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We must reject stereotypes in games - Manveer Heir

We must reject stereotypes in games - Manveer Heir

Thu 20 Mar 2014 1:28am GMT / 9:28pm EDT / 6:28pm PDT
DevelopmentGDC 2014

BioWare designer challenges the industry to stand up and "stop being so scared" to make games that comment on prejudices in society

You ever listen to someone talk at a live event and feel like you're a part of something greater, that there's a real movement underway? That's what it felt like to sit in on a presentation from BioWare Montreal's Manveer Heir at GDC earlier today. The talk - titled Misogyny, Racism and Homophobia: Where do video games stand? - was made to a packed audience that leapt to its collective feet for a standing ovation once Heir had finished. As the pinnacle of the advocacy track at GDC this year, Heir challenged the longstanding status quo in the industry, which has led to far too many designers relying on lazy tropes and stereotypes when creating their games.

Heir implored those in the audience (largely developers, which he called the army) to first recognize and understand that there is a problem in the industry and second, to have the courage to spread the message and push back when they witness problematic issues in development. Not only that, but they should have back up so that they're not the only one at a company to stand up for something. Ultimately, if enough game developers are willing to create games that actually address societal prejudices, it will effect change in the industry Heir said.

"If we want to start making games that tackle race, gender and sexual orientation and everything else in positive ways instead of falling into stereotypical, problematic ways then we have to step our collective games up. This, to me, is one of the biggest areas of growth in this industry. It's where I see so much promise. But I'll be honest - I think we're going to make a lot of missteps along the way but I don't think that means the path is wrong. It just means we need to watch where we're going and try harder," he said.

"For me, these stereotypes are contributing to the creative stagnation in our industry. But I also believe we need to reject stereotypes as a social responsibility to mankind"

Heir is looking at the problem through the lens of Western game development because it's the industry he knows. His statements shouldn't be interpreted as applying to Asian markets or other territories. Additionally, he stressed that his talk isn't about "playing the blame game." Just because a certain game might have a stereotypical character in it doesn't mean that the developer is racist, misogynistic or homophobic. Heir's goal isn't to point fingers; it's to get the industry talking about what it can do better.

The fact is that the industry is currently dealing with a severe representation problem. Most games, including most of the highly rated and top selling games, feature white male protagonists. There is a serious lack of women, minorities and LGBTQ characters in games, and when the industry does offer a character in a lead role that isn't the strong, powerful white male, it usually resorts to a stereotype or archetypal character, like a scantily clad woman, an effeminate gay man, a black criminal, etc.

While video games aren't the only medium to do this, Heir noted that all content creators have a social responsibility because the media does have an effect on people. He pointed to several studies that show that black children will pick out the white doll as the "good one" when given a choice, or how slim, sexualized images of women have affected little girls. Stereotypes can definitely influence the way we treat others in society.

And including a character just for the sake of including a person in a game who isn't a white male isn't doing anyone any favors if it's not done in a respectful way. Heir pointed to how trans people are represented in Grand Theft Auto, where the designers clearly emphasized a character's male features despite that the character doesn't identify with being a male. This opens up the character to ridicule and only serves to reinforce bad stereotypes. And while there are some positive examples, like Lee Everett in Telltale's The Walking Dead, for every Everett there are countless others that fall into the stereotype trap, like Gears of War's Cole Train or Franklin Clinton from GTA V, to name a couple.

Not only is it detrimental to society potentially to perpetuate these stereotypes in games, but it's hurting the games business as well, Heir said. He noted that the industry ought to give its audience more credit. "I find it very cynical to think that our audience is not smart enough to be able to accept and handle and embrace a gay protagonist or more exclusive women protagonists in games that aren't glorified sex objects and actually have personalities beyond supporting the men in the game. There are plenty of examples of this being accepted in other media," Heir remarked.

"Why should we reject stereotypes? Not only is it lazy, but it's fairly boring. We play so many games that use the same stereotypes. I get fed up with the same old story and characters in every game. I know there are others like me, I talk to them all the time. For me, these stereotypes are contributing to the creative stagnation in our industry. But I also believe we need to reject stereotypes as a social responsibility to mankind," he continued.

"I want us as an industry to stop being so scared... let's find a way to challenge the majority and the minority perception of how we deal with race, gender, sexual orientation and all other sources of social injustices we have in our world"

There are many defenders of the persistent stereotypes in games unfortunately. Some say that it's all about "realism," and that making women subservient to men in a fantasy RPG, for example, is true to how it was in medieval times. Heir quickly shot a hole in that argument. Not only does it assume that fantasy must be like medieval Europe, but the bottom line is it's fantasy, and all games are fantasy in a sense. Game creators can make the world whatever they want. But designers often go to the "cognitive default" and take the shortcut because that's what they are used to. And the fact is that throughout history there have been strong powerful women who broke out of the mold like Joan of Arc, for example. Heir pointed to the popular HBO show Game of Thrones and how it's at least a small step in the right direction as it does include several strong female characters that clearly break the mold. Game designers should strive for something like that because women, minorities, and LGBTQ people deserve to participate in these fantasy constructs every bit as much as their white male neighbors.

"We should not default to the [stereotypical] position and we shouldn't use realism as an excuse... because most of our games aren't anywhere near realistic. The premise of the games we make is so fantastical that to call it realistic is beyond laughable... If we want to make meaningful games, if we want to avoid turning away a significant portion of our potential audience, if we want to be a successful medium that is grown-up and not stuck in adolescence, then we need to stop falling back on the realism excuse and use realism responsibly and not as a default," Heir stressed.

Another argument regarding stereotypes in games is that titles with minorities, women or LGBTQ characters as lead protagonists won't sell as well. There's no evidence to support that notion, however. The fact is that some developers and suits have been too scared to test the waters and there hasn't been enough content featuring diverse characters, or when there has been the publishers have been reluctant to give it the backing and marketing push it deserves. The industry isn't even giving these games a fair chance at success. Heir put the onus on the developers in the room, saying that they have to push back against this.

"I want us as an industry to stop being so scared... Let's create a game that changes the core experience for the player... let's find a way to challenge the majority and the minority perception of how we deal with race, gender, sexual orientation and all other sources of social injustices we have in our world. Let's not be scared to ruffle feathers and let's be open and honest about our intentions. Let's push and engage in a new discourse as a result of these dynamics. And let's do all of this because what we are currently doing is absolutely not working," Heir said as his voice got louder and louder.

"But this problem isn't solved with words, it's solved with action. It's solved not only with intent but convictions and a little bit of courage. It's solved by fighting, by challenging your team to do something a little deeper and making something that's important to you. It's solved by you here in this room. And that is our ability to change and impact the world. This is the way to push the art form. This is our way to challenge ourselves and others. Wherever we stand today as an industry, I am confident that we will stand somewhere far better tomorrow as long as you right here are willing to be an agent of change. I sincerely hope you are ready for that challenge because I sure as hell am!"

42 Comments

Leon Charles
Studying Computer Games Development

8 2 0.3
I doubt games like GTA would try

Posted:4 months ago

#1

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
Yeah, this was kind of a pointless speech. Game devs that want to make an "issues advocacy" game have, and will continue to do so. Game devs that just want to make a game that is fun and commercially successful, especially on a large scale, have to aim for the center mass, alienating as few people as possible. I could totally see someone making his "gay soldier comes out to his unit" game, but it would be more of an indy project, along the lines of those Japanese visual novels most likely. I highly doubt it'll be the solo campaign for the next Call of Duty.

Posted:4 months ago

#2

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

237 793 3.3
Popular Comment
Sounds like a great talk. Bravo, Manveer, and I hope it inspires and encourages more developers to open their minds and agitate for change on these issues wherever they can.

Posted:4 months ago

#3

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,484 1,252 0.8
Popular Comment
@ Tim
Game devs that just want to make a game that is fun and commercially successful, especially on a large scale, have to aim for the center mass, alienating as few people as possible.
From the above article:
Another argument regarding stereotypes in games is that titles with minorities, women or LGBTQ characters as lead protagonists won't sell as well. There's no evidence to support that notion, however.
From the Polygon article on this talk:
Heirís argument went on to debunk studies which claim that games with female protagonists are doomed to have poor sales. He said that he believes such studies, including one which Polygonís Ben Kuchera published during his time writing for the now defunct Penny Arcade Report, rely on "cherry-picked, inconclusive data."

"When a game starring a woman comes out," Heir said, "the marketing and the development spends are simply less, which can overall impact the quality of the game and [its] success, which skews the numbers in the negative."

Posted:4 months ago

#4

Dan Tubb
Investment manager

23 112 4.9
Popular Comment
I canít disagree with a word of this article. Prejudice is a bad thing and everyone should feel welcome at the party.
However, there can be a difference between not excluding anyone, and having a point you want to make and using your game to lecture people. I already know prejudice is bad, and if I think a game has decided to assume that I donít think that and is now going to give me a talking too, I would find that a bit jarring. And itís not just inclusivity, itís basically any agenda, politics or otherwise. If I want to engage in those topics there are plenty of websites / youtube channels that do that really well.

So in games like Saints Row and Dragon Age itís great that you can choose to be straight or gay. But while Saints was simply inclusive, Dragon Age 2 was kinda blunt about what it thought it needed to teach me in more than a few areas.

Of course make your game anyway you want to, and please be inclusive. But I would simply add that assuming that your players need to be lectured to on the error of their ways might not get the reaction you hope.

Posted:4 months ago

#5

Andreia Quinta
Creative & People Photographer

200 476 2.4
Impressive speech, I wish we did have Telltale's TWD more frequently - story/emotion focused games - just like books & movies have a myriad of themes. However, obviously enough this movement will most likely start in extremely small baby steps (has started already in my opinion) and pushed by indies and smaller developers, so - somewhat ironicaly - we will really have to rely on the little and mid sized ones [devs] to push this agenda, the time for Activision's Call of Duty: Female Warfare is still far away.

Posted:4 months ago

#6

Robin Clarke
Producer

295 679 2.3
Popular Comment
I don't think anyone would disagree that we should make more effort to avoid stereotypical representations in games.

I also go along with the view that there's nothing stopping developers trying to explore more interesting themes in their stories, even if the main theme or way that a game is marketed is safe and traditional. Players are happily surprised when they get *more* food for thought than they expected.

It's interesting that GTA is seen as (or perhaps has become) part of the problem now - the last few GTAs were quite subversive, albeit in a rather broad and clumsy way.

I find the assumption that all games need to be character-driven emulations of movies or soap operas a bit annoying, though. "Most games have a white male protagonist"? - on the console games aisle of a supermarket that's probably still true, but on Steam or the App Store less so.

@Dan Tubb - Sounds a bit like Apple's "if you want to discuss controversial topics, write a book" policy. Game creators should be free to explore any topic, and likewise you're free to choose what you play. I agree that handling these topics badly can be annoying but that shouldn't stop people trying.

Posted:4 months ago

#7
"The fact is that some developers and suits have been too scared to test the waters and there hasn't been enough content featuring diverse characters, or when there has been the publishers have been reluctant to give it the backing and marketing push it deserves."

It's easier for someone to stand on a stage and tell other people what to do than write the cheques or put their neck on the line. However I don't disagree with anything he's said and I hope people whom it matters do have the confidence to make a difference.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Owens on 20th March 2014 1:57pm

Posted:4 months ago

#8

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,130 1,038 0.5
Amusingly enough, I was thinking a few months back about a bunch of Japanese dating sims/adventure games that have gay/lesbian themes that seem quite popular there but have next to zero chance of a US release. Granted, anime gals beating the shit out of each other or an action RPG where players of both sexes get their clothes ripped off? Yeah, we got those (or are getting those). I know there are visual novels and fan-made games galore that happily drop into those themes and have a nice niche of male and female players, but I guess mainstreaming them into a major publisher's library might be tricky.

As for western games, one question I have (or one question broken into many parts) is this: Do you make a game focusing on gay characters as a means of empowerment? Do you make more welcome choices available in say, a mainstream game like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have (for example, if Infamous: Second Son let you choose to make the protagonist LGBT)? Do you simply add more elements related to the community (which, in my opinion, needs to never be seen as separate - just natural) into a game from the outset?

Or do you just do your next project with some sort of gay/straight equality in mind, realizing that pushing any blatant agenda to western audiences will offend the ignorant in the media and gamers (who all need a lesson anyway) who won't touch the product with a ten foot pole (save for anything they can use as ammo to say the game is pushing an agenda (hello, Fox News!).

I guess the sweet spot will come from the writing, as playing a game with likable characters works well when you don't care who they're involved with (because that's not the main point of the game or it's presented in a natural manner that doesn't go pressing buttons while making players see yes, the world gets saved by ALL sorts of people). Or the game presents these elements into the story as part of the plot and doesn't seem forced or trying to stab one in the eye with anything that could be seen as "political" by the dopes who want to load it up and step on their soapboxes.

Eh, we'll see. I do hope this call to action gets some proper and positive results...

Posted:4 months ago

#9

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
@Morville, yes, a lot of the stuff in that article was indeed nonsense.
Amusingly enough, I was thinking a few months back about a bunch of Japanese dating sims/adventure games that have gay/lesbian themes that seem quite popular there but have next to zero chance of a US release. Granted, anime gals beating the shit out of each other or an action RPG where players of both sexes get their clothes ripped off? Yeah, we got those (or are getting those). I know there are visual novels and fan-made games galore that happily drop into those themes and have a nice niche of male and female players, but I guess mainstreaming them into a major publisher's library might be tricky.
Yeah, but they've tried those games in the past and they've never really taken off here. The market is just different, the sort of people that enjoy those games in Japan either don't game at all in the States or play other stuff. Keep in mind, this really is an audience-side problem, not a production side problem. The games already exist, localizing them is relatively cheap, if the audience wanted them there'd be no reason not to put them out, but the audience does not want them.

When it comes to me personally, I am a straight male. When I play a game, I either play it as a straight male, or as a lesbian female. It makes me slightly uncomfortable when the game character is a straight female (like how in ME I couldn't get through a friendly chat with Jacob without Shep flirting with him a bit), and would be very uncomfortable playing as an actively gay male character. So when it comes to games that I play, having options to choose gender and sexuality is always nice (if expensive to implement), but being forced to play gender/sexuality combinations outside of my comfort zone is a negative to my gaming experience.

Keep in mind that this cannot be compared to a book or a movie, because those are passive experiences, the characters in a movie are not "me," I have no expectation that they would make the choices that I would want them to make, but in a game, there is player agency, the character is expected to be an extension of me, so when I'm trying to have a nice chat with Jacob to get his loyalty up and Shep starts hitting on him, there's a real dissonance there.

Now, is it fair that as a straight male I can reasonably expect a hero that matches my romantic expectations, while a gay male player would be stuck with a straight protagonist? No, it's not fair. But is that the game developer's responsibility to correct or balance out? No, I don't think so. Fixing it costs money. Their goal is to make more money than they spend. The straight male audience is far and away the largest one for most projects, so it only makes sense to design the game to appeal to that audience as much as possible, and to appeal to any other audience as much as possible without sacrificing any of the straight male audience.

If you design the game specifically to target a minority viewpoint, such as a gay male protagonist, then it might reduce the appeal of the game to the core target audience, resulting in drastically lower sales than they could expect from a more typical product. If you design the game to include all possible combinations of gender and sexuality, it likely won't turn that many people away, but it could also add significantly to the game's costs, meaning that they'd need to make a lot of extra profit to compensate, extra profit that might not be available. In either case, you're taking significant and obvious risks with the profitability of your product.

Any developer can choose to make an issues advocacy game, in which the goal is to present a social message to the players, and I expect many to continue doing so, but any developer who is not actively pursuing an issues advocacy platform, they have a serious decision to make here, one in which they can choose to inject an issue into their game, but which is by no means an effortless choice to make, given that there will definitely be some cost associated with that choice.

Posted:4 months ago

#10

Rick Cody
PBnGames-Board Member

144 14 0.1
My educational game company, PBnGames, is developing a children 's game which features a darker-complexion lead character. I'm surprised others don't see it as an opportunity to expand an audience.

Posted:4 months ago

#11

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,484 1,252 0.8
Mmmm... I occasionally wonder what would happen if the same approach to children's TV programmes was taken with video-games. Certainly Sesame Street is heavy-handed... to adult eyes. But not every game has to be approached with the same demographic in mind.

Posted:4 months ago

#12

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
But like I said, a game is a very different product than TV, movies, or books, due to player agency. I don't think there's any good excuse to not include a diverse supporting cast in a game, I mean you should have as many people of color, women, LGBT characters, etc. as the plot can rationalize, but that doesn't necessarily extend to the player character. The supporting cast is like the cast on a TV show, they are doing their own thing, living their own lives, only marginally directed by your actions when it comes to personal relationships. They are around you, but are not of you.

The player character is your vessel into the world, they are controlled by you, and the more control you have over your avatar the more invested you are in that story. They are expected to behave as you would want them to behave, and cases where they go off on a tangent you would not have wanted them to are jarring at best. It is in the developer's best interests to make the playable character as recognizable to you and as compatible with you as they can within the constraints of their story and gameplay.

Again, it is totally unfair to minority groups that they more rarely get to experience a 1:1 connection to the character. In an idealized homogenous game industry 1 out of every 100 player characters would be gay, 12 out of ever 100 would be black, 5 out of every 100 would be Asian, 50 out of every 100 would be female, and so on, but when each game is trying to reach the largest possible audience then it only makes sense to target the largest single possible audience, and fairness to the rest of the audience really isn't a factor that makes much sense from their perspective.

Yes, there is potentially money to be made in directly targeting an underserved market, but unless that outreach is the core feature of your game, and the game likely wouldn't go anywhere with the core market anyways, the added sales from that market are not likely to overcome the lost sales from the core market.

Posted:4 months ago

#13

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

237 793 3.3
but when each game is trying to reach the largest possible audience then it only makes sense to target the largest single possible audience
That makes exactly no sense. If you're trying to reach the largest possible audience, you design your game to appeal to more than not-even-50% of the population. Profit is not the be-all end-all of game development(else why do we bother making anything but Angry Birds clones?), but it sure is a handy excuse for not having to venture outside your straight-white-male comfort zone, isn't it?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 20th March 2014 11:02pm

Posted:4 months ago

#14

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
That makes exactly no sense. If you're trying to reach the largest possible audience, you design your game to appeal to more than not-even-50% of the population. Profit is not the be-all end-all of game development(else why do we bother making anything but Angry Birds clones?), but it sure is a handy excuse for not having to venture outside your straight-white-male comfort zone, isn't it?
Sorry, I mean "the audience for your game." The audience for your game is not the total human population of your market, it's people who might be interested in your product. If you're making a Madden game, your audience is likely to be predominately male. If you're going to be making an Animal Crossing game, your audience is likely to be at least majority female, no matter how you try to specifically attract one over the other. You want to maximum the uptake within the target audience, even if that means alienating audiences that are less likely to buy your product anyways.

And no, profit is not the "be-all end-all," but if you fail to generate a profit then you can't continue to make games, so it is pretty damned important.

Posted:4 months ago

#15

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,484 1,252 0.8
but when each game is trying to reach the largest possible audience then it only makes sense to target the largest single possible audience, and fairness to the rest of the audience really isn't a factor that makes much sense from their perspective then it only makes sense to target the largest single possible audience, and fairness to the rest of the audience really isn't a factor that makes much sense from their perspective.
See, no offense, but this is why I think you've missed the point with my initial comment.

There is no large-scale data that proves that using a minority character (whether it be racial or sexual) will sell less. You're using your own thoughts/feelings to extrapolate a wider picture, and that may (or may not be) supported by figures. You say:
It makes me slightly uncomfortable when the game character is a straight female (like how in ME I couldn't get through a friendly chat with Jacob without Shep flirting with him a bit), and would be very uncomfortable playing as an actively gay male character.
And that's fair enough. However, I''m different - I tend to play female characters and (if given the choice) vary sexual preference depending upon game and scenario. Obviously, there's going to be some people like me in the target audience, and some people like you (assuming neither of us are at weird extremes). The thing you're assuming is that your preference is shared by a wider group of people, and therefore amounts to a larger profit/loss. The pieces of Manveer's talk that I quoted, however, show that that is just your assumption, and isn't based in fact (so far).

Posted:4 months ago

#16

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
There is no large-scale data that proves that using a minority character (whether it be racial or sexual) will sell less.
And there's no data to prove that it wouldn't. Why take a significant chance that would offer strong potential for failure without equally strong data saying it will work out? Why jump over a cliff into the dark without knowing that there is ground within a safe distance? The game companies don't need proof that using a non-standard lead character will hurt their game, they need proof that it won't. Actually, if you want them to make more games with non-white male leads, then find some data that proves not just that underperforming titles can blame their underperformance on other factors, find data that shows that titles featuring female or minority leads perform at least equal to or better than similar titles that also have similar marketing budgets. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
And that's fair enough. However, I''m different - I tend to play female characters and (if given the choice) vary sexual preference depending upon game and scenario.
I actually do tend to prefer female characters myself, otherwise that "Shep hitting on Jacob" situation wouldn't have even happened. I just prefer that they fancy the same characters I fancy, that if they are female, then they are clearly lesbian, Shep x Liara, Hawke x Merril, Lara X Samantha, Scholar Ling x Silk Fox, or they are just romantically neutral, like most of my MMO characters. If they start making out with a guy, it weirds me out in a way that wouldn't occur when, for example, I'd watch a rom-com in which the female lead hooks up with a guy. It's a matter of agency, if I'm playing as a female character, then that character is meant to be me, doing the things I want them to do, while in a movie, I don't have to "play" as the female lead, I can "play" as her co-star instead, or neither at all.
Obviously, there's going to be some people like me in the target audience, and some people like you (assuming neither of us are at weird extremes).
Yeah, probably. I could totally be wrong in this, that's possible. I don't think I am though. I think it's more likely that I'm right than that you are. If I took everything you owned, and gave you an equivalent amount of gambling chips, and the only way to get your stuff back was to make a gamble and win, if placing the wrong bet meant losing it all, would you put your chips down on the side that there are more people that would prefer to explore alternate sexual lifestyles as the only option in their action RPGs, or would you put the chips on the side that more players would prefer to play something more consistent with their own tastes? If you actually had something to lose if you turned out to be wrong, which side would you really represent?

I think that when you spend tens of millions of dollars making a AAA game, you can't afford to take that chance without a safety net.

Posted:4 months ago

#17

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
We must reject stereotypes in games ...
No we dont... we just have to decide when and when not to use them. Everything in itself can become a stereotype if used enough. And what once used to be considered original and new have now become stereotypes.

I think any type of content is valid and relevant if its in context to whatever the creator wants to make. The fact that we need more of one thing doesnt mean we need less of the other.

Anyway, I just skimmed through the article, so anything I post now will have little conviction. When i read the article in an appropriate manner I will edit this post.

Posted:4 months ago

#18

Ben Mathis
Art Director & Co-Founder

8 44 5.5
Popular Comment
It makes me slightly uncomfortable when the game character is a straight female (like how in ME I couldn't get through a friendly chat with Jacob without Shep flirting with him a bit), and would be very uncomfortable playing as an actively gay male character. So when it comes to games that I play, having options to choose gender and sexuality is always nice (if expensive to implement), but being forced to play gender/sexuality combinations outside of my comfort zone is a negative to my gaming experience.
Welcome to the world of everyone who is not a straight white male? Women are constantly required to watch movies, play games, or read books where they have to identify with a male (often misogynist) character. We gay men are almost always having to watch straight romances, and guess what, we often enjoy them. This idea that straight white men are the only group who should not have to empathize with stories outside of their direct experience is a problem. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it's only fair that stories be told from a wide spectrum of experiences, and *all* audiences learn to identify what they have in common. It's what all minorities already do.
If you're making a Madden game, your audience is likely to be predominately male.
Except women make up 45% of the NFL fanbase?
http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2013/10/14/Leagues-and-Governing-Bodies/NFL-women.aspx

It's assumptions like this that are the exact target of his speech. Games have a huge appeal, way beyond straight white males, even *currently* with their mostly-targeted-to-white-straight-male-themes. Imagine how many more fans could be brought into the fold with more diverse themes.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Ben Mathis on 21st March 2014 11:02am

Posted:4 months ago

#19

Ben Mathis
Art Director & Co-Founder

8 44 5.5
Love this article, and this sounds like the talk I'd most like to have seen at GDC. Kudos to Heir.

Posted:4 months ago

#20
so lets all go back to making lotsa pew pew games. come get some! :)

Posted:4 months ago

#21

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
Welcome to the world of everyone who is not a straight white male? Women are constantly required to watch movies, play games, or read books where they have to identify with a male (often misogynist) character.
Perhaps you didn't read my earlier posts. I noted that this is not fair. It's not. It'd be great if everyone could always get to play the character that perfectly represents what they want the character to be, no question. If you're a gay male and want to play as a gay male in the game, then ideally you would always be able to, and it's totally not fair that sometimes you can't.

Unfortunately, fairness has an associated cost.

If the game does allow for all possible options, then it means raising the cost of the game. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. The more the game allows you to explore your options, for example the more romantic partners it allows, the higher the costs associated with giving you options. In some cases, the costs may be worth it, in others not, but you can't just assume that the costs should always be worth it from the developer's perspective, or that they are being the A-holes for deciding that it's not worth it to them, when it's their money and jobs on the line.

It's totally not fair to every player when they aren't allowed to play as the gender/race/sexuality of their choice, but unfortunately fair isn't free.
Except women make up 45% of the NFL fanbase?
Yes, but they don't play Madden as much. It's sort of a Venn diagram thing, there are women that watch football (actually closer to 30% of the audience), and those that play games, but far fewer of them do both.
Imagine how many more fans could be brought into the fold with more diverse themes.
About the same amount. People who want to play games are already playing games they don't need "diverse themes" to lure them in.

Posted:4 months ago

#22

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

400 523 1.3
The only way to effectively make a statement in making a video game is to make the act of making money secondary. The moment money making becomes your first priority - and this is a business - then social statements about stereotypes go completely out the window because you are trying to reach the largest audience possible, especially if you are making games for a publicly owned company. Our share price is dropping, so those black guys better sound extra "hood" or your ass is grass!

So to answer Jessica's question of "why aren't we all just making Angry Birds clones", the beancounters and executives whose job it is to make money - and keep people employed - are responding "that's an outstanding question..." before realizing that Flappy Bird is the wave of the future and hiring the Duck Dynasty crew to shill for their own version of it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 21st March 2014 11:58pm

Posted:4 months ago

#23

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

436 146 0.3
Andreia Quinta
the time for Activision's Call of Duty: Female Warfare is still far away.
It's not just female stereotype he's getting at though. CoD is one more guns, green, brown and grey first person shooter with a multiplayer focus based around us coming to the brink of world war 3 but being saved thanks to some plucky westerners overthrowing a eastern extremist group.

That goes for probably 2 of 3 shooters released to the American public in itself. I personally am sick of seeing war themed games full stop. I would say it's almost as much of a stereotype as the women issue, even if to be technically accurate there were no women in the infantry of the US or UK before Ghosts came out.

Posted:4 months ago

#24

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
That goes for probably 2 of 3 shooters released to the American public in itself. I personally am sick of seeing war themed games full stop. I would say it's almost as much of a stereotype as the women issue, even if to be technically accurate there were no women in the infantry of the US or UK before Ghosts came out.
Then don't buy them. I guarantee you that if they stop selling well then they'll stop making them, so go make that happen.

Posted:4 months ago

#25
I think a bigger issue which is being miss out on here is nationality of characters. Most the characters (who are not fantasy driven) tend to be american. As a white male Scot, i can more easily relate to a black female scot than any white american male. Perhaps it is a more European thing that we relate to nationality and class before other things, forged by centuries of uneasiness around our borders?
I agree with the article, just i feel most of us are missing the bigger picture.

Posted:4 months ago

#26

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
Love this article, and this sounds like the talk I'd most like to have seen at GDC. Kudos to Heir.
Me too! It was a shame to miss it.

Posted:4 months ago

#27

Al Nelson
Producer

32 47 1.5
Yes, we must stop stereotyping whole groups of people, or whole industries, as too this or that or afraid or stereotypy and stuff.

Posted:4 months ago

#28

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
I think a bigger issue which is being miss out on here is nationality of characters. Most the characters (who are not fantasy driven) tend to be american.
Yeah, maybe true, but there are a lot more American gamers than any specific European country, and while you might relate to a Scottish character, that doesn't make a Dutch or French player relate more than he would to a US player, so again it comes down to a matter of "aiming for the biggest single target." Not that I'd mind playing a Scottish character myself, if anyone wants to do that then they're free to do so, just there's no reason why they should actively seek that out if it isn't their natural instinct in the first place.

Posted:4 months ago

#29

Yvonne Neuland
Studying Game Development

33 58 1.8
It's not just female stereotype he's getting at though. CoD is one more guns, green, brown and grey first person shooter with a multiplayer focus based around us coming to the brink of world war 3 but being saved thanks to some plucky westerners overthrowing a eastern extremist group.

That goes for probably 2 of 3 shooters released to the American public in itself. I personally am sick of seeing war themed games full stop. I would say it's almost as much of a stereotype as the women issue, even if to be technically accurate there were no women in the infantry of the US or UK before Ghosts came out.
I totally agree. There is so much room for other types of stories, other types of gameplay, and other types of characters. Adding a female to a war game doesn't make me any more inclined to play it. I don't identify with a female rambo anymore than a male one. If you are going to add real diversity, you have to add diverse types of content along with it.

The point isn't to simply check off a diversity checkbox, it is to actually diversify the games.

Posted:4 months ago

#30

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
I really dont swallow the whole thing about nothing is being done about the depiction of certain groups of people thing. And Ill probably get alot of slack for my own personal point of view on things...

Its easy to say how something sucks because it doesnt cater to your needs. And as the industry is I see people working hard at most issues people complain about... BUT

Reading the whole article, one has to also think about the people making the games. At one point the japanese were the driving force behind the gaming industry. Would it be correct to demand visual or cultural representations of their work outside of their own?

Im a firm believer in that others work should be respected. You either like it or you dont. When I played games as a kid, it was mostly japanese games, Nintendo, Sega, Neo Geo and most Arcade games... all Japanese. Except for Atari stuff.

So it comes to a point where if you want things done differantly, the most appropriate thing to do is to do it yourself... right? Am I wrong for saying this?

Likewise if you dont like porn, instead of saying how bad it is and how you dont like it, just dont watch it? If you dont like certain games just dont play them. I truely doubt there isnt at least 1 game any one person can enjoy. So if thats the case you have to consider the fact that these people dont enjoy games no matter the content they have.

I here people complaining about what they dont like about games and the gaming industry is getting alot of slack, simply because it fails to comform to everybodies likes, wants and desires. And to be honest It is impossible. And i see all these groups of people unhappy with how woman, sexuality, LGBT and different demographical groups of people are represented vdeo games, i ask myself what are they doing about it besides, stomping on, criticizing and complaining about the video game industry?

And I see these articles and topics in gamesindustry forums... about people complaining and the issues they have with games. It pisses me off because their are people trying to make a differance. And games as they are are diverse enough to offer differant gaming expiriences for a wide variety of differant demographical groups of people... yet...

None of it is enough...

Yet these people still complain... thats probably all they are good at, because when you cant do something yourself thats the next thing you can do.

And its also easy to blame other people for what you cant do. Because if they cant do something people tend to blame someone else for what they cant do.

The other thing is that maybe certain groups of people are not that interested in games, like there arent as many woman interested in automobile mechanics. you can advocate in favor of woman automotive mechanics, but you cant control the fact that its something in which most woman are not interested in.

And in these forums I here lots a people vocal about such topics yet they offer no way of improving it. An example is a game like Call of Duty or a first person shooter. You here complaints about how they are more catered to boys yet I see know body throwing in ideas of how to make a first person shooter cater more towards woman. Or what things woman or gay people would like to see more in games. Or maybe ideas of what game for these people would sell as much as call of duty.

I would like to hear suggestions, ideas from differant demographical groups, such as female and homsexual... in how they would approach the creation of a game to cater more to their likes.

Like I said in my post above, we dont need less of what there is now. You have to consider the people who actually enjoy it. We just have to find a way to make more content for people who feel left out. Likewise we need more support from those groups of people.

Its easy to bash something you cant do, but work with the game developers. If your not going to do it yourself at least offer feedback to those that are doing it and let them know what you would like to see.

As far as games that break the mold, lots of Suda51, media molecule, bioware games attempt to do so. And we have games like Okami, Journey, flower, shadow of the collosus, Beyond two souls attempting to raise the bar on all these issues. yet were is the support from all the people complaining. I mean we had that game for the sega dreamcast called seaman, which was pretty weird. Games like Shenmue broke the mold back in their time. And we also had Cho Aniki, which was that gradius gay shooter clone.

I can make a list of games that attempt to break the mold... however how much success and support were they met with in the general public? Can you fault a developer for not making a game that costs millions to make that probably wont sell?
Its a matter of including these things while minimising the risk of putting your business down the drain by making a bad call.

So at the end of the day if you dont like the way things are done just find a way to do it yourself, you gather the people, put down the development costs. Or get into the game industry and make your way up the ranks like most people do. The game industry right now isnt easy for anybody just incase you wanna go ahead and blame the fact that your gay or female. And if you cant do it at least let it be known what you would do to make games differant.

We must reject stereotypes in games? Why? are they bad?

Back when I was studying in collage. Everybody strived to be differant. I to fell in the ideal that I wanted to be differant, to leave my mark and be original. But then as I saw everybody attempting to be differant i realized they were all the same because they were each doing the same thing... which was trying to be differant. So i decided the only way to seperate myself and actually ENJOY what i do was to actually just be me. But what does being me convey? I follow my hearts wants and desires and forget about wether something is original or not. Just go out and do what I wanted... So what does have to do with this topic? Its that its easy to complain about others not doing what you want to be done.

I also refuse to belive that alot of people make games to make money, as with games like Mirrors Edge I think the people behind it just have a genuine passion to make the game made.

And every creative work is a reflection of the people behind it. Who are differant than you. What we need is more woman and more gay people activly involved in making games.

But games as a business, they will usually try to cater to as many people as possible. At least i see alot of people tryin, Nintendo, Bioware, media molecule, to mention a few... Im also assuming that if something is not being done as much, its by lack of support from the people who "say" they want it.

I mean if I ever make the game I want to make i have an idea of how I would approach making content for homosexual people and still make the game I want to make. Because as the creator, you always have your own vision of how you want to do your work. And its nice to cater to other peoples wants and desires, but at least me, Im ok with doing it as long as it doesnt get in the way of my original vision of the what I wanted to do. But these things cost more money, and if there is no support than its not going to be done.

Honestly i simply would like to see more ideas and thoughts on what differant groups of people such as female and homosexuals would like to see in games. Cause yeah we need to diversify games. I see alot of people trying to do it, yet some people never seem to be pleased or satisfied with whats been done. So these people who are not satisfied, may you please say what you would do differantly in a game?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 25th March 2014 3:43pm

Posted:3 months ago

#31

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,484 1,252 0.8
Yet these people still complain... thats probably all they are good at, because when you cant do something yourself thats the next thing you can do.
I've said it before, here, and I'll say it again: Complaining raises awareness. Regardless of my position (both socially, and professionally), if I feel strongly about something, I have the right to complain about it. To continue your analogy with porn - if I don't like porn, then I don't have to watch it, but that doesn't mean I can't raise awareness of racism within the porn industry. As long as what I say about it is factually correct, then it raises awareness for those who do watch porn.
What we need is more woman and more gay people actively involved in making games.
Yes, sure, we need that.

But we also need people who empathise with females, and gays, and trans*, and blacks, and hispanics. Because no-one's saying that straght white dudes can't make games for everyone, but rather that those straight white dudes need to understand other perspectives whilst they do it. It's not hard to put yourself into someone else's shoes, at least a little, and that's the first step towards realising that "Hey, maybe this comment about how all gay men treat their body as a temple is a stereotype that does nothing for gays or this game."
So these people who are not satisfied, may you please say what you would do differantly in a game?
Not speaking for any minorities, but I really do wish pubs/devs valued writers more, and relied on basic mechanics less.

Posted:3 months ago

#32

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
Rick, I sense that you find this topic very tiring. But it will always be discussed by those with the energy and mind to do so.
Im a firm believer in that others work should be respected. You either like it or you dont.
I'm not sure, I do think think respect can and probably should be earned.
I here people complaining about what they dont like about games and the gaming industry is getting alot of slack, simply because it fails to comform to everybodies likes, wants and desires. And to be honest It is impossible.
I don't like the fact that most black 'lead characters' appear in ganster games or generic sports titles, is that worth complaining about?
I would like to hear suggestions, ideas from differant demographical groups, such as female and homsexual... in how they would approach the creation of a game to cater more to their likes.
i.e. Like not casting black people in nearly every ganster lead role, especially when they are seldom in any better ones? ;)
So at the end of the day if you dont like the way things are done just find a way to do it yourself,
I have both the capability and the power to do it myself, but what about those who do not work in games or have any influence on the medium? Issues of representation need to be brought up or nothing and no-one will every change. People of all sorts of groups have voiced their opinions about representation but it tends to fall on death ears.

My example above was about one topic, the representation of black people in games (or media). Kids and adults need role models, we also need to prove that stereotypes are just that, stereotypes and not a representation of the majority of real people out there.

When the issue of women, colour, homosexuality or other factors are brought up, too often I hear people telling us "make it yourself", "it is a non issue" or "respect the way things are", well, not me. If I don't like something I'll complain about it, if I have the power to I'll help change it as well.

I appreciate that it doesn't mean much to everyone, but it does to me and many others.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 25th March 2014 4:30pm

Posted:3 months ago

#33

Yvonne Neuland
Studying Game Development

33 58 1.8
i ask myself what are they doing about it besides, stomping on, criticizing and complaining about the video game industry?
I cannot speak for anyone else, but personally I am getting a second degree in Game Development so that I can make games myself. You are correct that whining and complaining don't actually achieve anything. Complaining about all the people complaining does not achieve much either, though.

Posted:3 months ago

#34

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
Alot of times to understand what a person says you got to understand where they are coming from...

Ever have that friend who complains so much about their problems yet shows no sign of doing anything about it? And you and that person as great of friends as you may be, it comes to a point where you actually get sick of their complaining, whining and bickering. If not then you have alot of patience

So lets complain and have other people do what we want done. Thats fine I do it too, but to what extent? Until they bend over to your will and do what you want, what about what they want? People dont empathise with that do they? Yeah I guess because game creators are racist and sexist if they dont right?

Maybe consider its time to consider the ethnical, culteral and gender backrounds of the people making the games. Just like the ethnical majority of the people who do Hip Hop.

I just appreciate that when people complain about something at least dont say so without saying why and offering up a solution.

As a business its prudent to appeal to as many people as possible. Likewise I doubt all people that create games do it for the money. And if they make money its to make more games. And even if your the person at the bottom making a game for someone else, most aspire to climb up the ranks to be able to make there own vision of what a game should be.

Like I mentioned previosly, at a time most video games came from japan. And as an example Anime is from japan. And usually the stuff that comes from there caters to japanese cultural perceptions. They may try to cater to western perceptions, but they will never truly grasp the wants and needs of other cultures because they are japanese. And I find it very selfish to demand they do so. This is only an example. At one time the british were in the game with Amiga and commodore 64 consoles. And here before Nintendo and Sega america had Atari.

Does anybody here see what im getting at? And why I say just do it yourself.

But ultimatly, no matter what people think... it comes down to eventually having to do things yourself if you dont like the way others are doing it. What the person does and how far they are willing to go to achive it is a differant story.

Posted:3 months ago

#35

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
@Yvonne - I have close friends in the industry or working their way in like you are. I have yet to follow suit since im trying to do something else my own way. If I fail I may persue another degree towards game design. But anyway, I know that getting in the games industry is very difficult and I hihgly praise your approach to the gaming industry. Really looking foward to anything you do. If change is to be made its through people like you. And since your female I just want to ask one question. Can you please tell me what you as a female would want to see more of in games? but lets not go into what you want to see less of, but go into more of what you would like to see. thing is its an issue thats always sparked my curiosity and as an aspiring game creator myself I can use a little perspective.

Posted:3 months ago

#36

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
When the issue of women, colour, homosexuality or other factors are brought up, too often I hear people telling us "make it yourself", "it is a non issue" or "respect the way things are", well, not me. If I don't like something I'll complain about it, if I have the power to I'll help change it as well.
Yeah, fair enough, everyone's entitled to their own voice, so long as you're aware that you're more likely to annoy and drive people away with your message than you are to enact positive change. If you're goal is to say whatever you want to no practical purpose, then go right ahead. If your goal is to see more and better representations of various minorities in games, then complaining about it in the public sphere is a terrible way to accomplish it.

Posted:3 months ago

#37

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
If you're goal is to say whatever you want to no practical purpose
I would resent any suggestion of that being the case.
Yeah, fair enough, everyone's entitled to their own voice, so long as you're aware that you're more likely to annoy and drive people away with your message than you are to enact positive change.
Going by record, the opposite has been true. So that is purely conjecture.
If your goal is to see more and better representations of various minorities in games, then complaining about it in the public sphere is a terrible way to accomplish it.
I've said this before, but I'm surprised how contentious discussing one of the most pressing topics in our industry at the moment appears to be on an industry website where professionals are expected to comment and debate. I guess because Manveer's talk is public, its only going to upset people so we should shut it all down?
So lets complain and have other people do what we want done. Thats fine I do it too, but to what extent? Until they bend over to your will and do what you want, what about what they want? People dont empathise with that do they? Yeah I guess because game creators are racist and sexist if they dont right?
I think you're missing the point entirely. The point has never been about forcing people to do what you want them to do, the point has been to consider the implications of the choices made in the industry, including the representation of people (through characters and themes) explicitly based on our society.

The film industry has had over a hundred years to get this, sure video games is so young such that this never seemed to enter anyone's minds for a long time, perhaps not even taken seriously as a medium. As I've said before, just because the discussion or the "issue" isn't important to one it doesn't mean its not to others.

You are suggesting that everyone who is concerned about the social and representational implications of games are the ignorant ones and those who are stressed about it, the ones who prefer to deny any idea there could be problems built into our creations in this area somehow see the light.

But, we can always retreat to "girls don't like games anyway" who cares about how men or women are represented.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 25th March 2014 10:37pm

Posted:3 months ago

#38

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

237 793 3.3
everyone's entitled to their own voice, so long as you're aware that you're more likely to annoy and drive people away with your message than you are to enact positive change.
Was that irony intentional...?

Criticism always has a place in the commentary around any artform and telling people to shut up(dismissal) or 'if you don't like it, go make your own games!'(ghettoisation) is unhelpful at best. Identifying harmful practises and explaining how/why they are bad is the first step towards improving those practises. Critics aren't required to have all the answers, they perform a useful function in just finding problems for us to fix - much like a QA department :) Dismissing the entire idea that we may not be making the best games we can make isn't going to improve the medium at all, and telling whole swathes of frequently marginalised people that their opinions, experiences and feelings don't matter or 'aren't helping' is just reinforcing that marginalisation.

Posted:3 months ago

#39

Tim Ogul
Illustrator

335 462 1.4
Criticism always has a place in the commentary around any artform and telling people to shut up(dismissal) or 'if you don't like it, go make your own games!'(ghettoisation) is unhelpful at best.
But why? If what I take from someone's criticism is that they'd like to see more games of a certain type, then why is it unhelpful advice to suggest the most likely paths to achieving that goal?
Identifying harmful practises and explaining how/why they are bad is the first step towards improving those practises.
But there aren't any "harmful practices" in play here. There are just game elements that some people don't like. It's no more "harmful" than for me to say that I don't enjoy Roguelikes because I prefer linear progression to start and stop repetition. I have my preferences, and it's fair to make not of them in the appropriate places, but I don't have the audacity to try and make them out to be some case on universal rights or anything. It's just a preference.
Dismissing the entire idea that we may not be making the best games we can make isn't going to improve the medium at all, and telling whole swathes of frequently marginalised people that their opinions, experiences and feelings don't matter or 'aren't helping' is just reinforcing that marginalisation.
But by and large, we are producing the best games possible, and in cases where we aren't, it has rarely has anything to do with representations of race or gender. I don't think anyone should be marginalized any more than they merit, but I think it's also important to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to representation only in so far as their influence reaches, and in some cases that reach is not very far. If appealing to a target demographic may only excite a tiny population of the potential fanbase, it might not always be worth pursuing. You can't please everyone, and the goal is to please as many people as you can, within a limited budget, and within a target audience that has certain demographic breakdowns, and that often means that not everyone can be pandered to. There's nothing "wrong" with that.

Posted:3 months ago

#40

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