Diversity in Games (and Other Media)

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Nothing like a sinus infection & viral bronchitis combo to slow your week, topped off with busting up your phone! At I can say that I am on the mend; as for the phone, that remains to be seen.

Since the Daily Post doesn’t have this week’s photo challenge up yet, here’s a topic that crossed my mind again recently and does on occasion when I’m writing or designing, or just reading about games and media in general: diversity. I’ll be talking mostly about games here, but a lot of this applies to other media like movies, TV, comics, and so forth, so expect some crisscrossing of that line.

It’s no big secret or shock that most game protagonists are the default white male. Most designers are white men, and historically their target demographic has been white males. It still baffles me that some people react some strongly against this “status quo” being changed or challenged, but that’s a different topic altogether. I understand why this is the default–the old adage of “write what you know” is a powerful and natural direction to take when writing. It’s easiest to imagine yourself as the protagonist of a story. If you were to take a look at all my writing and roleplaying characters over the years, you’d find that most of them were female, white, with red or brown hair. This, and likewise the default white casts or male white protagonists of TV shows, movies and games did not stick out to me as odd for a long time. 

But over the years, I like to think I’ve become a more savvy and educated consumer of media, and now it does strike me as…not odd, but something that shouldn’t be so default. So whenever I find something that is changing that up, I’m always glad to see it. This struck me the other day about a webcomic I highly enjoy, Namesake. The main character is a female African-American (at least I think so–her actual ethnicity has never been remarked upon that I can recall); her younger sister is the same; and two other main characters are purple- and green-skinned! (Well, they are from Oz.) They aren’t the exceptions either, the entire cast is fairly diverse. It includes some white characters, but they’re no more dominant than any other race, really. And the two creators, judging by their cartoonish self-portraits, are both white; it’s a nice little plus to see creators making their main characters not just like them. 

A game example of this is TellTale’s hit series The Walking Dead. In both seasons, the main character is African American, and the cast is fairly diverse. Leaning towards a majority of white characters, maybe (I haven’t taken headcount). Season 2’s protagonist is even more unusual in that you’re playing a game about surviving the zombie apocalypse as a 10-year-old girl. When does that ever happen, much less become an award-winning and hugely popular game for it?

In both cases, race actually matters very little in the universe of the comic or the game. It literally is just a color palette choice that never comes up in the story itself. Which could lead you to think, then why does it matter? Well, it matters because representation is important. Everyone wants to get a chance to be the hero, or to see someone like them be the hero. When I was a little girl and just discovering computer games, I had hardly any experience with games and their default settings. Some Atari games, some Nintendo games maybe, and a few computer games. But when I had the chance to play King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, I was so incredibly excited to play a game where the girl was the hero. Fictional characters can be inspirations and role models, and that’s why it matters. Because anyone can be a hero–and they deserve a chance to see themselves that way.

 

Who are some of your favorite game, movie or TV characters that are diverse and deviate from the ‘default’ setting?

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One response »

  1. One of my favourites has to be Manny Calavera. We don’t know what his ethnicity was, because he’s dead. He speaks Spanish and English and he’s a perfect Noir character. I always found him fascinating and the first time I played the game I loved that I could understand both languages he spoke.

    There were never overweight nerdy characters in games, at least not the ones I played so I never saw myself completely represented in them hahaha

    While reading this article I tried to think back on the games I’ve played and you’re absolutely right, the vast majority are white guys as protagonists. And while I couldn’t go through Walking Dead Season 2 (too annoyed at unending gloom of it) I do agree it’s amazing they had you play as a little girl in a Zombie game, especially when historically no one ever mentions or has children in horror films.

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