Video games do not have a good reputation as a vehicle for diversity. The stereotype of a gamer is that of an angry straight white guy akin to The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy. It can also seem like every game on the shelves depicts the plight of a pleasantly toned straight white guy. There is a problem of diversity at the heart of the industry as discovered by a 2017 report. The survey of 963 game developers discovered that the clear majority are straight white men.
Being a straight white guy (angry or otherwise) is not inherently bad and indeed the issue of hyper-masculinity in the media is an important and serious one. The diversity of gamers, however, isn’t reflected in the industry. As gaming grows, the audience grows with it. There is a need for games to reflect that audience and all the many different people in it. Encouragingly, an IGDA report also found that 85% of respondents thought diversity in game content was important. The following 3 game characters give an encouraging view of diversity in games.
Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
Lara Croft is one of the oldest and most recognisable video game characters in the medium’s history. Appearing in 1996 and flanked by a decidedly male dominated ensemble of characters, Lara held her own selling over 60 million copies since her debut. Today’s Lara has more depth and more character, helping to make her more of a developed person and less of a gun with boobs. The fact that Lara has been present and influential in the industry for nearly 22 years shows that a female protagonist can be just as successful as any gun-wielding white man.
Bayek – Assassin’s Creed Origins
Bayek, while certainly an angry straight man, is the first dark-skinned protagonist in the Assassin’s Creed series. The last Assassin’s Creed title, Syndicate, featured the first female protagonist and while the title itself didn’t sell brilliantly, the fan reception to Evie was favourable. Bayek’s reception, however, has been fantastic. The launch sales of Origins doubled those of Syndicate and has brought Assassin’s Creed back to the forefront. Bayek is an awesome example of the kind of success possible with POC characters.
Chloe Price – Life is Strange
The first Life is Strange released in 2015 and was praised for tackling the issues of modern adolescence, but the prequel, released in 2017 really pushed LGBT+ themes. One route the player can pursue is to start a romantic relationship between protagonist Chloe Price and her friend Rachel Amber. Chloe herself is, by the time of the first game, a hardened and sarcastic teenage rebel, but the prequel shows her growing into her rebellious nature, encouraged by Rachel. Life is Strange was received well and Chloe is an interesting character to explore adolescence and fledgling love.
We’re making progress perhaps, but it would be nice to live in a time where having a diverse cast is not a selling point or marketing angle, but instead the norm. I live in hope, but this is not going to happen until we see more diversity in the industry itself.