#INeedDiverseGames is a hashtag I’m seeing used all over Twitter today. I think most often, it’s being used to serve as the idea that there are too many games today where the experience or choices of the player are too often old, boring ones that we’ve experienced or chosen before, a great number of times. An even deeper, more socially-relevant observation is that we play too many games where the main protagonist is a white guy and, most often, any other race- or gender-combination of characters in many games aren’t represented to the extent and breadth that they deserve, with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
I agree wholeheartedly.
Now, this isn’t the first time this conversation has been had, and it certainly won’t be the last, but nevertheless it’s happening again with growing frequency and visibility, all over the internet. We’re at the point again, where developers who are either currently working on a project or looking for a new one are paying attention to what people are saying, and some are being influenced by their words. I know I am. Although I am but a single piece of the grand whole of what is the future of video games, I feel confident that if I have this stance, it’s likely that others in my position do as well.
I’m a 27 year-old Game Design student. I have yet to ship a commercial game, which means, among other things, my words hold less weight. However, I’m not alone in thinking that just because I have zero shipped titles under my belt that my opinions are meaningless or aren’t applicable. It just means fewer eyes will read this, and the owners of the eyes who do read this have little to no context as to who I am and what I’m about. I follow a decent vocal population of both indie and AAA game developers on Twitter, and I actively read many of the articles written or shared by them, so you could say that I’m exposed to what a small chunk of English-speaking devs are concerned with regarding the industry (at least, the things they are willing to share publicly). I am actively keeping an open mind about many of the issues being discussed, and am consciously absorbing what bits make sense to me while and filtering out the negative insults. I’m doing my best to shape myself into a proper designer on top of the foundation of being a decent human being. I am my own person and I think for myself. I question ideas or movements, and I don’t have an agenda.
This is the perspective of someone who hasn’t made anything of note yet, but wants nothing more than to improve the medium by adding to it. I take the games industry seriously, and I take my education seriously.
My perception of what games I want to work on has entered a stage of refinement over the past year, and it’s still in flux. I genuinely want to make great games that people enjoy playing. I don’t want to build a reputation as a designer who simply clones popular titles or genres. I want to craft interesting, memorable experiences, and most importantly, I never want to offend any potential player. Notice I said offend, not exclude. I think exclusion is inevitable. You can’t make a game that appeals to every human on the planet. That’s a power no one has. However, I do have the power to ensure that my games don’t fall into the same pattern that Manveer Heir (in his awesome GDC talk earlier this year) and others have expressed: the pattern of misrepresentation.
So, I’ll get to the point. This is what I have gathered:
Many mature consumers are demanding different mature experiences. I think above all, people want choices. They don’t want to be told, “Look, you either play as this white dude, or don’t play at all.” They want to be given multiple, meaningful options. Whether those choices carry any significant consequence is another matter altogether, but when it comes to the player being comfortable and satisfied with how their avatar appears and behaves (assuming your game has an avatar), player choice is the way to go.
Now, does that mean that every game must include character customization features? Not necessarily. It’s about identity. Players want to be able to feel like they can relate or empathize with their avatar so that the experience is more meaningful and personal. So much so, that the player will often describe what actions their avatar took in the game speak as if they themselves did those things. It’s about agency. Most of all, I think we need more different kinds of games with different kinds of characters, different plots, different stories and different experiences. It’s about variety.
It’s about not reminding your player of who they are, what color their skin is, and what their genitals look like. It’s about allowing them to transport their consciousness and will through an interface and control someone or something other than themselves, and allowing them to experience opportunities that they otherwise would never be able to experience.
Simply: We’ve all been playing a lot of straight white dudes lately. There have been very few instances over the last few years where I have had the opportunity to play as something that I am not, and to experience something that I will never in my lifetime have the opportunity to experience. I think that’s hugely valuable, and that’s one of the main reasons why games are so powerful a medium. That’s why I need diverse games.