Is there enough inclusivity, diversity and representation in today’s games?
In a recent interview, Overwatch director, Jeff Kaplan, explained how he and his team looked at the issue of inclusivity whilst creating new game ideas for Blizzard.
As well as mulling over gameplay and locations, Jeff’s team gave a lot of thought to their characters, and the subject of inclusivity. As a result, they made one of the snipers within the game an older American woman. And another character was depicted to be in a lesbian relationship, according to her backstory.
Let’s face it, the angry, muscly ‘soldier-type’ character has been done. But was Jeff’s team right to include these? Could this be the gateway to the world seeing more minority characters and personality-types in games?
Though Jeff states their motivation was more to do with experimentation than making a political statement, it presents the question: do gamers actually want to see themselves, or a representation of people they know, within the games they play?
Beamdog director, David Gaider, believes inclusivity should be a natural occurrence. Otherwise, he says, “You risk shoving your message down people’s throat at the same time as ignoring your core audience.” He sees the subject as a “Pandora’s Box”, that can attract complaints from the people you’re looking to include, as well as those you’re sidelining.
He says, “The moment you try to address the issues of inclusivity, you'll feel like you're stepping into a minefield. Including minority characters isn't enough, often it's about how you include them. Do they fall into negative tropes or stereotypes, or do they have any negative qualities which could be conceived as such? Though you may receive some positive media attention for your efforts, it will feel like you can never do enough. You’ve included a gay character, great! But what about trans-characters, asexuals, demisexuals? Black characters? What about Asians or native Americans? The problem is that, through one game, you cannot represent the entire breadth of humanity.”
Commercial influences and an ever-changing society has seen dating app Tinder make changes. Perhaps prompted by a growing market, who are now less afraid to voice their sexual preferences and orientations, the company recently introduced more gender options that a user could choose from. Their aim: “to create more meaningful connections”.
Revenue and business, according to Martin Cooper, from the BCS, are indeed good reasons to create a game title or app with diversity woven throughout. He points out that, in a world where everything is driven by data, consumer tastes, trends and statistics, marginalising any aspect of society is a bad idea. Innovation is what drives everything forward, and by making unusual aspects more ‘normal’, you can open up completely new markets.
Diversity and inclusivity is not just an issue that concerns the games themselves, it’s also relevant to the teams creating them. After all, how can a group of young, white, male developers know how a native American grandmother would think, feel or act? Says Theresa McHenry, Microsoft’s HR Director, “Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.”
Though the above is a brief argument for and against inclusivity in gaming, it may be a question that soon becomes irrelevant; it may eventually drive itself - because, what the market wants, the market usually gets. One thing we’d have to agree with is that, for true authenticity, and a greater depth of understanding regarding any minority, there should be diversity and inclusivity behind the screen, as well as on it.