Credit: Katrina Williams

Demanding diversity in video games

By Michelle Osborne

Michelle Osborne explores diversity in video games and why it improves the gaming industry.

Representation is important. It’s vital for people to see themselves represented in the world, whether it be in literature, politics, or academia. The need for inclusion is certainly overlooked in most areas of life, but especially in video games.

I write this article in a position of privilege. As a white, middle-class woman, I have always been represented in the world that surrounds me. Historically, this wasn’t always the case, and I have to thank all those who fought for women’s rights for that. Because of their activism, I have always had people that looked like me to look up to. Without even considering the impact of this inclusion, I have benefitted; I have never had to question whether I belong because people like myself are always included.

In many games, the characters you play with are customisable to represent you. This is true of games such as Animal Crossing, Fortnite, and Minecraft, to name a few. Most people like to create characters that resemble themselves, and so want to have options of different ethnicities. The need for diversity is particularly prevalent in life-simulation games, such as The Sims.

Released in 2000, The Sims had many facets to gameplay that were groundbreaking for its period. Not only was it a masterpiece in its gameplay, but it was groundbreaking for its inclusion of same-sex relationships. However, the character customisation was insufficient, with only three different swatches for skin tone and absolutely no differentiation of physical features. The addition of these features would have been very ambitious for the developers to include with considerably lower technological standards in 2000. You just have to look in any of your old Sims wardrobes to realise how inferior the character designs were to what we have now. Regardless, representing the worldwide population in ethnicity should have been a priority.

However, the game progressed over time. When the third instalment of the series was released in 2009, the developers introduced sliders which enabled various skin tones and body shapes. This created amazing customisation which helped the players truly make themselves. With the fourth instalment, The Sims developers attempted to go a step further and added premade templates of varying ethnicities, including the differences in facial shape. However, there were only 25 skin tone swatches when the game was first released, with nine tones being unnatural colours like green. Not only was the colour variation reduced, but colours that were not white contained greying. Despite the game developers adding further choices in later patches, the problem of faulty skin tones remains in the game.

The online community of The Sims players have begun to question this. Prominent YouTubers with links to the developers have voiced their concerns. In recent videos, creators have explained why the developers should alter the skin tones. Hopefully, the discussion will generate progress, but it makes evident a considerable issue in the gaming industry. Developers are willing to perfect the White characters, but not those of other ethnic communities.

There are immense benefits for game developers who tackle diversity. The game Overwatch has generated more than $2bn since its 2015 release, and many people believe its success is due in part to the diversity of characters. Overwatch contains a world filled with diversity and inclusivity, which has attracted many players as they can see themselves as a part of it. 

Diversity in games is not only necessary for creating characters, but also for forming the world around them. Unless the world is one which is based on an alien planet with unknown species, such as Spore, it would only be normal to accurately represent the population of the world. It would also represent those who create the games. According to the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, 10% of the UK games industry workers are from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. A game is all the more enriched with an accurate and diverse world around it.

There is no price you can put on representation. To see someone like yourself being represented in a game could motivate or show you that you can do certain things. It allows children to feel included in a community, or adults to feel themselves doing something they could never dream of. Inclusion in games is something that must be fought for, and while the industry is far more progressive than many others, it is still far behind where it should be.


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