I’ve sometimes wondered if the key to getting better video games made is getting a diversity of people into the industry to help commandeer the help of production. “Just imagine,” says I, “if we got together a diverse team of socially and progressively aware people in one room, surely things would even out and games would start to be friendlier to people who are not the so-called primary demographic.”
The bitter pill to swallow is, however, that game companies are not completely void of minority voices. We are also not looking at a future lacking in bright people making their way into a changing industry full of ideas on how to make it better. The problem, it seems, is not with putting more people with ideas on how to make games better, but rather changing the way that existing voices drive the industry.
I can think of no better game that demonstrates this than Assassin’s Creed. Firstly, most people who played the game were at least somewhat aware that it was put together by a diverse team of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic backgrounds. Certainly, AC did many things well, but we still wound up with a game that put a white, male, PC into the center of things. Neither Alta nor Ezio are remarkably more than a white guy with an accent.
Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, if anyone ever wonders why more women aren’t prominent in the gaming industry they need only look at the abysmal behavior of the Internet when Jade Raymond was the public face behind a game she worked very hard to make successful. I don’t want to rehash out every sordid detail of a disgusting and shameful event that marred the release of a rather spectacular game—there has been plenty of discussion out there already. Like I discussed with Ashley Soriano, it isn’t hard to imagine women working at gaming companies seeing this kind of backlash and negative attention and thus shying away from putting their faces to their products. No human being deserves to be treated that way. It also isn’t too difficult to imagine companies deciding against putting women on the front of teams of big games to avoid such negative connections with their games.
No, I don’t think that throwing more people with the right values into the industry is going to change anything, because these people already exist. We have women designers, developers, and producers like the the Jade Raymonds, and writers like the Jennifer Heplers. We have gay men like your David Gaiders who have an understanding of privilege. We have women like Jaqueline Urick and Liz Tupper starting companies like SieEnt, devoted to making women-friendly games. We have women professional gamers like Anna Collier already changing the circuit, and women like Ashley Soriano going into the Interactive Entertainment industry all the time.
The truth is that we need to change the industry. The games, writers, producers, marketers, fans, and others who go along with the status quo, who apologize for terrible messages filled with sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination in games. We need to let marketers know that whitewashing isn’t OK simply because it is a “fantasy” setting. We should be insisting that sexuality depictions are just fine, but we want fair and better representation of it—beyond the binary. Until we push back enough to let the people already in place know that we demand better from our games then the people positioning themselves within the industry will never have a chance to shift the dynamics at all.