Fixing gaming’s diversity problem is more difficult than you think

It’s no secret that videogame production is lacking in diversity, both in who makes games, and whom they are made for. A panel at Game Narrative Summit suggests that tackling this issue (as it relates to women) is more complicated than simply making a main character that is a strong, androgynous, rocket-launcher-wielding woman. Leigh Alexander writes about the panel and some of the misconceptions about how to fix this issue.

– – –

Women are offended by women’s bodies. Sure, games have a history of exploitative stereotypes, and a legacy of making men heroes while making women objects. Back in the 90s, characters like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft were developed based on idea about what a male creator, or at least, a majority-male audience, would think looked “cool,” which meant boobs and butts. We’d like to see a wider range of people represented in games these days, but that doesn’t mean any display of an adult woman’s body is inherently “sexist” or wrong.

Is it about characters in the first place? One of my favorite ideas raised on the panel was the idea that even keeping the focus on the characters and people within game stories is only one idea. Jenn Frank pointed out that the “Chekhov’s gun” concept is relevant to games: Even if we continue to have a high volume of games about shooting, the nature of a game — and who it could appeal to — can be shifted meaningfully simply by trying a different answer to the question of who’s holding the gun and why. 

The appeal of a game to new or broader audiences has as much, if not more to do with the tone, circumstance and environment as it does with who appears in it and what they look like.

Some people may be unwilling to acknowledge the problem (or wage war on those who wish to explore it), but as it is stated above, addressing the lack of female-inclusive games is difficult. This problem is not isolated to this medium: women make far less in wages and they account for only 17 percent of Congress. This panel shows that tackling these issues will take more than obvious and easy solutions. But fixing them is important, and disucssions like this move us closer toward that goal.