After this year’s E3 events the internet was abuzz with talk about diversity in video games and whether or not we should be seeing more of it. Some argued that it doesn’t matter while others stated that it not only matters, but is extremely important. A lot of the hubbub began after the trailers and gameplay footage from Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft’s next installment in the Assassin’s Creed series, started to roll out. The game features four characters which are seen throughout the game via the four player co-op. While players only see themselves as one main character, Arno Dorian, they see their friends as the other three. All four characters are not only male but they are also Caucasian in appearance which generated two questions: why are there no females and why are they all white?
Assassin’s Creed Unity is lacking in the female department as well as in the racial diversity department, both departments that have been visited in past games of the series (ie Aveline and Connor). Because of this fact, Ubisoft was put on blast by fans who wondered why they chose such a bland cast of main characters as opposed to a more diverse one, as they have done in the past. Ubisoft’s response was a bit of a joke as they claimed they couldn’t add female avatars due to “the reality of production”, meaning that it takes more time and work to animate and add females to the game, according to Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio. To me, the “reality of production” sounds more like the reality of a deadline, but that’s neither here nor there. The response by Ubisoft has received plenty of criticism from within the game development community, as well as among the gamers. Even Patrice Desilets, former Assassin’s Creed game designer, has said that “With all the time, money and people on that project, you could’ve done it” in regards to adding females to Unity. This merely highlights the actual reality of gaming: that video games are drastically lacking in diversity and not just within the Assassin’s Creed series.
This situation brought to light the fact that not only are games continuing to a feature predominately male cast, they are also featuring mostly white males. It was obviously noted that Unity is coming up short on female representation, but the conversation has turned towards a general discussion on diversity in which the exclusion of varying races and ethnicities is being brought up. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency posted a video on her Facebook page from Jonathan McIntosh’s YouTube channel that helps to illustrate this point:
It is relevant that some of these characters, such as Batman and Geralt of Rivia, stem from well established source martial and therefore have their appearance not because developers chose for it to be that way, but rather because they were already established to look as such. That may be an issue in and of itself, but not the issue I am here to discuss. What is most notable about the video is that most of the characters shown did not come from well established source material, they were developed to have overdone and bland appearances for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean that these characters are poorly written/animated, that the games they are featured in are bad, or that developers are inherently sexist or racist in any way, it just means that there is a notable lack of diversity. Period. The benefit of having more diverse casts in video games is having more dissimilar games in general. Different characters of varying genders, races, and even sexual orientation create different stories and narratives. These characters will have different backgrounds and varying goals which in turn creates a more diversified experience for the gamer; it’s not playing the same character over and over again – it’s new people with new interests and varied outcomes in every game which benefits everyone, in my opinion.
I mostly talk about feminism in gaming and I know that I have brought the lack of female protagonists in gaming to light before, but one thing I have yet to touch on publicly is my thoughts on the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in video games. In my opinion developers are choosing to stick with white males because it’s the default, a standard that was set long ago which just hasn’t been important enough to change until recently. That is the case with males superseding females in leading roles and I think it’s also what halts the inclusion of racial and ethnic diversity in video games. People may not think that the majority of game protagonists being white is an issue, much like how people don’t think the lack of female protagonists is an issue, but it is. As I stated above, the lack of variation in video games stems from using the same type of characters – white males – as main protagonists in the majority of games. Whether or not we actively see it as a problem, once you start to think about it in more depth and actively comprehend the issue you will understand how creating a more diverse cast would make a difference in the game’s narrative.
One character that came to mind when thinking about this topic was Nilin from Remember Me. Nilin was not only a female protagonist in a brand new IP, she was also a half white and half black, racially. She herself was very diverse and she brought an equal amount of variation to the game through her personal experiences. The same can be said for Faith and Wei Shen, from Mirror’s Edge and Sleeping Dogs respectively, who are both Asian protagonists in their own games. Connor from Assassin’s Creed III is Native American and Aveline from Assassin’s Creed Liberation was of French and African heritage. Lee from Telltale’s The Walking Dead is black, as is Clementine from the same series. More characters like these need to exist, you’d be surprised at how few characters who showcase diversity outside of the “white male” default are in video games. This is not to say that there should be no white or male characters, but we really shouldn’t be able to easily pick 40 characters out of a 3 day conference who are all white males.
Aisha Tyler made some statements regarding diversity in gaming this past week and one quote of hers that particularly stood out to me was when she stated “Gamers have to DEMAND change, both with their voices and their pocketbooks”. This statement couldn’t be more accurate, developers will keep making these bland character appearance choices until we start to speak up and demand a change. Sitting on the sidelines or being on the side that says “Well I barely notice it so whatever” just shows the developers that they don’t need to change. They are still making money and no one is complaining so why bother taking the time to diversify their next game’s cast?
We as gamers need to educate ourselves further on the topic and form educated opinions on the subject at hand. Developers wont change it up until we make them so speaking up is key, and the more informed you are the better your points will come across. If speaking up in vocal or written ways isn’t your thing, then use the other options at your disposal – your free will and finances. It may sound drastic to some people but not buying a game is a form of protesting the game in general. For example, I don’t buy games that are blatantly sexist or offensive in any way to me. It’s my way of saying “No, I will not support your sexism/offensive decisions by spending my hard-earned money on your game”. Of course my one purchase doesn’t affect the developers or publishers in a direct way but if we all stand together it will affect them and a positive change for more diversity will start to show. Video games are developed for us, the consumers, and if we strongly demand a change then we will eventually see it take effect.
All in all, it doesn’t matter how you chose to take a stand, all that matters is that you take the time to care – even if it’s just a little bit. Apathy and a general lack of compassion towards issues such as these is a real issue in today’s society. Let us stand up and speak out for what is right, diversifying video games is a must and we the gaming community demand it. We shouldn’t have to settle for any less simply because “that’s just how it is”.