We take a look back at the recent events that have contributed to the conversation about diversity in the gaming industry.
As the gaming industry evolves, so do its audience and so does its values. With more and more gamers having access to social platforms, the issue of diversity in the industry has become a common one. While no definite solutions have been formulated as to the best way to address these issues, many groups and individuals have been moving towards creating a more welcoming space for the types of gamers typically ignored by video games and video game creators in the past.
In an attempt to sort through the major events that have come up over the past few months, this article will roundup four key moments in the discussion about diversity in the gaming industry. This is not an editorial but is instead a recap of events that stand out in the conversation of how to include everyone in the world of video games.
This year, PAX East appeared to makinga concerted effort to be a more inclusive environment, adding a number of welcoming elements to the convention. From things as small as having a gender-neutral bathroom to dedicating a section of the floor to its controversial Diversity Lounge, PAX seemed to be genuinely trying to broaden its horizons.
The Diversity Lounge was a topic of much debate before and after the convention, spawning a lot of discussion over whether or not the lounge was a “zoo” meant to house the “strange” gamers or actually a good way to showcase the wide array of gamers that exist.
While there has been no consensus on whether or not the lounge was a success, many visitors said that it was safe place to hang out, ask some questions, and meet new people. There were no major incidents involving hate speech or sarcastic con-goers.
Part of the controversy over what PAX’s intentions were by including the lounge centers around its location. Separate from the main floor, it was sectioned off to a corner of the hall next to the Badger Theater. Many critics argued that the off-the-beaten-path location of the booths was the organizers’ way of shuffling the misfits off to the edge of the convention while still being able to say that “at least it’s there.”
At one point, Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik stopped by the lounge in an attempt to try out his new tabletop game with some of the con’s attendees. While he did not make any statement about the reason for choosing the lounge for his visit, some have argued that this was his way of making up for his divisive twitter posts regarding transgendered people.
This year’s Diversity Lounge featured booths from groups such as Bent Con, Toronto Gaymers, PressXY, and Queer Geek.
Gaming in Color
A milestone for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community, the documentary Gaming in Color worked to highlight the various members of the LGBT world that have been involved with video games in some way. Funded on Kickstarter and produced with the help of numerous volunteers, the film centered around individuals and events that celebrated the fact that it isn’t only heterosexual males that enjoy video games.
Filmed largely in an interview format, the producers talked with a number of industry insiders such as Colleen Macklin, Matthew Michael Brown, and Nick Tan. Gaming in Color also spends a large portion of time focused on the newly-crowdfunded convention, GaymerX, a controversial event that garnered harsh criticism from the Westboro Baptist Church.
GaymerX featured panels that revolved largely around the issue of LGBT-centered gaming and geek culture. The documentary interviews several con-goers and attempts to gain a rounded perspective on how gamers feel about the issues that conventions such as GaymerX bring to light.
Gaming in Color is available to watch at gamingincolor.vhx.tv with a small donation.
Tomodachi Life: Same-Sex Marriage
When Nintendo released Tomodachi Life for the 3DS this June, they couldn’t have expected the amount of backlash they would receive because of their small, quirky game about managing an island full of Miis. The outrage was caused by Nintendo failing to program in the ability to have two same-sex Miis marry each other, an event that unlocks a number of extra features in the game, including the ability to have children.
Nintendo’s response to these comments was largely defensive, arguing that “Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life.” This caused even more backlash as critics argued that including same-sex marriage was not social commentary at all but was instead simply a reflection of real life, which is exactly what Tomodoachi Life claimed to be doing.
Not long after this second wave of attacks, Nintendo withdrew their earlier statement and released an apologetic statement:
“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch.
We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the ‘Tomodachi’ series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.”
As of now, the controversy has appeared to die down with critics begrudgingly choosing to marry their Miis as man and woman then change the sex of one of the Miis to better represent what they want from the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity: No Female Protagonist
With the announcement of the newest Assassin’s Creed game at this year’s E3 came the news that players would be unable to play as a female protagonist. This news was promptly followed by a swell of criticism against the series’ creators, Ubisoft.
Part of what made the news so relevant was the fact that a previous title in the series, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, featured a female protagonist, letting the series’ audience know that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to play as a woman.
Jonathon Cooper, the animation director who developed Liberation stated on Twitter that, despite Ubisoft’s claim that animating a female protagonist would call for the replacement of 8,000 animations, the actual amount of time spent on the changes would amount to a day or two of work.
Ubisoft representatives had this to say in response:
“We recognize the valid concern around diversity in video game narrative. Assassin’s Creed is developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs and we hope this attention to diversity is reflected in the settings of our games and our characters.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is focused on the story of the lead character, Arno. Whether playing by yourself or with the co-op Shared Experiences, you the gamer will always be playing as Arno, complete with his broad range of gear and skill sets that will make you feel unique.
With regard to diversity in our playable Assassins, we’ve featured Aveline, Connor, Adewale and Altair in Assassin’s Creed games and we continue to look at showcasing diverse characters. We look forward to introducing you to some of the strong female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity.”
It doesn’t look as though Ubisoft will be caving in to demands any time soon, especially with such a large portion of the work done on the game. Whether or not the changes would prove to be too taxing has yet to be proven (or disproven) but discussion on the topic continues online.
Compared to ten years ago, the gaming industry is buzzing with discussion over the issue of diversity in the video game world. Whether it’s gender-neutral bathrooms, crowd-funded documentaries, or wanting to play as a woman in your favorite video game, it’s clear that the conversation is nowhere near over. Perhaps for the first time, the question of how to diversify video games is beginning to gain momentum.