The world is and has always been a diverse place. This doesn’t need to be stated. Why’d I even say it? Well, for the reason that gaming has been… a bit slow on the uptake. There are loads of games that feature gruff, bearded white dudes that could be related to Solid Snake.
Now, the problem isn’t really the character, if you’re being objective. Rather, that game developers create characters, especially protagonists, that don’t really look like a lot of the gamers that consume their games. Seriously, Nathan Drake, Max Payne. When playing games with vast character creation options or huge casts, I tend to gravitate to characters that look like me. I made a Redguard in Skyrim, a Norn in GuildWars 2, and dark-skinned characters in every Fallout I’ve owned. I was gifted Black Ops 3, and I immediately jumped into Campaign Mode. In the character creation, which was short and simple, I was pleasantly surprised that I could choose a female character model to wreck shop with. This was a pretty progressive step, given the contention of permitting women on the battlefield in the United States, at the very least. However, the titillation stopped there. The male faces were of three or so weathered, early-30’s white guy face models. The female face models were equally as diverse. Even though you don’t even see your character’s face often, this was a turn-off for me. However, this thought made look at my other games and check out what some of the demographics were. More to female characters, or rather role of the female protagonist, we’ve been getting some pretty strong robust roles. Lightning, Vanille, and Fang in Final Fantasy XIII series, an amazingly fierce and gritty Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider, and Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge (and its hotly anticipated sequel due in May) all of which have been well-received. Everyone enjoys a deep, rich protagonist regardless of the gender, so I’m glad that I mostly play fighting games. While those games tend to be fairly diverse, you can always find some underserved microcosm. For example, Super Street Fighter IV evil-doer Juri Han was the first Korean fighter to be featured in Street Fighter and the first real villainess in the series. To compare, Tekken’s Baek Doo San was introduced in Tekken 2 in 1995 and Kim was present in King of Fighter ’94 (but debuted in Fatal Fury 2). Mentioning Street Fighter, a number of their characters are intensely stereotypical caricatures, but that’s another topic for another day.
One franchise that got it right, in my opinion, is Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed. Yes, half their games take place in Europe and are relatively similar. However, it’s one of the few IPs that takes place in the Middle East, and features the Syrian protagonist Altair. Moreover, although some accused Ubisoft of “white-washing,” I thought Ratonhnhaké:ton, aka Connor Kenway was a brilliant character. Ubisoft even hired Mohawk cultural consultants to ensure they got Connor right, going as far as to not copyright the name “Ratonhnhaké:ton” at the advisement of these consultants. However, Ubisoft has lately been the butt of many a joke when they stated women were simply too hard to animate to include more of in Assassin’s Creed. Two steps back, indeed, but progress in a lengthy process.
Largely, I’m not put off much by the “lack” of ethnic or gender diversity because the strides made to include these microcosms have been huge. Even in the face of snafus like Gamergate, it’s brilliant that topics of representation are being discussed vociferously. When these companies employ heavyweights that look more like everyone, we get games with characters, icons and experiences that cater to everyone. I’m optimistic, and the sky’s the limit here. The best is definitely yet to come.