Diversity in video games: Nope, you’re complaining wrong


I’ve been involved in some discussions about diversity in video games as of late, and it’s really gotten me thinking.

First off, let me say this: I support diversity in video games, wholeheartedly.

Let me also say this: I don’t support it as passionately or as vocally as some of you. And honestly? That’s a good thing.

Before those torches get lit and pitchforks raised in the air, let me clarify: I am passionate about diversity in life far more than I am in video games. You’ll see me campaigning harder for equal rights and freedoms – equality – in political circles rather than in the video games development and publishing avenues.

Let’s ignore the whole argument that diversity in life would encourage the same in gaming and just get straight to my point, eh?

I don’t understand why people freaked out at Ubisoft over a lack of female lead in Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The game has one main character, and that’s a guy called Arno. If you’re in single-player, you play as Arno. If you delve into multiplayer, each player, on their own individual TV, will be playing as Arno; to the others in your group, you get three other dudes. Those other guys are of little importance to the story apart from the fact that they’re vessels for three of your friends to control.

There hasn’t been a single Assassin’s Creed game where you get to choose the gender of your character. Instead, you’ll placed in the shoes of a character who Ubisoft feels will be rich, layered, and hopefully most of all, compelling. There has been no change to this formula with this new game. This goes without saying that of the leads we’ve played as in Assassin’s Creed, Liberation‘s Aveline is one of the best of that list.

If we had a choice over who we played as, then of course people should have cried foul. If presented with a chance to make a virtual avatar in a game, we should be able to customise it however we want. While I’d probably try to make a character who looked like me – and I’d assume most would be the of the same opinion — I also want the chance to make a version of Taylor Swift in The Elder Scrolls Online.

The difference between games with lead characters and games where you play as an avatar is vast, and very important. A main character is static and an avatar isn’t. You don’t get a say in static leads, guys and girls – and if you don’t like that about a game, don’t play it. Don’t buy it either. Consider boycotting the publisher even. But don’t decide you can go on the internet and scream until someone acknowledges you.

In games where you’ve choice, have at it and play as whoever you want. Simple as that.

You don’t get it both ways, either; I bring your attention back to the whole ordeal over Deep Down. At one point, people flew off the handle early and criticised the title for offering twelve customisable male leads and ONLY male leads. The fury of the internet proved unnecessary; in the end, the game had one male main character, and the customisation was all cosmetic and dealing with his armour. That doesn’t make the character an avatar, folks.

Now, don’t get me wrong —  I’m all for video games with females as the lead. When I get the choice in titles like Resident Evil and the like, I usually pick the female anyway. Let’s continue with Resident Evil as the example. Jill’s an interesting, strong, empowered woman. She’s also just a ton more interesting than generic ol’ hero Chris. This applies to his normal-looking days OR his biceps-as-big-as-a-three-year-old-child revamp.

I don’t pick Jill because she’s a girl. I pick Jill because she’s AWESOME. This, right here, is my point.

There’s a vocal group on Facebook, Twitter and the like raising hell whenever anything remotely resembling an issue occurs. It’s leading to an atmosphere that seems to suggest that every male is a supporter of rape if they question the accusations of an individual, or that every male supports the oppression of females because they’re not yelling at Ubisoft over a non-female lead in Unity.

I wish I was exaggerating here.

Yes, there absolutely does need to be more female characters in strong positions in games. Hell, there needs to be in every facet of culture. I don’t understand why those people applauding Marvel’s announcement that Thor will soon be a woman is being celebrated by those same people who’ve recently shunned Ubisoft. Surely those people can see through Marvel’s tactic? I guarantee Thor will be back to his normal male self in time for the next Avengers film. It’s a move that’ll get the company some publicity and boost sales for a while. When that all dies down, the book will revert back to normal; back to status quo. That’s not a victory for feminism, but merely a stunt.

If Marvel wanted to support strong, empowered female characters, they should promote Black Widow – maybe give the character her own movie – or create a new character that won’t be swapped back to a male when it suits a new release film.

If you cared about diversity, you’d freak out equally whenever a game’s lead isn’t African-American as compared to a female. Or gay. Or bisexual. Or of any other minority. You should freak the fuck out when a game like My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant gets abused on Steam forums. How often do those actions occur? Infrequently.

Let’s take this back to video games: having female characters in place of already established male characters does nothing. Developers should look to make games WITH empowered females in mind, there’s no doubt about it. Regardless, bitching that developers should change months — perhaps years — of planning to turn an already-decided upon male lead into a female one is just lunacy. Tone it down. Pick the right fights. Pick the right causes.

Diversity to me is more about equality. Equality doesn’t mean we need to make every new video game character a female. Equality doesn’t mean we should complain if a developer – large or small – doesn’t introduce a new game with a female lead. Equality means we should be looking for games with identifiable, strong, charismatic, empowered leads and stop concentrating so damn hard on the gender of that character. Or the sexuality. Or anything else.

If we can actually achieve that – ACTUALLY achieve that — then maybe we’ll get somewhere. Maybe we’ll see more gay characters, or female characters, or transgender characters. Maybe we’ll start seeing a medium that supports all of those who could possibly want to be involved in it. It wouldn’t be a half-hearted choice, or a move to win over a select group of people. It’d be a choice made because it seemed like the right thing to do for that particular game and that particular character.

Diversity is extremely important, but all we have right now is extremely vocal bitching and in-fighting by groups who’ve decided what they want represented is the only way. This type of thinking and behaviour needs to stop before we can get anything resembling this big happy future we’re all so damn invested in.