Thursday, November 26th, 2015 02:46 pm
For the Perth Gaming Festival this Saturday. I have a bunch of copanelists, so this is just points I want to hit, not a strict plan.

More people are playing and making games than ever before, and as the community has grown so too has the call for games that represent a wide range of human experience. This panel explores the importance of diversity in games, with discussion of ways developers can make more representative games, of how both players and game makers can be supportive of diverse voices, and will include examples of games featuring positive identity representations. Our panelists will speak from a wide range of perspectives, including disability, the LGBTIQ spectrum, and culturally diverse backgrounds.

My notes:

Diversity in gaming:

Diverse characters
Diverse players
Diverse industry


Diverse industry: Obviously there is some outright bigotry but that's not the main problem. People insintinctively hire those who "feel" like a "proper game developer"... and those instincts tell us that's a middle class straight white able bodied guy. So you have to go out of your way to hire a diverse workforce. Gearbox does this, and says it improves their games. Hopefully there will be a positive feedback loop: more diverse workforce means people realise it's possible, those in charge of hiring will be less blinkered etc. But more visible can also mean more backlash.

Also important for stuff like social groups, conferences, who you invite on con panels etc. How much does it cost, is it accessible, is there a willingness to push against harassment etc.

Indirect hurdles: long working hours often only work for young healthy single guys who have a wife/girlfriend/mother to keep them fed and clothed. Game jams are not accessible for anyone with energy issues or time constraints like kids. Game making software is expensive, and initial salaries are often awful, people who start out comfortable can take this in stride more easily. Also specific access issues, like wheelchair access ;)

Diverse characters is pretty straightforward, or should be. But it tends to come as a result of a diverse workplace, and if it doesn't there is the danger of inadvertent unfortunate implications. At the very least listen to the broader community and get feedback from a wide range of players.The first trans character in the Dragon Age games got a lot of criticisms for being transphobic, so they got trans players to give feedback on the next one before the game was released, and did much better.

Challenge assumptions about the "default": why is your blank slate protagonist a guy? Are all your NPCs pale except for one or two notable ones who are dark? Why are your love interests only available to the opposite sex?

Not restricting gender etc is not quite the same as explicit inclusion eg the difference between a "player sexual" love interest who can be read as straight vs explicitely lgbt characters whose sexuality is mentioned even if the player doesn't enter a same sex romance with them.

Including diverse characters isn't much good if they're offensive stereotypes.

A lot of games use elements of POC experience (colonialism and invasion, native American imagery etc) but have few if any POC characters. (nb I know a lot of Australians don't use POC but most of these games are American, so)

Common missing options with player controlled characters/generated NPCs: non binary, trans, different body types, decent lighting for dark skin (if there's dark options at all), curly/natural hair, epicanthal folds, different kinds of noses.

Diverse players: people are attracted to characters they can relate to, and put off by narratives which erase or belittle people like them. If all your female characters are one dimensional, pointlessly sexualised, and need rescuing, women are going to enjoy and thus play the game less.

There are also accessibility issues: disabled people have trouble with reflexes, hand eye corrdination, lack of flexibility with input and output (eg they need special controllers, subtitles etc), certain colour combinations.

Games are expensive!

And we have to notice the diverse players already there. This is most obvious with women who are a majority of gamers but have our gaming erased and belittled. Genres like hidden object puzzles that are popular with women are consistently ignored in discussions of gaming, even when relevant eg when talking about non violent games. Equivalent erasure of POC/disabled etc players.


Diversity has positive benefits for everyone eg more flexible and less demanding workplace, wider variety of points of view, new kinds of stories that haven't been told to death, wider variety of kinds of games to play in more flexible ways. Doesn't mean the existing ways of doing things neccesarily have to be abandoned, just expanded upon.


I have played:

  • Gone Home: sweet interactive narrative with f/f subplot.
  • Magical Diary: Inclusive and diverse, can be dark-skinned/romance women including an aromantic asexual.
  • Portal: WOC protagonist who is largely an "everyman" you project onto.
  • Dragon Age series: Can play as male/female, various skin colours, multiple same sex romances. Reasonably good on lgbt, POC, female characters. Terrible on disability.
  • Cute Demon Crashers: Sex positive non romantic sex sim.
  • Fallen London: You can be non binary and the plots don't care about your gender, including romance/sex. Diverse characters.
  • Undertale: non binary protagonist, background lgbt characters, encourages pacifism and compassion. Not very accessible, had to stop playing :(
  • Guild Wars: moderately diverse characters. Encourages a friendly MMO environment.

Have heard good things about but not played (or not significantly):

  • Borderlands series: scifi shooter with diverse secondary and playable characters.
  • Rust: Multiplayer survival game. Chooses player character ethnicity at random.
  • Never Alone: Adorable platformer made in collaboration with the IƱupiat, an Alaska Native people.
  • Papa and Yo: Puzzle game about a Brazilian boy, explores abuse and alcoholism.
  • Mirror's Edge: platformer with WOC protagonist.



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