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From Being Purely White Male Centric, Gaming Today Has Become A Lot More Inclusive

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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.

Nuna, from Never Alone
Nuna, in indigenous-owned game developer Upper One Games’ Never Alone. Image from IGN

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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