Opinion: Let's go on an adventure where everyone is invited… #GamerGate
The gaming community is at war, and this time it's not the usual Xbox vs PlayStation battle. Instead, it is touching on the much more important (and sensitive) issue of diversity. The lack of non-white and non-male protagonists in video games is one of the most highlighted concerns to rights campaigners, but it should be for gamers everywhere, as it results in a lack of choice and new experiences which makes playing games so brilliant and immersive.
For some background, #GamerGate started from one game developer called Zoe Quinn. On August 16th, Quinn's ex-boyfriend accused her of cheating on him with five different men and uploaded screenshots of her chat logs as evidence. Several of the men that Zoe allegedly slept with were gaming journalists. This caused Quinn to be criticised as trading sex for positive reviews by internet denizens. These denizens were subsequently attacked by campaigners as being misogynistic attacks from a male-dominated community.
Whichever side you are on, if any, #GamerGate has provided an opening for us to create a healthy and much-needed discussion around diversity in video games.
Alex Mahan, from Examiner, wrote: "It's annoying to hear someone tell you that you must be politically correct at all times. It's annoying to hear someone tell developers what kind of content should and should not be allowed in video games. It's annoying to hear someone give a low score to a game because something in it offended them. It's annoying to hear someone complain about the content in a game, when the game was clearly designed for a different target demographic."
But there's no denying it, if you look at the latest game releases, I bet you will find most of the lead characters are white and male. If you look at the people who make the games, most are also white and male. These developers aren't racists, or sexists, or fascists, they're just making games how they know for people to enjoy. After all, when you start trying to think on behalf of other people's thoughts and beliefs, you're treading a dangerous path which you would be wise to stay away from unless you are truly qualified to represent them.
Now some campaigners are putting pressure, sometimes bordering on blackmail, on game developers to change their own games to include more diversity despite not necessarily knowing how best to do it. This is alongside an increasing pressure on journalists to promote or praise content simply because the creator is female, or transgender, or homosexual, or black, or Muslim, or Jedi (actual religion) or end up facing potentially career-ruining backlash for giving their honest opinion.
For a gaming-orientated example, those who reviewed "Gone Home" poorly because of its game mechanics were instantly labeled as homophobes due to its developer being homosexual. Instead of pushing for tolerance, this is creating an atmosphere of intolerance for individual speech and expression which is exactly the opposite of what the majority of us are striving for.
Game developers aren't your enemy. They are telling you a (often-fictional) story. Sure, there continues to be a minority of idiot players who will harass anyone through their headsets or keyboards, and this becomes a serious issue which needs dealing with when they pick on individual differences and start making physical threats. Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency, experienced this after being forced out of her home after waves of harassment due to her online episodes.
Please don't stain video games with that image. In general, the gaming community takes pride in bringing people together. You only have to attend my local games meet each week to witness this; it's really quite beautiful to see.
To help combat this important issue, nearly 1000 developers have signed a letter calling on the gaming community to end intolerance. The letter, which is written and published by indie game designer Andreas Zecher, reads: "We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish."
As with all industries, we need to focus on getting more diversity into the industry itself and help these underrepresented groups to make the required changes and help provide the wider-gaming community with more refreshing and diverse experiences by showing them what they are missing out on. This is a shift which has already started, it just needs further nurturing. At Google's I/O developer conference this year, 20% of attendees were female, compared to only 8% in 2013. It is an amazing statistic to boast, and one which we should be pushing to increase until there's a 50/50 ratio between male and female to truly represent their growing audiences.
Alongside this rise in female developers, we're also seeing more female gamers. We're also seeing more options in games to play as females. There are more and more titles coming out where you get the choice of playing as a female. Take Borderlands, or Mass Effect, or Dragon Age, as great examples of where this is pulled off effectively. This doesn't apply to all games, however, and developers should feel free to make decisions not to include either sex or make any other changes if it doesn't fit in with their creative vision and/or the period or universe set.
Of course, we can't stop at just promoting females in the game industry either. Whatever religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation which is under-represented needs support. We all need to be treated equally, but we are all different in our individual tastes and views and this is something which needs to be embraced and celebrated.
Everyone is free to have an opinion, but forcing game developers to make changes to their work only harms games and causes anger in the community. Further nurturing a diverse workforce on the other hand benefits games and creates a selection to suit all tastes whilst potentially changing cultural attitudes. Let's focus on that core mission.
There is room for all of us. If you don't like the current games, don't fear-monger the developers, create a game yourself and be the change. Show us how they're supposed to be made in your vision and fill the gaps. Take us on new experiences and bring us all together as one video game community rather than divide us. Cause a video game renaissance, not World War 3.
How do you think we should we promote diversity in video games? Let us know in the comments.
If you are interested in IoT, please visit IoT Tech Expo Europe in London's Olympia, December 2-3 2015.