We ask our experts what they think about the gaming industry’s approach to diversity, both historically, and in 2019 and beyond.
Jay-Ann Lopez Creator, Black Girl Gamers
Jay-Ann Lopez is the creator of Black Girl Gamers, an online community that aims to positively promote diversity and affect change within the gaming industry. BGG holds events, produces online content and provides insight into the world of gaming from a black – female – perspective. The portal has been featured on BBC Radio and Channel 4, amongst others.
Adam Campbell Games Manager, Azoomee
Adam is co-founder of POC in Play, an organisation designed to build an inclusive industry with a range of exciting new initiatives. He is a member of the British Academy Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) and an award-winning producer with a career spanning a decade in video games. He was featured on Gamesindustry.biz’s 100 Future Talent list in 2018.
Alayna M Cole MD, Queerly Represent Me
Alayna Cole is the managing director of Queerly Represent Me, a non-profit championing queer representation in games. Alayna is also an associate producer at Defiant Development, co-chair of the IGDA LGBTQ+ special interest group, and is an award-winning games journalist and game developer. She was featured on the 2016 and 2017 MCV Pacific 30 under 30, and the 2017 MCV Pacific Women in Games lists.
Ian Hamilton Accessibility expert
Ian Hamilton is an accessibility expert who consults with studios, helping teams to make games inclusive for all. Ian is also on hand to comment on the way disabled characters are represented in games.
Jay-Ann: Female characters have historically been hyper-sexualised for the male gaze in gaming. You can observe this with the various representations of Lara Croft or female characters in action games wearing armour that only covers their extremities and nothing else. I do not believe there is an inherent problem with women being viewed as sexy. However, when it is the only version of women shown, it strips us of our depth and limits us to serving as purely visual objects.
Adam: There’s a long way to go. Representation [in the games we play] still feels incomplete and inconsistent. ‘Diversity’ is the exception rather than the rule.
White characters are in the majority, and we tend to see the full range of representation: personality, style, background, even superpowers! The portrayals can include leaders, they can include criminals, they can include complex personalities and struggles. This range is often missing when you see how other races are depicted in games.
Black characters, for example, have traditionally been shown as quite big and aggressive. Similarly, with Hispanic characters, drug cartel references abound. East Asian characters, especially women, may be presented as more submissive or infantilised. South Asian characters are barely represented at all!
Jay-Ann: Lack of racial diversity definitely has an impact on marginalised people being able to envision and seek a career in any industry. To this day, we still hear of the first non-white person to achieve different feats frequently. Within gaming this breeds an exclusionary culture, into which assimilation means the inability to bring an individual's entire identity to work. This makes it harder for non-white people to enter and succeed in their respective industries. Instances like Gamergate are one example of how a toxic, male-dominant culture can foster hostile work environments for women, and the same concept applies with race and sexual orientation.
Alayna: In triple-A titles [games backed by big budgets, the likes of which have been examined throughout the Diversity in Gaming project], there is a slow journey towards increased representation of diverse sexualities, but it's still slow and largely incidental.
There's still a lack of evidence for major publishers that diverse casts of characters will sell to games’ audiences; there is a lot of historical proof that straight white male protagonists do well on the market, and without enough evidence showing other characters can also succeed, many companies are relying on this 'safe' approach.
However, independent game developers are a different story. Improved access to game development tools and distribution methods are helping us see more diverse games being created by more diverse developers. Many of these are based on individuals' personal stories and give an entirely different perspective on gender and sexuality than triple-A games are currently allowing themselves to explore.
Alayna: LGBTQ+ themes can be incorporated into games and the communities within games the same way they are incorporated into life. Diverse people are everywhere, and just as they are in reality, they should be in the worlds that games create. If developers have trouble seeing this diversity in the world, they need to start by broadening their own circles and communities.
Ian: There’s still a great deal to be done. The world is wonderfully diverse; humanity covers a very broad spectrum. Why should games not reflect that? The same mindset that pushes for higher resolution textures and more accurate physics on a belt should be pushing for representation too.
Adam: I think as a starting point, forging a career in general is challenging for many people, even more so in an industry such a video games, which is seen as cool, and is therefore highly competitive. Everyone wants a fair shot at getting their dream job but the ambition to provide equal opportunities for everyone is regularly modified by individual biases and structural barriers that have not been addressed.
The video game industry has been quite homogeneous for some time. When you’re battling to get into an industry, it’s made harder by other factors, such as the wider industry not really representing you, not necessarily understanding your culture and upbringing, not considering how race and class can be barriers. Whilst these issues are largely not intentional, they’re still in existence.