Video Games | Player representation – an archaic affair

Ask your anyone on the street to describe your typical video-gamer and you’ll see a picture begin to emerge. Socially awkward, Vitamin D deprived, neck-beard. White. Male. The only problem with that picture is that almost half of all gamers are now women – which, given that they make up around half the Earth’s population, shouldn’t be too hard to believe. So why is it that game developers can’t seem to to accept that women and various ethnic minorities play video games?

Looking at the top-ten, best-selling games of last year, with the obvious exceptions of Fifa 2014, Pokémon, Monster Hunter IV and Animal Crossing,  only one of the remaining six titles featured a playable female protagonist (Tomb Raider) and again, only one a playable non-white protagonist (GTA V). Clearly gruff white males sell video games, but that doesn’t make it right to exclude women and ethnic minorities.

At this year’s E3 event, Ubisoft, creators of the enormously popular Assassin’s Creed franchise found themselves in hot water, breaking their promise to make available the option to play as a female character in online-multiplayer mode. Instead, the player will be given the choice to play as one of four white European males. Their reasoning? It would take too long and exert too many resources to format the correct animations for a female model. On some level this may be the case, video games are a business that need to produce a product to the highest standard possible in a cost effective manner. Yet, to claim that the inclusion of female characters is too much effort shows a mind-set in games developers that goes way beyond availability of resources.

To Ubisoft’s credit, their spin-off title Assassin’s Creed Liberation offered players the chance to control a woman of mixed-race heritage in 18th Century Louisiana, a rare thing to see on both counts. Too often, the female or non-white characters that do sneak  into mainstream video games are grotesque caricatures. The women of Grand Theft Auto V exist only to frustrate the male leads and in turn be mocked, reviled and humiliated. Lara Croft, from the titular Tomb Raider, only in the last year completed her twenty year journey from sex object to fully formed character, complete with her own personality and back story. As for ethnic minorities, often they’re portrayed only two dimensional criminals, Terry Crews-style meatheads or, in the case of Farcry 3, helpless indigenous people in need of an American to show up to save them by appropriating their culture. I don’t need a video game to try to convince me of this, that’s what gap year students are for.

In the last thirty years, the video games industry has come a long way. It’s an industry that contributes billions of euros, dollars and pounds to the global economy. Gone are the days of Beckett-esque games such as Pong, when two paddles existing in a void hit a ball back and forth for eternity, and in are the Stoppard-like, mind-boggling experiences of Bioshock Infinte. Just don’t expect anything other than a medieval treatment of anyone who isn’t a white man.

Benjamin Cook

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