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Reader Comments (51)

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:02PM mysecretid said

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As Practical suggests, change in gaming rests first with the developers.

If they don't realize the need for a multi-representative game world while they're creating, then the world will come out uniformly straight, white, and male.

I often say that this is not even so much an issue of "diversity", as simply giving us a game world which is recognizeable.

The humans of World of WarCraft, for example, are less "true to life" in terms of mix than the people I see whenever I go to the mall in this small, predominantly-white border town.

It becomes, then, not so much an issue of "intellectualized representation" as merely the need to reflect better the current state of humanity in fiction.

Part of the problem too is big business. There are still marketing people who believe that going for a "straight while male" demographic is the "safest", in terms of lack of controversy, and maximum profits.

Are the marketers right? I don't know.

Certainly, the way a minority of people turn into frothing hatespewing monsters at the mere /suggestion/ of homosexuality might be considered a point of controversy -- but all indicators suggest that such people are actually a very loud /minority/.

Do we really need to appease such people in game design? Appeasement, like blackmail, tends to go on forever if you let it.

As Practical suggests above, I don't know that there's a conscious "conspiracy" in effect with game developers, so much as an unconscious defaulting to what they know.

As you say, more devs need to become aware of the default choices they're making before things can change.

And again, it's not so much about so-called "political correctness", as it is about more accurately representing the current state of humanity as we know it and live it, every day.

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:39PM (Unverified) said

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@mysecretid

I don't even understand what "uniformly straight, white, and male" means. Are we talking about New England WASPs who went to elite prep schools before becoming bankers, Southern frat guys who drive pickup trucks and drink Bud heavy, Midwestern pig farmers who attend church weekly and love football, California skaters who smoke a little weed and read comic books, or a Portland environmentalist who hikes and reads Tom Friedman? Better yet, how about a New England environmentalist or California banker. The description "straight, white male" says nothing about the descriptee and everything about the descriptor: namely that the person employing such a trite expression either has nothing more interesting and accurate to say or doesn't know any better.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 4:44PM fallwind said

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@(Unverified) how about "Catered to, empowered, and ignorant of their privilege"?

./waits to get modded into the stoneage.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 5:42PM Borick said

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@fallwind "Catered to, empowered, and ignorant of their privilege"

I prefer "Service-centered, productive and classless", but that's humanity, not the defining trait of anything so narrow as skin color.

Good job, though. You're getting closer to something that isn't an ignorant, hate-affirming rant with your ignorant, hate-affirming rant.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 8:50PM mysecretid said

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@(Unverified)

I was talking about building /fictional/ worlds in games, actually.

How, in many games, in many superhero comics, and in certain older movies, any significantly interesting or important character defaults to being straight, white, and male.

In noting this, I'm simply pointing out that the created worlds then start to feel artifically uniform -- because not all people who fall in love are straight, and not all people who are important, authoritative, or inclined to heroics are male.

In other worlds, certain fictional worlds then become /less/ realistic in their depiction of human society than what you or I might see walking into a small-town shopping mall. And the immersiveness of the fictional world suffers for it.

My point was (and is) that I don't see a conscious conspiracy of exclusion in game design here, merely developers who automatically and unconsciously rely on the immediately familiar, or "what they know", instead of taking a moment to consider how they might more fully represent the citizens of their fictional worlds.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 9:00PM mysecretid said

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@mysecretid

I lost the section where I also mentioned that not all interesting or important people need to be white, either. To create fictional worlds where this is so, by unconscious default, simply makes the created world seem unconvincing.

It's all about plausibility in created worlds which purport to represent humanity as an entire entity.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 4:03PM fallwind said

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I once asked a friend to read a favorite book of mine. My friend was male, the main character of the book was female. He got about 1/3rd of the way in and gave me my book back.

when I asked him why he didn't like the book, he said "It's not that I don't like it, it's well written, I just can't identify with [character's name]". It made me think... growing up I had exactly zero books where the main character was anything like I was. There were a few that had a similarity or two (as in, same race, same gender... that was about it), but none that really even came close. I had to learn to identify with those characters regardless of how different we were. My straight, white, male friend never had to do that... ever.

He can go to the movie theater and have a selection of films staring straight white males. I'm lucky to get a low budget indi film a decade that depicts someone like me. He can pick up any magazine on the rack and see his demographic staring back from the cover. He has the luxury of being able to ignore all the material that isn't about and for him. If I did that I would have missed out on some of the greatest works of art that we have ever made. Books like Waiting for Godot, Journey of the Catachist, Shogun, and many more would have been closed to me.

Rather than bemoan the situation, I feel that this has given me a great advantage over him. My ability to relate to people who are different is vastly higher than his. I can read a book about a male, queer, person of colour and I can identify with him in ways that he could never do. I think that if everyone was a little better about picking up a book or a game or a movie with a lead character that was not a mirror image of oneself it would be a better place for everyone.

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:17PM ArtGamer said

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Great write-up Eliot, and on a topic I tend to ponder on often in this genre. Everyone deserves to feel included and have the opportunity to play or come up with characterizations that reflect themselves.

I wish more gaming companies made this a standard practice to have a multitude of representations ethnically, gender-wise (especially non-conforming) and even open-options of romance if or when the story calls for it, or even *le gasp* leading characters within the presented mythos.

Stepping out of the "box" doesn't have to mean making every given re-presentation to beat one over the head with a "token" figure -- but it does mean that each of these "other boxes" gets the same consideration as the over-represented "str8, white male."

I look forward to the day when socially--these things are simply a matter-of-fact and *not* a PR-event of being "PC."

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:18PM Borick said

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We, the players, need ownership. Inclusion needs to mean that I'm not just a rational actor taking part in the collective vacuum behavior of a statistical simulation, but a stakeholder in the world itself.

There's a market bubble. Investment money isn't being spent on cool ideas and productive work, but to protect certain strategic plans.

We can't go full radical and change the most developed and invested 3D MMO into something better, because that would upset the planned obsolescence and upset people with jobs.

We can't get a decent multiplatform, multi-model MMO not because of design constraints and control systems, but because of IP overhead and ego issues.

I think that player ownership of content is the elephant in the room regarding inclusion.

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:28PM (Unverified) said

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I completely disagree with the author's thesis. How about we come to these games simply as gamers rather than white gamers and gay gamers. I've never thought of myself of my character (whether a green orc in WoW or Asian Tidus in FFX) in racial terms while playing the game because they're completely unrelated. People can feel like outsiders for all sorts of reasons, but usually for reasons that aren't related to race, sexual orientation, or whatever allegedly aggrieved political correct label one chooses to apply. I find the reasons are normally things like introversion or a boring personality; attributes that are strictly and uniquely personal.

If we want to be inclusive, let's stop finding differences and start discussing similarities.

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:34PM (Unverified) said

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A problem I see it is that it should be done naturally and not by someone sitting a developer down and saying, "You must have x amount of 'ethnic' characters in your game." And that raises the question of how.

Are developers really creating a world catered to one demographic or are they making these worlds based on their life experiences? Can you really say, "Sorry, despite what you've experienced, you're not cultural enough to be making this game"?

Consider that for Asian developers, their games often have Asian themed worlds, characters and styles. Should we point out that they aren't catering to Caucasians? I don't know, I have trouble distinguishing between when it's just life experiences taking shape in developer hands versus racism, sexism, etc. Not that it's always difficult, sometimes you can just tell that a developer does it deliberately; i.e. one-sided fan service for instance.

I agree with the point of having equality, but I don't like to propose any solution that is unnatural or coercive. The best I can think of is to fund game developers of many different creeds in various countries. There's also doing what you're doing here, bringing up the issue so that developers know we, the consumers, feel that way. Get enough people to show that we'd buy games that are diverse and maybe they'd start taking that into consideration with development.

Posted: May 10th 2011 4:41PM fallwind said

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@(Unverified) I don't think the OP was thinking of anything like imposing restrictions on what characters the industry can or can not use. By bringing up issues like this, devs (and yes, devs DO read Massively) will take note.

I'm not expecting a tidal surge of minority characters in MMOs, but a subtle shift over time.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 4:37PM faralorn said

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Oh, my! Political correctness rears its ugly head. Is there no corner of life safe from it?

Every one deserves to feel cool? Are transgendered pedophiles being left out? For shame. What about the obese? Do MMORPGs reinforce "lookism"? Why can't I roll an obvious bull dyke or gay queen? Get real.

Like any other mass-market product MMORPGs are designed to appeal to that very large bulge in the middle of a Gaussian bell-shaped curve. They do not indulge the tails of the curve as the expense and marginal utility of trying to satisfy everyone are financially prohibitive.

Like it or not, Asia is the center of MMO development. Asian development studios have no interest in addressing the wants or grievances of hispanics, native Americans, blacks, rabid feminists and sexual minorities.

Posted: May 10th 2011 5:02PM Palebane said

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I think we should ask the orcs and undead how they feel about this.

Posted: May 10th 2011 5:19PM Gildas said

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I think this is indicative of a lack of distinct "culture" in gaming worlds. Game worlds may have cultures, but those cultures aren't truly foreign, they are rooted in the cultures of the developer with a fantasy glaze on top.

Developers create worlds from their own cultural "mythologies". If a game went out of its way to adjust to be more inclusive, but didn't have a distinctly foreign cultural mythology to make this credible, then it would feel very unnatural and forced because it wouldn't fit right in context.

It's hard to explain what I mean by "cultural mythology", I guess what I'm getting at is that people can have completely different ways of viewing the world, not just token aspects on a nominal level like sexuality and gender.

I think an example would be to look at the world perception of a Native American or a villager in China hundreds of years ago. There is a distinct logic that goes behind the perspective of those cultures, they have their own superstitions and mythologies to guide their morals.

If diversity is added it has to make sense within the culture, and the culture has to be distinctly foreign if the foreign morals are to be credible.

For example if I were to have a society of immortals, sexuality wouldn't be so much of an issue for them because they would not be concerned with reproducing. They would probably be more tolerant of eachother because they would have an entirely different pace of life and sense of perspective. Their entire system of morality would be slightly foreign to us because they do not experience death on such an intimate level. The important point here is that it makes sense for them to be foreign, there's a context.

There was a ted speech that the point reminds me of ( http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_tan_on_creativity.html )

Posted: May 10th 2011 6:16PM faralorn said

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There are threads like this one in which commentators demand that game designers render characters that look they do in real life. However, what those people look like in real life isn't particularly attractive to most people who play games. Sorry folks. The net is never going to be cast wide enough to catch you. The Law of Diminishing Returns works in the game market just as it works everywhere else and making you happy isn't worth the expense in terms of return on investment.

Everyone involved in the game industry is working to pay their bills and aggregate some disposable income. Rectifying what you consider to be social injustice isn't even on the radar while turning a profit and having a job tomorrow is. Development studios and publishers are businesses operating in a free and ferociously competitive global market. That's real life. Get used to it. If they don't provide the products and services you think you are entitled to it is because you count so little as to be unworthy of attention.

Homosexual game players won't boycott good games because NPC portrayals and character renders aren't gay enough for them. Blacks won't boycott games because they can't roll a character that is black enough for them. Make a good game that pleases most players and the rest will come along because, in the end, game-play trumps all other considerations. Developers don't have to cater to the wants of gay or black players in order to create a successful product.

It can fairly be argued that everyone deserves something like equal protection of the law, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and so on. But can anyone other than a college sophomore assert with a straight face that everyone deserves to "feel cool"?



Posted: May 10th 2011 6:44PM Borick said

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@faralorn But can anyone other than a college sophomore assert with a straight face that everyone deserves to "feel cool"?

When you use the three L's you're not talking about things that a person deserves. You're talking about something the collective acknowledges as necessary before human life can get to the level where it starts building walls and starting wars.

Nobody 'deserves to look cool', but would anyone other than an egghead PhD propose that human beings should have no protected place to dream from? I'd take a nazi bullet to protect your right to feel like you're a special snowflake, even if you felt you didn't deserve it.
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Posted: May 10th 2011 7:50PM faralorn said

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@Borick

Alas, I have no idea of where you are coming from. The point I am trying to drive home is based on microeconomics. The game industry is a highly competitive, global business. It is not a college campus with tables, banners, pamphlets and protests. It is a harsh, demanding world where failure means being out of a job.

Threads like this are also plagued by ignorant Monday Morning Quarterbacks who have never lifted a finger to develop a game or bring one to market. They are like film critics who couldn't make a decent movie if God ordered them to do so. They are great at finding fault and nothing else.

I believe that those who managed to raise the money to develop a new game know a heck of a lot more about what it takes than the noobs on this and other threads who think that they know best. There is nothing wrong with the MMORPG market. Lots of very bright people and experienced people are working hard to create a very rich array of products.

And finally, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights will not soon be amended to include the right to look cool.


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Posted: May 11th 2011 2:24PM Borick said

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@faralorn I apologize for being obtuse.

Did I deny that the business world is not competitive. I respect the skill, knowledge and dedication that the industry commands.

But a competitive environment isn't categorically justified. I believe that right now that very tough, competitive environment has shackled the entire industry into an unsustainable bubble. Guys like you seem to worship the process for some reason that I don't get. What does it matter that a developer is a proven genius at game design, when his genius becomes shackled to serving the process?

Remember Rock & Roll? Those kids back then were banging out horrible stuff in comparison to formal orchestrated music, but since people no longer related to classical music, the whole industry was overturned and before long those highly-trained and skilled artists in the orchestra pit were earning service wages to play backup tracks to four ignorant kids banging out chords.

I think this can happen to the MMO industry.

And finally, the U.N. is not a governing body in my country, where law protects our ability to feel and say without prior restraint.

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Posted: May 10th 2011 7:11PM hereafter said

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Race is an easy one: just add more. The only concern is how it fits into the world. If a major kingdom in a fantasy world is based on medieval England, it's not unreasonable to have more white folks. An asian king wouldn't really make sense, regardless of how in need of an asian role model the game is. So yes, it's important to add diversity in the game's NPCs, but it should be done in a way that actually makes sense.

Sexual preference is a tougher one to seal with because, as you noted, most people don't go around announcing who they like to knock boots with. The closest you could get to a gay shopkeeper in this case is giving him an effeminate voice. And again, in the case of fantasy, we're not going to see a king and his male "queen." I can't personally explain why this is (without resorting to my own biased preferences as a straight male), but my gut tells me that it would end badly. Jokes and derision for a start and probably actual hatred from some players. And again, depending on the source material, an openly gay leader might not make sense from a story standpoint.

I think the unfortunate reality is that major, mainstream entertainment will rarely be the vanguard for social and cultural change. As long as homosexuality and other sexual identities are considered outside the norm or even taboo, we won't see major characters that do those identities justice, at least not in a AAA MMO (because of its need for mass appeal) and not in a way that doesn't feel forced.

tl;dr - race should be an easy fix, sex not so much

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