Ha. No. I just thought I should get that out of the way first, just to make sure there’s no confusion on that matter. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any period of time should probably know that by now (I hope). In fact, I’m very much pro-equality (I didn’t do my Master’s in human rights because I thought it would be a fun way to pass the time). It’s something I strongly believe in. I realise this issue, ‘diversity in games’ has been explored countless times by many many different people, so your finger may understandably be hovering over the back button. Before you click it though, I would like to say that I do think I have my on view to add to the mix for those of you who are interested. It’s this – although I am a strong proponent of equal rights, I also believe in free speech and don’t believe that equality should or can be achieved as aggressively as some people (well meaning thought they may be) seem to believe. Of course, this is just my personal view on the matter, I’m not at all saying I’m right or that there necessarily is even a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to look this issue.
First off, I should make it clear that I think it would be amazing if there was greater diversity in games. I think few people would deny that games as a whole are dominated by white muscular straight men. Sure there are the exceptions – Tomb Raider for example, but generally most AAA titles coming out now as well as most of the classic games of the past like the Mario and Zelda franchises feature straight, white male protagonists. Those that don’t usually just give you a choice between playing a male or female character like the Mass Effect trilogy rather than ‘forcing’ the decision upon you. I’m not saying lack of diversity is not an issue. Of course I wish there was more diversity in main characters or even side characters. Think about it, I’m a double whammy, an Asian female living in one of the whitest countries around. I’ve got minority-ness coming out of my ears! Growing up, I do wish I had more characters like me to look up to, especially when I was growing up in Hong Kong. For all its insane technological advances it’s still, in many ways, very backwards as a society and trust me, being a geeky tomboy wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. A strong non-white female character would have been a huge morale boost.
However, I approach sexism or racism in games the same way I do in real life (both are things I’ve had to deal with quite a bit in my life). I’ll either discuss it if it’s someone worth talking about it with or in most cases just ignore it and move on, because nine times out of ten there will be nothing I can say or do to change the other person’s mind. Obviously if any sort of abuse is being targeted at someone else, I’ll always step in and tell the other person to back off, but I see that as different – it’s more about protection of others than about trying to get someone to change their mind. It’s not because I don’t believe in fighting for change, but because I think trying to talk to someone who’s not willing to listen is like bashing your head against a brick wall – in the end the brick wall will probably still be standing and the only one who will be hurt is you. Also, I believe people are allowed to have their opinion, even if its heinous, unless they’re actively trying to injure or harm others whether through actions or words.
It’s a fine line to walk of course and it’s not always clear when things have gone too far, but I think with most modern games it’s pretty clear that the lack of diversity or any racial or gender steretypes employed aren’t really about trying to send a strong message. It’s usually about the money. Sure, making a game is a creative enterprise, but honestly, in this day and age if developers aren’t realistic in targeting their audiences, there won’t be any games for them to be creative about. There are few studios that are large enough to really take that chance and be really bold. For those devs that go for it anyway, good on them!
I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any discussion of course. I think informed discussion is definitely part of trying to change uninformed opinions, but I just don’t feel entitled to ask devs to make their games more inclusive. As a creative project, it’s really up to them. What do I know, as a consumer, about what their vision is? I can certainly provide feedback to help them improve their product, but in the end what they produce and all its major components are up to the creators, the people with the vision. Even if what they put out is a load of crap, my power as the gamer is to not buy the game or if I really despise that developer or their vision, boycott them entirely. People talk about developers having a duty to push for change and greater equality, but I don’t really buy into that. I don’t think they have a duty any more than film makers have a duty to make movies with specific messages. There are all sorts of movies out there, some of them contain messages of peace and equality, while others are downright offensive.
What I find strange is how offended some gamers seem to get by the content of some games. I’m not saying I don’t understand the discomfort. When I started Far Cry 3, before it clicked for me that it was intended to be subversive, I found parts of it very difficult to sit through. I’m glad I stuck it out as it wasn’t at all the game I had initially been expecting. The point is that I could have stopped playing. If it offended me so much, I could have made that choice. I could have stopped and gone online, given it a bad review and whatever else I felt was necessary. However, although I have no problem pointing out if I feel a game is overtly discriminatory in a way that’s damaging and hurtful, I don’t feel like I have the right to demand that developers put in more female or non-white or gay/bisexual/transgender characters for the sake of it or in the name of diversity. I just don’t think that would be helpful.
Personally, I don’t really have a problem with any of the Dead or Alive or Grand Theft Auto games that intentionally objectify women. It clearly appeals to some people. There’s a market for it and it doesn’t actively attempt to hurt or exploit anyone, so why not? The truth is that sex does sell. A lot of people want that kind of content in a game. If the content isn’t exploitative or illegal, even if it’s objectionable, I think it should be perfectly fine that games like that exist alongside more thoughtful games like BioShock Infinite. That’s what being in a free market is about! Maybe in the future there’ll be more games that objectify men in the same way and I won’t have a problem with that either. Jiggle away! Or… whatever the equivalent is for guys. I don’t think games like this will ever really disappear and I don’t think that ‘s a problem. In a free-thinking society, there’ll be people with all kinds of desires and opinions and as a result, all kinds of content to cater to them. As times change and opinions change, what’s considered mainstream will naturally shift. I think that approaching the issue aggressively or judgmentally (however well meaning and pro-equality) will only push those on the cusp into the arms of those busty beauties and create contention without solving anything.
What if they do start adding in more female, non-white, non-straight characters? It’s great to have role models, but that doesn’t mean that those of us in the minority will necessarily flock to those game or that we’ll get anymore enjoyment out of the game. In fact, I’ve always played male characters, even when there’s the option of playing a female character. Just because I’m a woman, it doesn’t mean I want to play a woman in games. I don’t play games so that I can play characters that are exactly like myself. I’m looking forward to the day when none of this matters, when developers can focus on creating interesting characters and not worry about what race or gender or sexual orientation or religion they are. In the meantime, I feel that as a gamer, I can enjoy whatever games they throw at me, as long as they’re fun and interesting.
As I said, I think things will change over time as each year sees shifts in the gaming demographic and in the industry itself. Diversity is great, but not by hampering creative processes. Most of the well known devs are white and male, so I can understand why they might think they have trouble relating to other perspectives, at least at the moment, but there’s greater diversity in the workplace year by year and I have no doubt that we’ll see that reflected in the games that are made. I think that by making too much noise about it constantly or focusing on the issue only adds more fuel to the fire and will end up drowning out any well meaning messages or justified opinions. That’s why this is the only time I plan to write about this subject. I just had things I needed to say. I’d rather just keep gaming quietly, buy the products I like, ignore the ones that don’t appeal to me and eagerly look forward to the day where race or gender or sexual orientation and so on won’t even be a major factor in decision making. For now, that’s all I have to say on the matter.