or putting a bullet through their skull. Even the better rated ones and those that a guy would actually admit to playing, like Super Princess Peach, managed to do something wrong, in this case, the stereotype about emotions and women. Like I said, the difficulties of reaching a certain audience. It still basically comes down to "designed by men for women" instead of "designed by women for women". Even then, if we somehow got a development team of women only, would they end up doing something similar or just focus on making a great game without worry about directly appealing to women? To go over this briefly, as this isnít a c-blog about marketing to females, shouldn't more effort be focused on just making a great game without worrying about if men or women will play it? Naturally, certain types of games like shooting games will draw in more males than females, but it doesn't mean that isn't any women that don't like to play such games.

On another note, how often does a female main character in a game get any kind of romance? For genres like RPGs where it's common for there to be romance, a male main character often gets into some kind of relationship. For female main characters, this is much rarer. Are the writers just unable to figure out how to write romance from a female point of view? Maybe they don't want to mess it up, so they just avoid the subject altogether. Really, couldn't the companies just hire a couple of female writers. In fact, couldn't it be argued that a really good writer can write from points of view other than their own?

When it comes to LGBT main characters, well, that's pretty much non-existence. The few LGBT characters that exist tend to be supporting characters. No, I'm not about to take a "quick trip" to TVTropes to find every single mention of homosexuality in gaming, since there is no such thing as a "quick trip" to that site. Most gay video game characters are male, likely to avoid the backlash of "cratering to heterosexual boys with hot lesbians" and to look like a ďmore seriousĒ take on the subject. Really, itís almost like lesbianism doesnít go over as well as male homosexuality since it doesnít seem to be viewed as seriously. In most games where you can have a gay relationship, it's through a character you shape yourself and isn't pre-defined. In fact, there is only one main character that I can think of that was gay and that's the main character of Fear Effect 2. It was more of a "hot lesbians" thing than anything else. Otherwise, that would lead to far too many problems for the average developer looking to minimize risk and maximize profit.


They're not female, really, they're not! They just happen to look that way...

Even Bioware, who commonly allowed gay relationships (at least lesbian ones), suddenly acted like the first Mass Effect had no lesbian sex. The second game to my knowledge features no LGBT content. To be clear, I'm not saying that just because most of their games had a gay option doesn't mean that all of them need one. Let's see, there were unused clips for gay options in both games, so clearly they thought about it and even at least somewhat came close to putting it in. As for the Asari race, Bioware can tell us that they are mono-gendered and not women, but who's buying that? All of them that we seen look and sound female, not to mention they get addressed by female pronouns. Just because they can reproduce beyond normal female ways doesnít mean they still wonít be treated as female otherwise. They couldn't just say "we avoided gay relationships in this game to avoid backlash again", but instead, dodged around the issue.

Although I keep hearing about how the average gamer is an adult and that up to 40% of gamers are women, the Internet tells another tale that I'm far more likely to believe. Games would get hit so hard with "what's the point of the main character being gay?" that it likely isn't even worth it for most publishers. The usual racist, sexist, homophobia gamer would go into nerd rage. Fox News will be all like "won't someone think of the children?" Even many in the LGBT community will be like "a character shouldn't just be gay for the sake of it".


Let's not be ageism here. Old timers can keep up as well.

So how much longer will video games play it safe before attempting more diverse main characters that isn't forced, stereotypical, or in a side role? Surely among the community here, someone has more examples of minorities being the star of a game and otherwise a step closer to the gaming media being taken more seriously by ďoutsidersĒ.

Tagged:    cblog    Opinion Editorial  

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