I somewhat recently watched two videos on The Escapist about diversity in gaming, in this case mostly focusing on gender diversity. These videos got me thinking about diversity in games (again). Both are excellent videos and I highly recommend watching them:
So I'll come right out and state my opinion up front: we need more diversity, desperately, and those who claim there are no issues are flat out wrong. Diversity is a great thing. It's how we expand gaming to new audiences, while simultaneously giving us new and unique experiences. It's common for gamers to lament the release of Call of Battlefield of Honor 28, and yet trounce on anyone who says "hey maybe we should try making some games about someone different for a change." Obvious cognitive dissonance is obvious?
I love diversity in gaming! I love playing as someone different, experiencing something new, seeing the world in a different light. I love games that challenge me intellectually. My tolerance for more of the same is getting lower and lower as the years go on. I've played a lot of games over the past year or so, and here are the ones that I enjoyed:
- The Walking Dead
- Papo & Yo
- Thomas Was Alone
- Mass Effect 3
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Tomb Raider
- Bioshock Infinite
- Borderlands 2
- Halo: Reach
- Dear Esther
- Jade Empire
- Metro: Last Light
- Tomb Raider
Now let's look at the characters in these games. The Walking Dead has you play as an African American in the Deep South. In Bastion, you play as a kid. In Papo & Yo, you play as a Brazilian kid. Thomas Was Alone has you playing as a group of squares representing AIs. Mass Effect 3 I played as Femshep (Maleshep is so boring he puts me to sleep just looking at him). Tomb Raider you play as a woman, and a not very sexualized one at that (finally). Halo: Reach I played as a female Spartan. Jade Empire I played as an Asian woman. Borderlands 2 I played as a woman with awesome hair (a game that was surprisingly feminist in tone).
The remaining three I played as a white male soldier, but even then things weren't quite so typical. Spec Ops: The Line you play as an American soldier who is killing fellow American Soldiers while "protecting" the local population, who is Arabic (obviously this is an interesting point of discussion). Elizabeth plays a critical and central role in Bioshock Infinite. In Metro: Last Light you play as a Russian, with not a single American or Western European to be found (so far anyways, I haven't beaten it yet).
Every game that I found interesting over the last year had more diversity than usual. Every. Single. One. Without. Exception. Let me say this again because it is important: games that are more diverse are games that I liked.
To some extent, the diversity in these games is part of why I loved them. And yes, I loved Mass Effect 3, ending be damned. I always play as a female character when given the choice. Lack of pale skin is even better. I enjoy playing in the shoes of someone who is different than me. This is the only Commander Shepard in my eyes:
Maybe my viewpoint is just because I've been gaming for so very long. I remember when the NES was the hot new thing. I remember when Doom came out and being blown away by how much better the graphics were than Wolfenstein 3D. I've been a hardcore gamer for over two decades now I realize. Maybe it's because of this that I'm looking for something new and interesting. But maybe, just maybe, it's because games can connect us with other characters and places in a way that no other art form can. Why squander it on yet another white male cisgendered late 20s American military guy for the millionth time?