One of these things is not like the other…
Many game designers and developers deliver games that meet the minimal requirements to make me happy, but there are certain game delivery elements that always ruin it for me. The lack of diversity in many games is one of these, and I often see it when I walk down the store aisle or rummage through my collection.
Some companies actually attempt to put out games with decent diversity, and succeed to varying degrees. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, ASII, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood were created by teams made up of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, sensitivity-trained personnel. Sure, it would have been fun to be able to create my own avatar or have some kind of gender selection, but there I go complaining again. Odd to me, though, that Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, the main character of a game set in The Holy Land during the Third Crusade, is as white as his bedsheet armor. I understand that people from that region can vary in shade, and that non-white people don’t look any certain way, but it would be nice if game companies took a slight effort, occasionally, to make PCs darker in order to represent the rest of us. Yes, yes, the Animus. Yes, yes, Desmond. If you are going to try to stretch my imagination, I think that stretching it and introducing something fresh, like actual representations that more non-white people can relate to, might be more compelling.
Yikes! You might think I didn’t like the games! Actually, Assassin’s Creed was the first XBox 360 game that didn’t make me want to throw the control. Right away. Though, it did sit in the freezer for a while.
The same thing happened with Prince of Persia. The game series features a very fair-skinned and light-eyed hero (as did the eponymous movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal). While I understand, once again, that people living in the region where this game is set can range from darker skinned to light skin and have varying eye colors, the trend in video games to churn out light-skinned male hero after light-skinned male hero leaves me desiring a hero with non-white features, especially if we aren’t going to be creating our own avatars.
Dragon Age 2 released its anxiously awaited demo the last week of February, and we will see if it lives up to its “Best RPG of 2009” predecessor, which stands as one of my favorites still, and first game I have beaten before my partner. The demo contained some amazing improvements on Dragon Age: Origins, while not surpassing it in every way or living up to every expectation I had. One being that BioWare has a good reputation for character creation and also NPC diversity (though not perfect). So, why is it that when the promos for the game were released, a character known to be of a non-white ethnicity turned out to be paper white? Isabela is a party member of your PC, and is a Captain Jack Sparrow-esque pirate who was bleached out when EA released the promo stills and trailer for the game [Trigger Warning for violence].
Resident Evil 5 released a Gold Edition of their already controversial game. The original cover for 360 featured Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar, with Sheva’s race and ethnicity listed at the RE5 wiki as African. When the Gold Edition was released, Capcom changed the cover to feature series darling Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, respectively, with this iteration’s Jill being very fair and blond. And decked out in a very fetching battle suit. Jill was added as a playable character as downloadable content for the game, and only after achieving a certain point in the campaign with Sheva, who is a playable character throughout the entirety of the game, and actually has to help you rescue Jill (without going into too many spoilers). Wiping Sheva from the cover felt, um, awful. Sure, Jill has long been part of the franchise, but she wasn’t this game’s hero. She wasn’t part of the team meant to come in and win against Albert Wesker once and for all.
When non-white people and people of color aren’t represented in games, I wonder what conclusion is meant to be drawn. An easy message to glean from whitewashing of this type is that major companies don’t believe that non-white folks are interested in playing games. I wonder if another message could be that gaming companies believe that they do not exist, or that they exist only to act as support staff or as enemies to a PC. It certainly doesn’t mean that we stop enjoying the games that are offered to us, but seeing a body on the screen that represents or reflects our own certainly can enhance the enjoyable experience. I know it seems like a “little” thing, but all of these “little” things keep piling up, don’t they?