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By Asha Swann
While the TV and film industry in recent years has begun to address the lack of different characters in their stories, some players are concerned that the growth of the video game industry is not keeping pace with an accurate rendering of their diverse player base.
Last year, the video game industry grew in value to $ 300 billion, surpassing both the film and sports industries, according to a report by Accenture. The billion-dollar industry has discarded popular games like Crossing animals, Appreciate and The last of us who have introduced new players to the gaming world – many of whom are BIPOC, who do not have time to see themselves as the main characters.
First-year Ryerson philosophy student Alison Air said she has been playing video games all her life. She grew up attracted to role-playing and narrative-based games with a strong focus on characters and their emotional backgrounds. As an Asian woman, she said she struggled to feel represented through the games she played as a child, even though she was not sure how to express it.
As a result, she was attracted to indie games, where developers were often bold enough to create unique themes and the type of representation she could relate to.
Video games went wrong
In 2018, she noticed that Electronic Arts, the studio that produces Battlefieldreceived significant online pushback when the company revealed that the next game in the series would feature a female protagonist.
“The fierce problem of bigotry attitudes that dominate games makes it a lot harder for queer people to really get into it,” Air said. I’m actually playing with people instead of random 14-year-olds who are going to yell inconveniences at me. “
Although color characters are sometimes featured in regular games, these characters are not always accurate graphics. Play as Grand Theft Auto online and Outriders have been called out by gamers for their gloomy adaptations of authentic black hairstyles compared to non-black characters.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, created by Infinity Ward, a subdivision of one of the world’s largest gaming companies, Activision, came under fire for racism in the game’s portrayal of Pakistan. One of the game’s maps shows the real city of Karachi, Pakistan. But the game shows inaccurate Arabic as the language of the region, with all storefronts showing signs in Arabic. The official language of the region is actually Urdu, with census data showing that Karachi has the highest Urdu-speaking population in the country.
“The people who make Thirsty Suitors have a different vision with a different budget“
Games released by major game developers – also known as AAA games – are multi-million dollar productions that come from studios such as Sony, EA, Nintendo and Riot that dominate the gaming market.
Game design professor at Ryerson, Kristopher Alexander, said that independent games are more inclusive and far more than ordinary games in the many different authentic storytelling.
Indie developers with a flaw for better representation
Alexander plays an indie game every year with his students called Virginia. This award-winning game features the user playing the main character, a black FBI agent investigating the case of a missing person in a small town in the state of Virginia.
Although the graphics seem simplistic, the gameplay is complex; with intricate plot points and emotional character growth. He said the game brings students to deep emotional levels because it incorporates experiences that reflect the realities of being a black woman in the southern United States.
It’s the kind of game that Alexander has always prioritized. He said he does not think it’s a question of whether there is exact representation in video games, it’s just that not many people are aware of what indie games have to offer.
Out of the over 10,000 new games released on Steam in 2020, less than 100 came from mainstream producers. Alexander said that diversity and representation through indie games have flourished because they offer more flexibility and do not have the same pressure from investors.
“The people who do Thirsty suitors have a different vision with a different budget, ”said Alexander. “[Major developers] have so many angel investors trying to get a return on investment, of course they will have [bigger] a marketing campaign. ”
Although games from mainstream developers make the most money, Alexander said, because games are a relatively new industry as more people from all backgrounds start studying game design, it’s only natural that games will soon reflect the diversity of the people who making them.
Technological advances in 3D animation and character design mean that it’s easier than ever to create characters with unique and diverse stories. Although they have been justified in the past, some 3D artists view Disney as evidence that different stories can be a financial success.
Yusra Shahid is an American-based visual animation developer who has worked for Nintendo, CBS and Disney. As a content creator with both Muslim and Indian heritage, she said creating different characters is about telling stories that represent the millions of colored people that she herself who eats them.
She said it is important for people working on any kind of visual development to understand that accurate representation shows a variety of looks – regardless of race.
“Mainstream games made by big companies play safe and go with the character models that are the most popular”
“Many people do not really understand the diversity of races. You can pretty much overlook that, ”said Shahid. “If you were to design an Indian character, it would be really great if they could get an actual Indian character designer to design it.”
Shahid praised how far animation has come in recent years. With the success of animated films such as Moana and Coco– both of which have color characters and together have earned over $ 1.4 billion worldwide – it’s clear that different stories also have an international audience.
A study by the Creative Artists Agency and Parrot Analytics showed that the demand for new content with different contributors has more than tripled since 2017. Despite the growing demand for different content, Shahid said she noticed a gap.
While major studios like Disney and Pixar have prioritized making better culturally representative stories, the major game studios are not consistently involved in the same way.
Challenges the status quo in games
From 2017 to 2021, the best-selling games from AAA developers featured primarily white male protagonists, according to an analysis by DiamondLobby. Some developers, like Electronic Arts, have made progress in creating diverse content that has been well received by gamers.
EA’s Apex Legends have been praised as a new industry standard for its non-sexualized portrayal of female characters, overt LGBTQ + characters, and varying skin tones and hairstyles. With over 100 million players worldwide by 2021, Apex Legends exists as proof that AAA companies can make successful, beloved, diverse games.
As gaming expands, the way players not only use content but interact with others in the community grows.
According to a 2019 survey by the International Game Developers Association, 65 percent of respondents said they feel there are not equal opportunities for everyone in the gaming industry. Community members have criticized the lack of responsibility in promoting diversity in Esports and on Twitch – a streaming platform that gives content creators like Kasen Patterson (@CupAhNoodle) and @DarkMimi a platform to highlight both popular and indie games for their viewers.
Jes Do, a second-year RTA new media student and member of the Ryerson eSports team, said they observed similar patterns in mainstream developers leaning toward archetypal character opportunities.
“Mainstream games made by big companies play safe and go with the character models that are the most popular, hence the lack of diversity,” Do said. “But with [gaming] societies fighting for more diversity, no doubt we will see more [character] styles in the future. ”
Independent developers like Annapurna Interactive and Variable State are more powerful than ever, with countless pieces of technology available to them. Unreal Engine, the world’s most advanced 3D creation software used to create the Bioshock series – Borderlands, Gears of War and countless others – is available for free.
Once only available for a prize, this resource has been used by the same AAA companies that make mainstream games. Indie developers, Alexander explained, are the various creators that gamers are looking for.
For Air, she said she looks forward to playing games with unique perspectives that are both indie and AAA.
“The demographic of the gaming population is slowly changing to be more inclusive and more accepting of diversity,” Air said.
Gaming companies that only focus on appealing to a certain demographic of players to make money, she said, would see more loyal players if they were willing to prioritize diversity in games.