Video games are the next big frontier of entertainment. Have been, in fact, for quite some time. Most people remember playing the Prince of Persia games where we (usually) have to rescue the beautiful princess or have played the ever popular Mario series which spawned the ‘Your Princess is in Another Castle!’ meme. Video games have been quietly developing as an industry since the late 80s and have recently burst into the mainstream consciousness. Along with movies and books, video games are now under scrutiny for diversity in gender and sexuality.
As with any industry which is considered traditionally male oriented, the gaming industry is chock-a-block with white male leads, though that situation has been changing of late thanks to increased awareness about this issue as well as the industry opening itself up to different kinds of people working in it. But that does not mean the atmosphere has gotten less toxic, on the contrary something like the announcement of women teams in the ‘FIFA‘ video games has led to the outpouring of hate from some of its male supporters (some, not all).
Fans have not been alone in this. Video game companies themselves have sometimes contributed to this mess with one of the major contributors being Ubisoft which, when asked why there were no female leads in their ‘Assassin’s Creed‘ franchise (with the exception of one in a game released on the PS Vita; in other words, not a main game), replied that female characters were “hard to animate“. This despite many excellent games being released with acclaimed female leads, ‘Transistor‘, ‘Tomb Raider,’ ‘Portal 2‘, ‘Alien: Isolation‘ being only some of them.
One of the biggest scandals of the video game industry which brought it under public scrutiny was Gamergate. It started with the ex-boyfriend of a female game developer putting up a post about how she had been sleeping with the editors of video game websites for better reviews for her video games. Not much could be confirmed of that claim (the video game website in question had not reviewed her game at all) but what should have ideally been an in depth look into the ethics of gaming journalism spiralled into a web of misogyny and hate which ended up with several prominent video game activists and creators (incidentally women) receiving hate and being bullied.
That is not to say that it’s all gloom and doom in the video game industry. As noted before, much has improved of recent years and several well-received games with non white people in lead or prominent supporting roles have been released. The indie gaming scene has been particularly good in this regard with the release of games such as ‘Transistor’, ‘Broken Age‘, ‘Cis Gaze‘, ‘Never Alone‘ etc. The ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise rebooted itself with a game that presented a more vulnerable Lara Croft yet more realistic at the same time; one with whom the audience would be easily able to connect. Apart from Lara Croft there were also Clementine from ‘The Walking Dead’ series who is a young black girl and also Nuna from ‘Never Alone’ who is an Iñupiaq girl.
The third game in the popular ‘Dragon Age‘ series, ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’, was notable for having an LGBTQIA+ inclusive cast with prominent characters who were gay, lesbian, transsexual and pansexual. Its prequel, ‘Dragon Age II’, had romanceable characters who (with the exception of one) could be romanced by a protagonist of either gender. ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ also explored the trauma of being considered ‘deviant’ in a society which does not accept it through the medium of a character Dorian Pavus, who is gay.
Video games have not been shy about exploring difficult to speak about topics. One of them is the game ‘Gone Home‘ which while structured like a horror game is, in fact, a touching coming out story. More and more characters, whether main or otherwise, are non-straight and sometimes this is only a small part of their character. Two such games to have done this were ‘The Last of Us‘ (with Ellie) and ‘Life is Strange‘. Video games have become the new medium for expression and it shows.
Even prior to this current boom, games were changing in subtle ways. In the popular JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) ‘Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4‘, which was released in 2008, Kanji Tatsumi is a character who struggles to understand and identify his feelings for men and his own deep seated homophobia. While the game does not completely take the ball and roll with it, Kanji as a character is a deeply complex one and a welcome addition. According to game files, Yosuke Hanamura was also supposed to be a male love interest for the protagonist (who is male) but was possibly scrapped at the last minute due to executive pressure. Nevertheless, ‘Persona 4’ is an example of a slowly changing industry which is growing more accepting.
Gaming is now reaching out to a wider audience and their effect cannot be denied. Whether through mobile gaming or PC gaming or console gaming, the world of gaming has grown. The industry is reflecting that growth but that does not mean there cannot be more inclusive changes. Hopefully with the right amount of support, gaming can see itself reflective of all who participate in it.