Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 24th Mar 2014 22:31 UTC
Games

BioWare developer Manveer Heir held a passionate talk about stereotypes in videogames, for a group of developers at GDC.

Heir backed up his ideas with research throughout the presentation. To begin, he cited a 2009 study, The Virual Census Representing Gender, Race and Age in Videogames, which analysed the primary and secondary characters of a large set of games and found that the elderly, children, black, hispanic and female characters were all uder-represented compared to the social makeup of the United States at the time. Heir also looked at the top 25 metacritic games of 2013. While half let players play as a woman, or an ethnic minority character, none facilitated both.

I always play as a female character if the game gives me the option. In fact, if a game does not allow me to play as a female character for no discernible reason, I will not buy it. This is not some sort of holier-than-thou quest; it's just my preference. I really want game developers to move beyond the generically handsome early-thirties shaven-head five o'clock shadow American. It's boring, it's lazy, it's pandering to the lowest common denominator.

This is one of the reasons why the Saints Row games have always appealed to me. Want to be a short, fat Asian woman wearing construction jeans and a fishnet halter top? Go head. Want to play as a cross-dressing thin giant with huge pink Bambi eyes and flaming red hair? No problem. Games that allow its players this kind of freedom are relatively rare, and that's a shame.

Heir's speech got a lot right, however. It was an important and powerful moment this year because, ultimately, it wasn't about storming barricades or attacking individuals. It was a message from one developer to a room of developers, asking everyone to go away and raise the issue with colleagues in their respective organisations. It was a well-reasoned, well-researched and impactful, and took pains to avoid falling into some familiar traps. It wasn't a drum-banging speech for those already in complete agreement. It didn't, as these things sometimes do, reflect more on the author than the issue. The anger behind Heir's words made it an energising listen, but the speech didn't accuse or condescend, and didn't draw battle lines. That's exactly where the debate needs to go. Nothing changes if everyone digs trenches.

Hopefully they take something away from this.

Order by: Score:
Where exactly is the problem?
by RshPL on Mon 24th Mar 2014 23:31 UTC
RshPL
Member since:
2009-03-13

If you do not buy a game solely for the reason that it does not allow you to play a female character then you are sexist my friend (and discriminating against games!) ;)

Seriously speaking, games should provide characters adequate to the story and/or context. Not in every game a character editor or randomly chosen sex/race/looks would work. Would you exchange Serious Sam for anyone else?

Reply Score: 6

RE: Where exactly is the problem?
by zima on Tue 25th Mar 2014 00:08 UTC in reply to "Where exactly is the problem?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Would you exchange Serious Sam for anyone else?

What, you missed the opportunity to mention Duke Nukem instead?! ;)


Hail to the king, baby!

Reply Score: 2

zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Neat, I have a stalker... (but, to help you again with you confusion: the keywords were Xperia Mini series of devices; also, FYI, I don't even use any Android device ...but do have some Apple gear)

Reply Score: 2

fmaxwell Member since:
2005-11-13

but, to help you again with you[sic] confusion: the keywords were Xperia Mini series of devices


One of the imaginary models that's not listed on Sony's web site? If you think there is a comparable model, identify it.

Reply Score: 1

zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Regional naming differences. Yours probably knows one example as Xperia Z1 Compact - either way, a clear continuation of the Mini line, at least comparable plus dust- and water-proof. Obviously you had to miss it.

(but what's really interesting is how you seriously did a comparison to a device that's clearly few years old)

Reply Score: 2

RE: Where exactly is the problem?
by fmaxwell on Tue 25th Mar 2014 21:11 UTC in reply to "Where exactly is the problem?"
fmaxwell Member since:
2005-11-13

If you do not buy a game solely for the reason that it does not allow you to play a female character then you are sexist my friend


Yeah! And if you won't join a country club simply because it excludes black people, you're a racist my friend.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Where exactly is the problem?
by Nico57 on Wed 26th Mar 2014 01:42 UTC in reply to "Where exactly is the problem?"
Nico57 Member since:
2006-12-18
Unrealistic
by tomz on Tue 25th Mar 2014 00:25 UTC
tomz
Member since:
2010-05-06

It depends on the game. Ok let the female characters have half the upper body strength, less tolerance to damage, etc. Base it all on the current Olympic or similar records for sporting events (what is the fastest women's v.s. men's speed). What are their reaction times?

The other half is the target market. If the game isn't designed to be bought by granny, it might not show a lot of senior citizens - who also tend to be less fit, strong, etc.

And the morbidly obese are also totally under-represented (I've not seen a Sumo game - is there a Woman's division).

Or smokers! Big tobacco might pay to market to teens.

And some storylines won't work. The GTA series would be silly.

Some times men and women are equal - Annie Oakley as an example. But she was wielding a rifle, not a broadsword or a longbow.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Unrealistic
by WorknMan on Tue 25th Mar 2014 05:42 UTC in reply to "Unrealistic"
WorknMan Member since:
2005-11-13

And the morbidly obese are also totally under-represented (I've not seen a Sumo game - is there a Woman's division).


LOL, I wanna play as a midget in the next Call of Duty game. Maybe get a tranny in there as well. And what about albinos?

Reply Score: 4

RE: Unrealistic
by Lobotomik on Tue 25th Mar 2014 08:38 UTC in reply to "Unrealistic"
Lobotomik Member since:
2006-01-03

Human women are sissies. Now, elves, those are tough! I recently saw one that could kill dead three orcs in just one flying kick, while at the same time slicing the head off other three with her katana, all the time shooting her arrow to kill even more baddies. That was realistic! Really convincing! It really dug me into the story!

Reply Score: 5

Depends
by HappyGod on Tue 25th Mar 2014 00:51 UTC
HappyGod
Member since:
2005-10-19

Agree with other comments here indicating that it isn't always appropriate to provide the option.

It really aggrivates me that in period movies they try to portray women in roles that would have been unthinkable at that time.

They are effectively rewriting history in these movies, because they find the reality disturbing.

This also applies to America apparently playing a leading role in all sorts of historical missions that it had little or no part in. The Great Escape for example didn't include any Americans at all in real life.

The hilarious part about all this, is that it is actually patronising to women to suggest that minor omissions such as the these are enough to cause them major damage. As if, the exclusion of female characters in video games obsesses them day and night.

I would posit the view that women are made of sterner stuff, and that this is not at the top of their priority list. Nor should it be.

Edited 2014-03-25 00:52 UTC

Reply Score: 6

RE: Depends
by WereCatf on Tue 25th Mar 2014 10:35 UTC in reply to "Depends"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

I would posit the view that women are made of sterner stuff, and that this is not at the top of their priority list. Nor should it be.


I do not consider myself a good example of your average woman -- quite the contrary, in fact -- but at least I can say that I do not obsess about stuff like this. A few times I've been bothered by the typical "strong Tarzan rescue Jane" - type of storylines, but even then it's only because the storyline is so f--king stupid. It would be fun to see the setup reversed every once in a while, ie. "strong Jane rescue Tarzan," but well, it's just not worth getting worked over.

In games where I can choose to I always play female characters, but I haven't turned down games just because the lead-character is male, either. What matters more than a character's gender is the story behind them and how they carry it forward.

EDIT: It'd be nice if there were more chicks around here to express their opinions, too. Seems kinda lonely being the only one here.

Edited 2014-03-25 10:36 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Depends
by MOS6510 on Tue 25th Mar 2014 12:08 UTC in reply to "RE: Depends"
MOS6510 Member since:
2011-05-12

Well, you are not average and the average woman apparently doesn't visit OSNews. ;-)

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Depends
by Soulbender on Tue 25th Mar 2014 12:51 UTC in reply to "RE: Depends"
Soulbender Member since:
2005-08-18

Seems kinda lonely being the only one here.


Well, only as far as we know. It's the Internet after all...

Reply Score: 2

RE: Depends
by Adurbe on Tue 25th Mar 2014 14:24 UTC in reply to "Depends"
Adurbe Member since:
2005-07-06

I still refuse to watch U571 because of the history re-write.

In reality all the crew were British (not American) and they also missed out the two who died in the mission because that was 'Hollywood'

Reply Score: 3

Comment by jared_wilkes
by jared_wilkes on Tue 25th Mar 2014 01:18 UTC
jared_wilkes
Member since:
2011-04-25

Some narratives are best told from one perspective. Some are just one person or are "sexless". Some are just between a man and a woman. Some are just male. Some are filled with a multiplicity of the sexes. Or races. Some are just female. These narratives (whether books, music, movies, tv, games, etc) aren't being judged properly if they are being judged on the sole criteria of do they provide narrative variations that are specifically inclusive of x, y, z — gender, race, sex, creed, and so on. The Bechdel Test is equally galling.

There should be no requirement to include any specific multiplicity of genders, races, creeds, fashions, and body shapes.

That's not to say that video games aren't white, male, capitalist, American dominated. The industry could be more self-aware, proactive, and diverse, and should be working towards doing so. But "requirements" aren't the way. This is the PC version of Harrison Bergeron.

The talk sounds like it may have been good. But Thom just went off the rails there.

Edited 2014-03-25 01:33 UTC

Reply Score: 4

Why only games?
by qbast on Tue 25th Mar 2014 08:12 UTC
qbast
Member since:
2010-02-08

Are you going to insist that every movie should be released in two versions - one with male and another with female lead? How about theatre or books?

Reply Score: 2

Gender for your sweetie
by Lobotomik on Tue 25th Mar 2014 09:03 UTC
Lobotomik
Member since:
2006-01-03

If women and ethnical minorities are subrepresented, gay characters are but non-existing. It's time that Mario could rescue Prince Peach. And so fitting!

Truly, as a gay player it puts me off SO much to control those hunks, in all those games, always to rescue some girlfriend, always having to flirt with the cute smart girl back in the control center, with the tavern girl, with the brass-bikini clad warrioress. NEVER do you get the opportunity to follow your impulses, live your virtual game-life.

Watching people of any gender combination flirt in movies or books is one thing, having to fake it yourself, with no impulse, is a very different thing. I'm sure this goes for het-girls controlling the typical male hero, which goes a long way to explain why there are so few.

And in the meta-game world, it is depressing to see the level of prejudice against gays in USA player blogs and USA games networks. So many young people, so mentally impaired. You don't see that sort of thing in Europe, at least in Spain, where gay bashing is very rare and rapidly quelled by other players.

Reply Score: 4

Comment by smashIt
by smashIt on Tue 25th Mar 2014 09:05 UTC
smashIt
Member since:
2005-07-06

I really want game developers to move beyond the generically handsome early-thirties shaven-head five o'clock shadow American. It's boring, it's lazy, it's pandering to the lowest common denominator.


what you realy want is to move beyound AAA games
as soon as you play indie-games you get everything

want to play as a female underwater human-fish-thingy? aquaria
green male cat? dust - an elysian tail
hispanic? guacamelee
something without gender and race? vvvvvv
maybe an albino boy? bastion

it's funny how people limit themself to a small part of the gaming-market and then complain about it beeing so limited

Reply Score: 4

Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Tue 25th Mar 2014 09:40 UTC
MOS6510
Member since:
2011-05-12

Really, what does it matter? It's all about the game.

My male friends in the 80's all loved to play The Great Giana's Sisters where the character was a girl. Nobody cared about that, it was about the game. If the game is good people will play and enjoy it, no matter what the character is. If the game is bad you will not play or enjoy it even if the character is 100% totally you.

Reply Score: 2

I don't really care
by Ultimatebadass on Tue 25th Mar 2014 09:58 UTC
Ultimatebadass
Member since:
2006-01-08

as long as the story and gameplay are solid I couldn't care less what color or sex my avatar is. If the game gives me a choice then I'm -usually- playing male characters, but I'm not going to ignore a good game just because it doesn't give me the choice. After 5 minutes I AM the character anyway - doesn't matter if it's Fate in Mirrors Edge, Marcus in Gears Of War or that wolf in Okami.

Edited 2014-03-25 09:59 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Comment by M.Onty
by M.Onty on Tue 25th Mar 2014 12:48 UTC
M.Onty
Member since:
2009-10-23

I always play as a female character if the game gives me the option. In fact, if a game does not allow me to play as a female character for no discernible reason, I will not buy it. This is not some sort of holier-than-thou quest; it's just my preference. I really want game developers to move beyond the generically handsome early-thirties shaven-head five o'clock shadow American. It's boring, it's lazy, it's pandering to the lowest common denominator.


Miyazaki has said that he always prefers female leads for his animated features because (this is from memory, so don't quote me), "When a man fire a gun in a film, it doesn't mean anything, because men are always firing guns in films. But when a girl fires a gun it really means something."

Its an excellent point which applies even more to games. Male characters (hello again generically handsome early-thirties shaven-head five o'clock shadow American, fancy seeing you here?) are so hugely cliched and impossibly tough that "going female" has the effect of reintroducing the perception a normal level of human vulnerability.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by Soulbender
by Soulbender on Tue 25th Mar 2014 12:49 UTC
Soulbender
Member since:
2005-08-18

In fact, if a game does not allow me to play as a female character for no discernible reason, I will not buy it.


So I take it you also don't buy books or watch movies that doesn't come in a female version, an asian version, a latin version and a black version? Don't forget all the necessary permutations like black gay version and female asian version.

Reply Score: 5

Comment by mutantsushi
by mutantsushi on Tue 25th Mar 2014 13:47 UTC
mutantsushi
Member since:
2006-08-18

When he bases his reference off the "the social makeup of the United States",
is this census only looking at games made in the United States?
Given the presenter themself works out of Montreal, why isn't his frame of reference the social makeup of Quebec?
His focus on 'hispanic' characters seems rather undefined, is he measuring in-game language?
That is usually dubbed or in English regardless of setting/character identity.
Or his somehow basing that on appearance?, which is absurd as an 'anglophone' appearance.

With a mostly global market in game consumers and creators (concentrated in US and Europe),
ONE SPECIFIC COUNTRY'S 'social makeup' seems a weird frame of reference esp. when the topic is diversity.

Edited 2014-03-25 13:59 UTC

Reply Score: 1

RE: Comment by mutantsushi
by WereCatf on Tue 25th Mar 2014 13:58 UTC in reply to "Comment by mutantsushi"
WereCatf Member since:
2006-02-15

I'm only guessing here, but I'm under the impression that most of all the popular games being played in Western countries are made in the United States, so that is definitely a good reason to focus on the U.S. On a similar note, maybe there just is the most information available about these things in the U.S. or the information is more-easily accessible than elsewhere?

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by mutantsushi
by mutantsushi on Wed 26th Mar 2014 03:34 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by mutantsushi"
mutantsushi Member since:
2006-08-18

Well, that's kind an odd thought process, given as I stated the presenter himself lives in Montreal,
with a significant gaming industry in Quebec. Statistics or not, shouldn't he himself be aware of the social makeup of Quebec? The premise rests on an idea of 'representation', so why then is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA the frame of reference as to what should be represented? Because they release more statistics they dictate the frame of reference? Why should USA be imposed on Quebec game makers, or Polish game makers, or Japanese game makers, or Russian game makers, etc? This is colonial thinking, invoking a very dubious "objective" standard to evade discussion on it's attemted imposition of ultimately very arbitrary subjective standards. Game making is NOT solely done in the USA, and if you are going to impose a standard of representing the regions they are created in, that is in fact still a narrow slice of the world. (and that is still the case even if you agglomerate all regions with significant game industries or even game consumers, which of course is still signifigantly different than the USA's own social makeup, e.g. if you combine EU and Russia and Japan with USA and Canada)

Although I'm not sure the basis for even that scope, as opposed to representing the actual game creators/employees of game companies themselves, which of course is an even narrower slice. If you go the other direction, then you are talking about representing the entire world irrespective of creating games or consuming games. Does that mean that American Westerns are sidelined because that was just demographically irrelevant? Or that Tamil, Quechua, Han Chinese, and Russian Cossacks must be 'dropped into' American Western genre in order to rectify things with global demographics? BTW, how does one consider historical demographic shifts?

I am all for a diversity of representation, but the sham-objectivity invoked to impose (if only by shame) creative choices just does not seem a valid way to achieve that. What happened to creators self-representing THEIR OWN communities? Why are not Chinese, Tamil, Quecha etc people not the best placed people to self-represent their own cultures? Imposing diversity by colonial dictate is a sham, because it's supposed to be taken as adequate representation in the lack of actual real self-representation. I mean, using the reference of ethnic/social makeup of USA in particular is just particularly embarassing in revealing of ultimately narrow-mindedness here, but even expanding that to global ethno-demographics at large still is a wholely unrepresentative.

Why not global political diversity? Why not actual global economic/wealth diversity? Actually representing global reality means all the games that involve ordering around vast numbers of subjects, or casually gaining large sums of money, are constrained to 1% of games. The presenter here apparently thinks it is more important to focus on character's skin color and superficial style characteristics than present actual material reality representative of the world as a whole, which he of course is comfortable with embracing a narrow economic sector of anglophone orientation. Presenting ethno-racial "flavors" within a USA paradigm is ultimately not really very diverse at all. That is reflected in the USA-centric concern of "hispanics" which in fact when they are represented are hardly ever representative of the actual state of affairs in Mexico itself, "hispanic" being a code-word or diversion to deal with visually obvious "racial" differences in the internal reference point of USA itself.

And again, I'm all for more diversity of representation and broader engagement and cultural ownership of media paradims, but like freedom of speech and democracy, in order to be real, that must be demanded and TAKEN by those groups involved, not granted by imperial dictate. Imposing sham-objective "fairness" while ignoring real narrowness of power in less superficial aspects does not achieve much. I would rather not have traditional fairy tales expunged for disproportionately focusing on princesses and kings, I would rather have actual self-empowerment.

Reply Score: 1

Dollars baby
by andrewclunn on Tue 25th Mar 2014 14:07 UTC
andrewclunn
Member since:
2012-11-05

I'm sorry, we (mostly white and asian) men who were labelled as nerds for loving technology before it was cool are now over represented by the entertainment that is most tied to the high tech medium? And now we're supposed to feel oh so bad because most games now are meant to speak to us as the target audience? Get bent.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Dollars baby
by M.Onty on Tue 25th Mar 2014 15:05 UTC in reply to "Dollars baby"
M.Onty Member since:
2009-10-23

I'm sorry, we (mostly white and asian) men who were labelled as nerds for loving technology before it was cool are now over represented by the entertainment that is most tied to the high tech medium? And now we're supposed to feel oh so bad because most games now are meant to speak to us as the target audience? Get bent.

You make a good point. After all, games are an entertainment medium, not a fundamental part of the human condition. So any suggestion that anyone has the right to have games made to their tastes should be given short shrift.

However it would still be for the betterment of the medium if it were to broaden its representation somewhat. The best way to entrench stagnation is to be over-sensitive to suggestions that some sort of change may be beneficial.

Reply Score: 2

Silly
by dennisma on Tue 25th Mar 2014 14:23 UTC
dennisma
Member since:
2013-12-05

Shouldn't we care more about gender and ethnic representation in real life such as jobs?

Just curious what the diversity is at Bioware? Will Manveer stop working there if any group is underrepresented?

Reply Score: 2

Comment by Drumhellar
by Drumhellar on Tue 25th Mar 2014 20:37 UTC
Drumhellar
Member since:
2005-07-12

Wow. So much resistance to the idea of games being more gender inclusive. I'm amazed that people seem to think that even the idea of wanting gender inclusion is absurd.

What's absurd are the arguments against it:

I wanna play as a midget in the next Call of Duty game. Maybe get a tranny in there as well. And what about albinos?


Well, why not? It's not like there are any technical limitations to that. Hell, if you can buy a transsexual albino midget Real Doll, you should be able to play one in a game. (Okay. Real Doll doesn't seem to make a midget model, but you can get one in any color you can imagine)

Or, we could also stop pretending that the lack of representation of a handful of groups that are an incredibly small share of the population is the same as not representing a group of people that makes up 51% of the population.

Ok let the female characters have half the upper body strength, less tolerance to damage, etc. Base it all on the current Olympic or similar records for sporting events (what is the fastest women's v.s. men's speed). What are their reaction times?


Women just don't have the physical strength necessary to jump on the back of a dragon and stab it in the head. They'd never be able to get the sword through the thick skull, never mind the adamantine scales many dragons posses. Plus, the physical endurance necessary to pilot a 40-foot tall mech! That's so unrealistic! A woman could never do that! Also, we can't have a hyper-sexualized holographic artificial intelligence fall in love with a female character. That'd be gay!

Alternatively, we can stop worrying that depictions of the average woman's physical capabilities aren't realistic when portrayed in an otherwise completely fantastical world where the representation of men's physical capabilities aren't realistic, either.

If you do not buy a game solely for the reason that it does not allow you to play a female character then you are sexist my friend (and discriminating against games!)


You are joking. I get the joke. However, jared_wilkes said the same thing with a straight face. Which is sad.

Are you going to insist that every movie should be released in two versions - one with male and another with female lead? How about theatre or books?


This would completely change virtually every movie; the same isn't true about many games. There are also a large number of movies told from a female perspective - and many movies that present both a male and female perspective. There aren't many games that have an honest female portrayal as the central character, and games are usually centered completely on one character the entire time with no division of viewpoints.

So I take it you also don't buy books or watch movies that doesn't come in a female version, an asian version, a latin version and a black version? Don't forget all the necessary permutations like black gay version and female asian version.


How DARE somebody avoid spending their money on products that don't represent their values.

I can't say to degree Thom won't buy games that don't give the option of playing as female characters (He does use the qualifier "no discernible reason") but comparing an interactive medium that is still heavily biased towards male roles, to non-interactive mediums for which there is an abundance of non-male roles, is disingenuous.

Shouldn't we care more about gender and ethnic representation in real life such as jobs?


We should, and, we do. And, there are two ways to accomplish this.

First, there's the top-down approach: Look for, and hire, more women and minorities.

Second is the bottom-up approach: Encourage women and minorities to pursue careers in tech. Making interactive digital media more inclusive will help with this. Additionally, since tech is still very much a "boys club", making women and minorities more visible in interactive media can help dispel attitudes that women and minorities don't belong.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by Drumhellar
by RshPL on Tue 25th Mar 2014 23:38 UTC in reply to "Comment by Drumhellar"
RshPL Member since:
2009-03-13


Wow. So much resistance to the idea of games being more gender inclusive. I'm amazed that people seem to think that even the idea of wanting gender inclusion is absurd.

The resistance is to stating that there is a problem with lack of inclusion of certain groups. I think nobody here has problems with playing as different characters as long the game is good.

Edited 2014-03-25 23:42 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Unsurprising
by BallmerKnowsBest on Wed 26th Mar 2014 16:32 UTC
BallmerKnowsBest
Member since:
2008-06-02

The Virual Census Representing Gender, Race and Age in Videogames, which analysed the primary and secondary characters of a large set of games and found that the elderly, children, black, hispanic and female characters were all uder-represented compared to the social makeup of the United States at the time.


And if that weren't the case, we'd probably hear people making the opposite complaint: that such-and-such game is racist because it allows you to harm/kill people from such-and-such ethnicity. Or imagine if the NPCs in open world games included children, I'm sure the Jack Thompsons of the world would love to be able to augment their scaremongering with footage of virtual children being mowed down in GTA.

Reply Score: 2