Diversity has changed drastically in the past ten years in nearly every medium except video games. Most of these changes in media occurred through the wave of Obama, modern feminists, and the advent of social media. As such, we have seen movies like Moonlight – prominent Black LGBT, TV shows like Orange is the New Black, and rapid rise in women authors’ success (though literature was centuries ahead with diversity in the first place). Still, video games remain stagnant with few exceptions. Much of this is due to most of the gamer base being white straight men who tend to have a lot of biases and claim victimhood whenever a game tries to go away from their norm and be progressive.
With diversity in video games progress has been slow in gender, sexuality and race. As such, the video game examples of diversity are few and far in between.
In regards to gender, Metroid was revolutionary in a secret ending in which the hardened space marine, Samus Aran, was a woman all along. Samus would remain the figurehead for a strong woman video game protagonist for years. Women would vary in representation from a secondary protagonist like Claire Redfield in Resident Evil 2 to damsels in distress in many JRPGs. It was often difficult for women to be leads outside of create-a-character options. These options for the create-a-character to be woman only really became prominent in the 2000s. Overall, video games with women on the cover tend to be a hard sell until very recently.
The best example of this is Horizon Zero Dawn, a game with a badass woman on the cover, a 3rd person open world game, and most importantly a brand new IP (intellectual property). However, not only did Horizon Zero Dawn get great scores but it also sold well from a brand new game concept featuring a woman prominently. What else is fascinating with Horizon Zero Dawn, is how the main protagonist, Aloy, never gets into romance with any men, meets several other strong women of several ethnic backgrounds and remains a highly skilled warrior throughout. While one may think the lack of romance means that Aloy can’t be a strong woman and married, I find that it progresses in a different direction in that she needs no man for her prowess.
Sexuality coming to prominence is probably the slowest aspect of video games to be modernized. Many times homosexuality is often still seen as a joke from two random NPCs in Persona 5 to the village people NPCs in GTA Vice City who are flat one note jokes. More recently some queer characters have come to prominence but there are almost no instances of queer characters in older games. One of the only prominent ones, who happened to be transgender, was Poison and it wasn’t known until years later and she’s someone you beat up – essentially gay bashing. Other instances early on are lesbian or gay question marks that are implicit but not explicit or the characters a bisexual shoe-ins (usually women). The only other large example of queer characters is many of Bioware’s RPGs that have create-a-characters. In Bioware’s RPGs many characters can be gay, lesbian, bisexual and pansexual (transcending other fantasy or sci-fi races). Arguably the most progressive in the Mass Effect series as you could potentially date several men, women and different races in the trilogy.
In recent times, the most prominent queer character would be The Last of Us’ Ellie who will be as of Last of Us 2 featured heavily on the cover of the game (she’s also on the first, but it’s not known before playing how her sexuality and importance is). She’s an active lesbian and features heavily/being playable in both games. As such, she is the most successful queer character to be playable and to feature on a game cover. However, sexuality and queer character representation is the least represented in video games and outside of Ellie and the progress of Bioware (recently even having a transgender character for romance) there aren’t many that aren’t bigoted jokes.
Race is one of the most discussed aspects of video game culture because of how heated the debates can be. In the past sports games were some of the only appearances of non-white or Japanese characters. Furthermore, recent times feature a toxic online atmosphere of gaming where young white kids yell and have names like niggerlife and you’reanigger for the laughs. While there is nothing funny about that; there are far more people who play online around the world than ever before.
As such, this becomes in essence an oxymoron in that yes a guy from India can challenge a woman from Brasil; however, so too can I guy from Arkansas throw racial epithets at them both.
While online still has a lot of work to be done in its bigotry, the changing landscape of protagonists through the years is an important one. There are several non-white protagonists in games as of late. There’s Native American protagonist, Delsin Rowe, the growing amount of Black protagonists (CJ, Lincoln Clay, Marcus from Watch Dogs 2), mixed race people (Alyx Vance, Jade of Beyond Good and Evil), East Asian – Noriko, Arab (Bayek) and even Indian (Chloe of Uncharted). There are still missing perspectives overall though, as there are few Latinx protagonists, the smallest amount represented overall in gaming. Furthermore, the experience of the dark-skinned Black woman is only appearing now with Sharla in Beyond Good and Evil 2. Much is this is due to a growing community of gamers of color both men and women around the world who are proclaiming their perspectives need to be met. Worlds of white are often seen as limited, diverse casts like the randomized races of Horizon Zero Dawn’s characters or the in depth discussions of ethnic groups in Red Dead Redemption 2, make for progress in a world with a main white character. Even a game with particular European setting featuring white characters – in alignment with its location – gets called out. As such, the world is playing and the world would like to see themselves.
Still, all of this is progress for more diversity in games. As character customization gets larger more options for how well you want someone to match your perspective grows. Furthermore, more and more games feature diverse protagonists in terms of sexuality, gender or race. And if the protagonist isn’t diverse than their world must be, giving way to same sex unions, multidimensional racial characters and women who need no man’s input. Video Games maybe the medium that is the most behind, but there is progress occurring. When I can shoot an ex-slaver, KKK, and retired confederate soldiers and gain positive honor for it that is a game progress for 2018. Through and through, I could write ad infinitum about this topic, but at the moment this overview seeks to be the beginning of a world of information.