TR Member Perks!

Let me first say that I do like the idea of more games with more diverse characters and protagonists. Exploring more cultures, beliefs and settings would be incredibly interesting to see and some publishers may underestimate the appeal of something set in a place foreign to most of gaming’s consumer base. However, that is not something I can or should even attempt to change. It is entirely up to each developer what kind of story they want to tell, setting to portray, or character to create. I, nor anyone else, has any right to start policing artistic freedom. That is exactly what is at issue with the claims of the lack of diversity in gaming.

There are plenty of arguments for artistic freedom, but the easy one is to prevent censorship. Allowing anyone to dictate what someone can or cannot express is dangerous for everyone. Specifically I am referring to when the reckless censuring of an artist’s work leads to governmental interference and eventual censorship, or the much more likely self-censorship caused by outside pressure.

An often forgot part of artistic freedom is that there are two parts to it — the artist and the audience. Artistic freedom is not just something to argue for the artist, but it is a right held by everyone to interact, converse, and digest whatever it is they are seeing/experiencing — regardless of what questions it evokes, people/ideas it criticizes, or anything else.

So, what’s really at stake is the right to freely converse on pretty much any issue. That is at stake when certain groups of people feel the need to start pressuring/shaming developers for the games they want to make.

Stepping off the high horse, I think we can all agree that those critics don’t have the right to pressure developers. They do have the right to criticize, and in some sense a part of their criticisms are correct regarding the lack of diversity in the portrayal of peoples in gaming. There is no doubt that there are far, far more protagonists in games that happen to be white and are of European descent.

But the people attacking games like The Witcher 3 are going about it in an extremely detrimental way, leading to what was explained above. Simultaneously, they are exposing their incredible lack of understanding to such concepts as racism and the difference between portrayal and endorsement. Let’s use The Witcher 3 as an example, considering that has been the catalyst for the recent unintelligent barrage of articles and criticisms towards gaming.

the witcher 3 the wild hunt ciri

Attacking The Witcher 3 was the perfect game to showcase how the “culture critics” have wantonly cast aside diversity in favor for something as shallow as race. Basically, many arguments for the lack of diversity in The Witcher 3 have almost entirely to do with skin color, which only serves to illustrate an obsession with physical appearance. (Note: This is not a rejection to the idea that games lack racial diversity, but a discussion on the type of diversity that we should be more concerned with due to its direct relation to the quality of games.) Well, as is both obvious, and sadly not obvious, to many: diversity is not the same as having many people of varying color.

The Witcher 3 includes a pretty good variety of characters with many different backgrounds, cultural customs, languages, and more. Look at the difference between just the people of Velen and Skellige, Nilfgaard and Temeria. Each one is distinct with their own ideas on things like decorum, rights, and burial. This is flown in the face of the player constantly, especially on Skellige. Too often, at least while I played, I angered someone from Skellige with a decision which went against their laws and customs.

Even more dismantling of the arguments against The Witcher 3 is the fact that it does indeed showcase quite a vast array of races by their insufficient understanding limited to physical appearance. The Witcher 3 showcases humans, dwarves, the Aen Elle (elves), and Aen Siedhe (also elves). Zerrikania is also referred to quite often as the place the finest goods derive from. Their people are described as dark-skinned, although only one makes an appearance in the three Witcher games. And all of this is not considering, if you’d like, the many sentient “monsters” of all kinds of colors like purple and green. So, to say that something like The Witcher 3 lacks diversity is rather unfounded.

the witcher 3 the wild hunt novigrad

There is also the argument that there are a lack of protagonists in games for players to identify with. That because of the lack of a protagonist with physical attributes similar to the player’s, they are unable to enjoy the game. In my experience that doesn’t have to be the case. Take Telltale’s The Walking Dead for example. I am white and Lee is black, yet there are few characters I have identified with more or been more invested in than him. Expanding upon that base difference, he’s a professor from Georgia, I work in law enforcement in the Pacific Northwest. In other words, we are quite different, yet I am still able to identify with him. To me, and this is definitely anecdotal, a player’s ability to identify with a character has far more to do with a character’s actions and humanity than their physical representation. Check out TechRaptor’s Clint Smith for more along this line of thought and a discussion on how portrayal does not equal endorsement.

So, yes, by the ignorant definitions of those arguing that certain games like The Witcher 3 lack diversity due to the lack of varying skin tones, then maybe The Witcher 3 does indeed have an issue. However, if you reject the idea that the physical representation of a character equates to actual diversity, then The Witcher 3 is overflowing in variety. It is entirely up to you what kind of diversity you’re looking for. Obviously, I’d rather have more dynamic characters with interesting cultural backgrounds and beliefs than a rainbow of people paraded in my face all saying the same thing, “Look at how different we are.”

Those wanting to police artistic freedom should start to reevaluate what they actually want to see in a game. Does having a black person in a game for little other reason than to fill the quota these critics are heaping on developers have any actual value? Those critics may get what they want, but they  will also be getting a character lacking the passion of an original idea behind it as well most likely. Forcing arbitrary narratives and characters will only lead to formulaic story telling and games, which seems counter intuitive to the whole “we want more diversity in games” argument. Let creative freedom be free to create what it wants.

While there may be a lack of diversity in skin tone in gaming, there is not an actual lack of diversity in gaming. Gaming does need more interesting characters that represent other peoples from around the world, but the manner in which some critics would go about it is only detrimental. In other words, the physical representation (skin color included) should most likely be the least important part of creating a character, as outlined above. Leave that to the choice of the developer.

What do you understand to be “diversity” in video games? What do you think of the idea of inserting more characters of varying skin tone just for the sake of it? Should The Witcher 3 have included people of more varying color?

More About This Game

Andrew Otton

Editor in Chief

Editor in Chief at TechRaptor. Lover of some things, a not so much lover of other things.



  • Riddle

    Amen amen. Couldn’t have said it better myself. You also make a really good point about diversity vs. simple skin color that I hadn’t really thought of before. It’s as simple as this. In a fantasy or fictional world there are no rules except what the artist decides. There are plenty fictional settings with only Asian characters. You could have a fantasy world taking place anywhere, where everyone is anything. And that would be fine. But for Witcher 3, because it’s “white” looking humans (completely ignoring culture and character) then it’s time to break out the picket signs.

  • Azure

    The Dev’s should jump on this chance and give a toggle option to give every character in the game black face and say watermelons and fried chicken in every other sentence.

    This is what the critics truly want even if they deny it with all their heart.

  • Screech Screecher

    They don’t care about diversity they care about control. Claims of diversity are not the ends only the means. If you act like they actually care about what they complain about you are playing into their game of Long Division.

  • Typical

    Frankly, I find the argument that a person can’t identify with someone outside of their exact demographic to be basically assuming that demographic is racist themselves or too stupid to understand nuance without something to hold their hand.

  • froyton

    I ranted about this at length yesterday and have not the energy to do it again here, so I’m just gonna do this instead:

    http://i.imgur.com/R8rdwJN.gif

    Oh hey polygon look what I posted! u mad?

  • DrearierSpider

    I’m fully expecting Arkham Knight to be labelled racist because some of the criminals happen to be black.

  • Ncrdrg

    I see this as another manifestation of American cultural imperialism. You have this foreign game, from a country whose racial makeup is roughly 97% white, based on polish mythology. It’s kind of a given it won’t reflect the racial realities of American culture. It’s. Not. American.

    Which is where they usually with ‘yes, I understand, it reflects their culture and that’s a fair argument but, who does it hurt to add more races?’ – To this, I say, where the hell were you when Sleeping Dogs was released? Why weren’t you asking for more racial diversity then? You want a Polish game to reflect the culture of the United States? Why?

    And then we get to the root of the problem. That racial diversity to them means: Not white. Anything but that skin tone. If you’re gonna whinge about racial diversity, at least aim it at publishers who are American making games set in the USA. You know, the right targets. Which have been making some changes on that front from what I’ve seen. But nope, much easier to take potshots at this beloved and highly popular Polish series because you know it’ll piss people off and cause a shitstorm of angry gamers.

  • Ricardo Lima

    Diversity was already happening . But clickbait and moral outrage are great sellers. Politics of fear.

  • You’re dealing with people who have no concept of work or development. To them simply adding someone of an ethnic skin color suffices instead of developing an interesting character who happens to have a different skin color.

  • Ryan Juel

    I would also point to EVO as further proof that gaming is diverse. Especially when compared to Anita’s speech at XOXO fest…

  • Ryan Juel

    You know, Google Analytics is a funny thing. I host my blog on blogspot, and one of the top search queries that links to my blog is: “Catwoman Arkham City Facesitting.” I wish I was making this up. They also called Arkham City sexist, so, meh…

  • chizwoz

    I think it’s a big mistake to think most of these types of people really care about diversity. Maybe some genuinely do, but quite a lot just want this reason to be able to take the moral highground on almost anyone at any time. It’s just a means of social control.
    If you did absolutely everything they wanted, they wouldn’t congratulate you. They’d just change their demands.

    Diversity really isn’t an issue worth worrying about. Most characters are white because most game developers are white, that’s all. As other parts of the world become more developed and create games industries of their own, that will naturally start to change. This kind of campaigning is just completely unnecessary.

  • Ricardo Lima

    Theres more depth and diversity in Witcher 3 characters than any other rpg to date its just not the diversity that Social hypocrisy warriors want.

  • I gotta ask: Why is adding racial minorities or LGBT chars in videogames considered this terrible “quota”? It’s either we have token minority chars or not have those types of characters at all.

  • That’s not what I was really saying. What the critics, like the article at Polygon, are asking is basically that. They want characters that you describe basically to fill a quota.

    I’d argue that let developers develop what they want and then we’ll have genuinely good minorities or LGBT characters not ones that are shoehorned in.

    Why would it be token characters or none at all?

  • Ok but see that’s what I don’t understand: why is a quota terrible in the first place? Why do racial minority or LGBT characters have to be “genuinely good” in order to be featured in games? Are the bog standard white heterosexual characters held to the same standard in our videogames? Finally, how would you describe this “quota”? Were the four Black supporting characters in the “The Last of Us” a quota? Are the Redguards from the Elder Scrolls games a quota?

    Also, since when does tokenism take anything away from a videogame? The recently released “Battlefield: Hardline” had a single player campaign that was a prime example of tokenism: the protag was Latino, his police partner was Asian, and two of the supporting characters were White and Black. Did this “forced diversity” ruin the game somehow? Nope.

    “Why would it be token characters or none at all?”

    Because it seems to me that the only way we can have diverse characters in games is if there is a form of tokenism. Since these AAA games are often written from a white perspective very rarely are POC or LGBT characters (specifically protagonists) written. If tokenism is the only way for these types of characters to be featured in games then I’m all for it. Besides, according to lots of gamers the race and sexual orientation of the characters they’re playing doesn’t even matter to them so if there was a AAA game that, for example, featured a gay Asian man/woman as the protagonist then I’m sure most gamers wouldn’t mind.

  • Digitalgame

    “Ok but see that’s what I don’t understand: why is a quota terrible in the first place?” – By that same logic, why is it a good thing? Quotas usually exist to fill a niche that is deemed problamatic but when it comes to characters in video games as you yourself say this is not an issue to most players so this can really only apply to those who typically use race and gender as a means not a goal, and those individuals tend to not have gamings best interests at heart anyway.

    “Why do racial minority or LGBT characters have to be “genuinely good” in order to be featured in games?” – It’s not so much that they have to be considered good to be featured in a game, just that if the characters themselves are written well and memorable then people will enjoy them regardless of race so the issue becomes pointless anyway.

    “Are the bog standard white heterosexual characters held to the same standard in our videogames?” – No, but that’s only because nobody cares what happens to the white heterosexual male, you can literally do anything to that type of character and most everyone would not bat an eye, but when you use other ethnicities you run the risk of political backlash that has become so omnipresent in our culture that people actively look for things to be offended by in places where it doesn’t exist and having your company name dragged through the proverbial mud, these days nothing sets off people more than the perception of a minority being portrayed in a negative connotation.

    “Finally, how would you describe this “quota”? Were the four Black supporting characters in the “The Last of Us” a quota? Are the Redguards from the Elder Scrolls games a quota?”- I remember Henry and Sam because they were actual characters with personalities and actions that affected the player both directly and indirectly, I am also not aware of two more black characters unless you are talking about one of Roberts thugs who threatened Tess. I will also admit to playing little of skyrim so I am not certain if the player ever activally interacted with the redguard anymore than any other npc in the game, regardless I will say that this arguement can be asked about nearly every character of those two games since in the last of us technically everyone is a minority as the human race has become an endangered sepcies and in Skyrim there are a plethora of races found throughout the game, none of whom seem to exist solely to be a representation of race.

    “Also, since when does tokenism take anything away from a videogame? The recently released “Battlefield: Hardline” had a single player campaign that was a prime example of tokenism: the protag was Latino, his police partner was Asian, and two of the supporting characters were White and Black. Did this “forced diversity” ruin the game somehow? Nope.” – Tokenism by itself is not a harmful concept, stereotypoes exist for a reason, they are familiar and instanty relatable, the problem comes when tokenism is used solely as a means of representation rather than a point of interest, for example If these latino/black characters had any significance to events within the game then they are already a step above tokenism and are actual characters, I think the backlash comes when those characters become harmful stereotypes, such as the black character being a former ganster who wears a backwards cap, bone nose ring, and wears an excessive amount of gold jewelry, of if the asian was a squinty-eyed yellow skin with a long moustache that slurred his words, of course these are just the extremes and I doubt anyone would be able to use those sorts of stereotypes in todays market. Still, other than the characters physical avaters directly restricting the players progression, they might as well be non-existent and the issue becomes pointless again.

    “Because it seems to me that the only way we can have diverse characters in games is if there is a form of tokenism.” – This is one way to look at the issue, another would be that if people just stopped caring about representation as anything more than having a cast of diverse and interesting characters then the problem basically solves itself.

    Finally, I think you might have gotten confused about who exactly is calling for there to be a quota in the first place, certainly it’s not the author of this piece. Most of their arguements are about why developers shouldn’t feel pressured into adding diversity because of another’s influence, in that regard we come to the old “Try to please everyone and end of pleasing no-one” problem that has started to rear it’s ugly head in a lot of games.

  • “…but when it comes to characters in video games as you say yourself say this is not an issue to most players”

    “Most of their arguments are about why developers shouldn’t feel pressured into adding diversity because of another’s influence…”

    If most players don’t actually care about the race/sexual orientation of videogame characters then why would developers feel pressure in the first place?

    “It’s not so much that they have to be considered good to be featured in a game, just that if the characters themselves are written well and memorable then people will enjoy them regardless of race so the issue becomes pointless anyway.”

    Ok then cool. Let’s have more diversity in games then.

    “No, but that’s only because nobody cares what happens to the white heterosexual male, you can literally do anything to that type of character and most everyone would not bat an eye, but when you use other ethnicities you run the risk of political backlash that has become so omnipresent in our culture that people actively look for things to be offended by in places where it doesn’t exist and having your company name dragged through the proverbial mud, these days nothing sets off people more than the perception of a minority being portrayed in a negative connotation.”

    True but it is not impossible for major game developers to portray these types of characters effectively. Look at “Sleeping Dogs” (set entirely in Hong Kong and featuring mostly Chinese people as it’s cast) or “Infamous: Second Son” (the protagonist is a Native American). Yes, when portraying certain types of characters there is a risk that you’ll end up offending people but it’s not impossible at all.

    “I remember Henry and Sam because they were actual characters with personalities and actions that affected the player both directly and indirectly, I am also not aware of two more black characters unless you are talking about one of Roberts thugs who threatened Tess.”

    Marlene (Leader of the Fireflies) and Riley (Ellie’s girlfriend).

    “Tokenism by itself is not a harmful concept, stereotypoes exist for a reason, they are familiar and instanty relatable, the problem comes when tokenism is used solely as a means of representation rather than a point of interest, for example If these latino/black characters had any significance to events within the game then they are already a step above tokenism and are actual characters, I think the backlash comes when those characters become harmful stereotypes, such as the black character being a former ganster who wears a backwards cap, bone nose ring, and wears an excessive amount of gold jewelry, of if the asian was a squinty-eyed yellow skin with a long moustache that slurred his words, of course these are just the extremes and I doubt anyone would be able to use those sorts of stereotypes in todays market. Still, other than the characters physical avaters directly restricting the players progression, they might as well be non-existent and the issue becomes pointless again.”

    Agreed!

    “This is one way to look at the issue, another would be that if people just stopped caring about representation as anything more than having a cast of diverse and interesting characters then the problem basically solves itself.”

    In my opinion, representation is the first step that must be taken if games are to be more diverse.

    Now, I just want to say that I disagree with the Witcher 3 part of that Polygon article but the part about Rust reveals this rather contradictory logic amongst the gaming community. They say that the race of their character doesn’t matter to them but at the same time say that they don’t want “forced diversity” in their games. I don’t understand how something like that can be “forced” yet at the same time not matter at all?

  • “If most players don’t actually care about the race/sexual orientation of videogame characters then why would developers feel pressure in the first place?”

    The pressure stems from people wanting to see a larger representation of ethnic characters. It’s not bad to want to see a larger representation, however when the people wanting to see this representation increase by presuming that the developer is being racist by not including them, then you have a problem.

    “Now, I just want to say that I disagree with the Witcher 3 part of that Polygon article but the part about Rust reveals this rather contradictory logic amongst the gaming community. They say that the race of their character doesn’t matter to them but at the same time say that they don’t want “forced diversity” in their games. I don’t understand how something like that can be “forced” yet at the same time not matter at all?”

    That’s a good point. I think some people don’t like the idea of “forced diversity” because it gives certain groups footholds. Have you ever heard of the expression “Give someone an inch and he’ll take a mile”? That is one of worries here. If these developers give in to these groups they start to expect more and more for the developers to cater to their whims.