[Rant] The State of Minorities in Gaming


72955_4558477115560_844551961_nSince Black History Month is wrapping up I wanted to touch upon an issue that is relevant to it and me: the general state of minorities in gaming. Now before I get started, I want to clarify what I mean by the term “minorities.” Since the standard use of the word refers to all people of non-Caucasian origins, that will be the definition I’ll be referring to. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a list counting down my top minority characters in gaming. The response was a little different than I had anticipated. That surprising response made me take a long and hard look at gaming culture as a whole and I thought that this feature would be a good outlet for me to share my thoughts.

Sad but true

Sad but true

Reading through the comments and tweets about my top 10 list, I found a few people that enjoyed the article and maybe had some suggestions for additions to the list or even some constructive criticisms of any additions or omissions. The majority of the responses were anything but helpful, though. I’ll come back to this point in a bit. What I wanted to focus on now was the list of candidates I had compiled for my list. Coming up with any number of minority characters in gaming isn’t THAT hard. The hard part is finding some that aren’t blatant stereotypes. Black characters are portrayed as either thugs and gangsters like Playboy X or Dwayne Forge in GTA IV, the loud and loyal soldier like Cole Train from the Gears of War series, or the bumbling, funny sidekick like Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII. Latino, Asian, and Native-American characters, for the most part, aren’t portrayed any better. Yes, there are good portrayals of every race but they are few and far between. I’d love to see more game devs giving minority characters the spotlight without having them fit into one of the mentioned stereotypes. Ubisoft has shown that doing extensive research to get historically accurate representations of characters and cultures is a feasible method. I’m not saying every studio needs to go out and hire minorities or spend huge amounts of money and time researching people of different backgrounds, but if they’re making a game set in modern times, how hard would it be to go talk to a few people of different ethnicities to make a better minority character than a typical stereotype?

Video game census - 2009

Video game census – 2009

Going back to the responses I got, for the most part they were either dismissive or downright negative and hostile. This is, in my opinion, one of the gaming community’s biggest problems (myself included). When any sort of criticism comes our way, whether deservedly or not, we go into instant hyper-defensive mode. We immediately accuse the offending party of being too uptight or not being able to take a joke or being ignorant. Too often, someone makes a race/gender/sexual orientation joke and if anyone objects, they are instantly put down as not being able to take a joke. As an art form  how can we expect gaming to grow and evolve if we don’t take a step back and accept some criticism? Another negative is the blatant racism (and sexism) that seems to be part and parcel of playing online. I had my fill of being called a “f***ot”, “n***er”, or “fucking terrorist” pretty quick after first playing online and stuck to playing offline or in a closed party with only friends. Since most of my friends are from a minority background, the gamers among them have their own bigotry stories. This video in particular showcases some of the ignorant, hateful speech some people have to deal with. [youtube]http://youtu.be/6A52sGTUhXU[/youtube]

Representation by race - 2009

Representation by race – 2009

This is a far reaching issue that can’t be fixed over a short period of time. There has to be changes from the developers down to the consumer level. Developers can try to design games around more minority characters or at least stop basing the few characters of color that they do design on useless stereotypes. I know I’m getting tired of playing as a grizzled looking white male with brownish hair. I’d like to see more heroes and heroines of different races like Faith from Mirror’s Edge, or Lee from The Walking Dead. I feel that seeing more and more diversity in games people are playing will curb at least some of the bigotry running rampant in online gaming. It would be hard to call someone a nigger if their avatar was of African-American character. I’ll never forget something I heard from Polygon’s Justin McElroy at PAX East 2012 during a panel discussion; which was (and I’m paraphrasing here) if you’re not a white male, the gaming industry needs you to add your voice to the discussion. How the gaming community deals with this major issue could affect how we are perceived by the world for decades to come. If this topic interests you, i would highly recommend reading Evan Narcisse‘s recent articles for Kotaku, David Brothersarticle for Comics Alliance, and Louie Castro-Garcia‘s article for Venture Beat. With so many different outlets reporting on this topic, I hope that more people will become aware of this problem and join the struggle to resolve it.

(Graphs via New Scientist)

  • MikeEaton

    Phenomenal stuff, Muaz. You are the King in the castle.

    • muazimusprime

      Thanks Mike!

  • Bandeapart

    Good read, I’ve always found it strange how common the white male lead is (as a white male), even more so now that I am in China which leads to me seeing the east asian games market a lot more. I always found it confusing how certain games such as Final Fantasy seemed to lack asian leads, or you would play as a white american. Stranger still when you consider Japans 98.5% japanese population. But I also see that in advertising here as there are a considerable amount of adverts featuring white people considering how few foreigners, (according to the 2010 census – 1448) let alone white foreigners living in China.

    • muazimusprime

      Unfortunately, that seems to be the norm regardless of country or medium. I just want people to be open to the idea of criticism, especially since most gamers feel like they are the most accepting culture.

      • Bandeapart

        ‘Feel like’ being the important part there, we’ve all had sessions on XBL where we have had someone calling us a host of insults based on race or sexuality which is apparently clear from the fact that you are better at certain popular FPS games than them. If I have learnt anything from XBL it is that fat homosexuals of a random race which is decided by the other player are the best players, apparently.

        The same could be argued for lack of female leads, I mean quickly of the top of your how many games coming out this year can you name where you will play as a woman? How many of them are AAA titles? Given the fact that women make up roughly half the population shouldn’t this be reflected in games?

  • http://twitter.com/HanFreakinSolo Patrick Lindsey

    Good read. There was one thing I noticed that made me go, ‘huh:’ you mentioned that you weren’t saying that every game studio should hire minorities or do research into cultural backgrounds, and I rather fervently disagree. I actually challenge the game industry to open up in terms of representation. There are PLENTY of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people in games who can not only bring incredible talent to the industry, but also their unique perspective as well. I think the fact that it’s an exception right now is startling. I also think opening the doors of inclusion, not just in terms of hiring, but also in cultivating a culture that isn’t openly hostile to different kinds of people, will ultimately result in us finally seeing more than just shooters and platformers as well.