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Diversity in Gaming

Andrew Otton / June 5, 2015 at 9:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

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?

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Andrew Otton

Editor in Chief

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