Dear Games Industry, we need a chat about diversity

Hello Games Industry,

You probably know who I am already, but in case you don’t, I’m Chris. I’m your ideal consumer, the one you market your every single effort at; a white male with stubble. Don’t believe me? Here I am…

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Sorry, it’s a crappy webcam photo, but this is all a bit short notice.

The thing is, I wasn’t joking above when I described myself as the ideal consumer. Skin colour and gender aside, I’m old enough to be able to buy any game I want, and young enough to appreciate them as an art form and storytelling medium. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they’re perhaps the most exciting storytelling medium we have available to us. The direct player interaction makes them unlike things like books and films, where the audience are merely passive observers.

I also spend a good chunk of my disposable income on these things. I lined up at midnight for my Playstation 4. This year alone I’ve bought games such as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Infamous Second Son, Transistor, and most recently, Watch Dogs.

I am not the fly by night Call of Duty player who only buys one game a year. Later this year I’m looking into Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, Destiny, and that’s just the stuff in the triple A space.

But here’s the thing (and I’m side eyeing you here Ubisoft), why all the dudes? Specifically, white dudes with stubble. You want to represent me, and honestly I’m flattered by the way, but what the hell? Two very good friends of mine are women who love Assassin’s Creed. Ubisoft, you recently said you can’t put female avatars in Unity because it requires too much work. These games are made by literally thousands of people! Are you honestly telling me that nobody there could attach the current animations to a female rig? I happen to know you’ve got one from the Aveline content in Black Flag. Because the message you’re essentially sending to me and my friends is that my money is worth more to you than theirs. Despite them buying in all the way on your franchise with the Pop figures and comic spinoffs.

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And let’s talk about Watch Dogs a bit. Aiden Pearce, quite aside from the silly name, is as dull as dishwater. More boring than Desmond Miles, who was at least pulled through by a solid performance from Nolan North. Aiden growls his way through every conversation, whether it’s a heated argument with his nemesis, or just saying hello to his sister at his nephew’s birthday party. Honestly, he’s the worst part of the game, and I’m not quite sure what the thought process was here. Maybe by having a protagonist so devoid of interesting characteristics you figured I could project myself onto the blank canvas like the silent FPS heroes?

Look, I haven’t finished the game yet, but as of the start of act 2, you’ve introduced three named women. Lena, Aiden’s niece, died as the inciting incident for his revenge story. Nicole, his sister, who has been kidnapped so I can be the heroic dude who rescues her (come on, really?) And Clara the Dedsec hacker, who is actually in danger of being an interesting character, so I have some hope on that front.

Ubisoft, I’m telling you all this out of love. Of the big publishers left, you’re my favourite. I do really enjoy Assassin’s Creed still. And you are the only publisher willing to risk making huge titles set in time periods like the Crusades, the Renaissance, the American Revolution, the French Revolution etc. As you say, history is your playground. So why is it only the playground of white dudes? Are you really telling my friends they’re only worth being represented in a handheld spinoff game? Or that black people are to be relegated to DLC? Freedom Cry, by the way, was excellent. I’d have gladly paid for a full Adewale game in the vein of Brotherhood.

It’s not good enough. I wasn’t joking above when I said I’m your ideal consumer. And by only representing me, you’re not only turning off everyone else, you’re also boring me. I won’t lie, I’m going to buy Unity. But when next E3 rolls around and I’m seeing another stubbled white guy and your creative director is stammering out excuses about it being too hard to represent anyone else, that’s a decision I’ll have to rethink.

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This post has mostly been addressed at Ubisoft, but I’m looking at you too, everyone else. Sucker Punch, I’m really excited for Infamous First Light. Fetch was my favourite of the Second Son characters. Maybe next time we can get a full game for her or someone like her, rather than being a supporting player who gets some DLC? Naughty Dog, same goes for you. The Last of Us was really Ellie’s story as told through the eyes of Joel, and that was cool. You know what would be cooler, if we do get a sequel? Ellie’s story as told through the eyes of Ellie.

Telltale, good job. Seriously. Season one of The Walking Dead dared to do something different and it paid off in spades. I can’t wait to marathon season two when that final episode comes out. Some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in any game in recent memory. Keep it up.

I firmly believe that video games can be the most exciting ways to tell stories in the 21st century. But first, we need to diversify the kinds of stories we tell. Why, in 2014, do we still point to Lara Croft as our best example of a gaming heroine? She was created in 1996. Does it strike anyone as good enough that it’s been nearly two decades and we’ve yet to come up with anything better?

We can tell stories about fantasy lands full of dragons and demons, or the colonisation of distant galaxies filled with different alien species, or the most tumultuous periods in history. Is it really so hard to think we can tell a story about someone who isn’t a white man?

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One thought on “Dear Games Industry, we need a chat about diversity

  1. THANK YOU! As a gamer-mom, it kills me to watch my gamer-daughter only really have Samus to “idolize” in the video game world. Samus. Who’s first game came out when I was her age and she was nothing more than an 8-bit pixelated mess. And we didn’t even know she was a she. Now she runs around in a skin-tight suit with boobs so massive each one is individually the size of her own head. Because that’s what she was reduced to when she got her reboot.

    My daughter plays games for the same reasons I play games, which is the same reason you play the games. The stories are engaging; its so much more entertaining than television. The artwork is beautiful. And when I look back at my first gaming experience- the one that hooked me (which was an intellivision in the early 80s)- I am constantly amazed by how the industry and the technology has evolved in such a short time.

    And then I look at giant-breasted Samus. And all I can do is shake my head.

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