The world of video games has a diversity problem. But this is to its credit, actually. The fact that the industry needs to address diversity in gaming speaks to the level of cultural influence video games now have throughout society — as both a form of art and entertainment. With the proliferation of smart phones, gaming is as accessible as ever, which means that the success of a game is no longer dependent on its ability to pitch the idea of gaming itself. Games can now market their own quality, opening the door to a wider realm of gameplay, design, and story in which the medium can truly flourish artistically without catering to narrow tropes of yore.
Fixing this diversity problem is relatively easy: designers just have to do it. That was the pitch that Manveer Heir, a designer for BioWare Montreal, made this week at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. Games need to proactively include underrepresented populations (women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc.) in protagonist roles, publishers have to support the games that do with the same marketing support as games that don’t, and games have to appreciate the opportunity they have to effect social change through social justice.
Heir even provides an easy recipe to developers for mixing these ingredients: First, understand that there’s a problem. Second, spread awareness of the problem to other developers. Third, create support structures within design companies. And, lastly, encourage gaming audiences to be more discerning.
It’s a timely opportunity for gaming to make such a cultural evolution. Just as services like Netflix are reshaping how we think about television and movies, gaming platforms like Steam and the various console-gaming marketplaces are changing the landscape for video game developers. Independent games can now compete with those produced by the big studios, inspiring independent designers to create interactive experiences that can fully explore the limits of genre.
The change has to happen as much in actual reality as it does in virtual reality, but the time is ripe for that too. Women now make up 47 percent of game players, and creating more diversity in games might help to quell some of the discrimination they experience when they game. LGBT gamers are developing their own communities and networks. African-Americans and Hispanics actually purchase and play video games at rates higher than any other ethnic group. This diverse community is eager to break down the stereotype that gamers are primarily straight, white men. More importantly, there is a clamoring market demanding better representation, which means that the only limitations remaining are designers’ imaginations and producers’ biases.