All players are not created equal. In the video game industry, this is especially so. Although a hidden and lesser discussed problem, the medium of video games has had problems with diversity for decades, both in the games themselves and the industry itself.
In terms of cultural impact, video games have always made a statement. Going all the way back to the early days of “Super Mario,” these types of characters have become synonymous with joy and competitive fun. But there are two key demographics that have always been underrepresented in the industry: female characters and characters of color.
Throughout the entirety of the video games industry’s tenure, there have only been a handful of games that had the same cultural impact that “Super Mario” and “Zelda” have had. Time and time again I have seen female characters and characters of color sidelined in lieu of the more muscular, “manlier” white male character. Understandably, there has been a cultural shift in the past decade or so to adapt to our changing society. However, I fear that the video game industry isn’t adapting quickly enough.
Video games have always been a sort of niche, with the stereotype that video games are for white (possibly teenage) boys, and women and people of color just aren’t interested enough. Many of the problems I continue to see throughout the media industry as a whole is the idea that these underrepresented and marginalized groups don’t necessarily deserve representation because there isn’t enough interest — but I wonder if the fact of the matter is on the contrary.
People of color do want representation. Positive representation. Women of color especially. I have seen many characters of color in video games be watered down to become caricatures of themselves, and as a society, we can do better. The unique experiences of people of color deserve to be heard throughout the media industry, not just select forums where their experiences have a chance of becoming tainted and misconstrued.
These voices deserve to be heard not just in the games themselves, but in the developmental stage of video game making as well. Part of the reason why these stories are underrepresented is because of the lack of diversity in the development of this type of media.
People and women of color deserve to have a voice when it comes to representing themselves. They deserve to have a seat at the table when it comes to the development of narratives, which surround their experiences. Their experiences shouldn’t be told by a person who could and would never experience them.
A game that I’ve recently thought deeply about in regards to this issue is “The Last of Us.” With the recent release date announcement of “The Last of Us Part II” (Feb. 21, 2020), I felt the initial game in the franchise was something worth dissecting. Upon replaying the game, I realized something most likely unintentional but also bizarre. I found that every black person in the game dies or suffers in some excruciating way. Do I think this is inherently bad? No. Do I think the unintentional suffering of characters of color is one of those unseen and kept hidden problems? Yes.
More apparent in movies, but also becoming more of a cliche in video games, is the white savior trope and the notion that white characters always need their minority friends and family to suffer in some way to build character. I reject this. People of color should not have to see themselves suffer repeatedly. They deserve more than what is currently given to them. They deserve a change.
Bryanna Miller is a third-year student majoring in media and culture. BM923621@wcupa.edu