Diversity in gaming, let’s change it
Posted on Feb 9, 2023 by FEED Staff
The diversity in gaming conversation usually pertains to the people with the controllers. But what about a game’s universe, and those who build it?
Words by Verity Butler
When it comes to the question of diversity in video games, the focus has often been on the starkly fewer numbers of female, LGBTQ+, POC and disabled gamers on the scene – and rightly so. With baggage in the shape of the ‘straight white male’ trope, the gaming industry has often found itself reluctantly thrown into the spotlight with incidents surrounding diversity, or its lack thereof.
What about representation in the games themselves? With universes seemingly more elaborate than the real world, you would think it would be straightforward to generate a multicultural and diverse hub when developing a game; reflecting a pluralistic society that so many are working towards. Think again.
In November 2022, MTM held a conference at Google HQ titled: Let’s Change the Game. Described as ‘a conversation about diversity and representation in video games’, the data gathered consisted of the following:
- Expert interviews: Four 45-minute expert interviews with Adrienne Shaw, Jay-Ann Lopez, Jo Twist and Lauren Kaye.
- Gamer interviews: 12 45-minute gamer interviews, with a focus on diverse gamer audiences.
- Quant survey: 2494 20-minute online quantitative surveys with gamers in the UK & US.
Firstly, we should address the overall findings of the research, before breaking it down more closely.
The presiding issue sits within the lack of representation visible in game characters:
- Main characters in games released in the first 5 months of 2022, 61% were male.
- Top 100 games released in 2017-2021, 61% characters were white.
- Outside of RPGs, analysing 684 Twitch gameplay segments, .03% characters were LGBTQ+.
The second core trend revealed that the needs fulfilled by gaming are similar across gaming audiences: Relaxation, Challenge, Competition, Immersion and Great Story.
Immersion and narrative forms of gameplay are more important for minority audiences:
- #1 for non cis: Immersion
- #2 for LGBTQ+, POC-US Cognitivedisability: Immersion
- #POC-US: Great Story
Immersive gameplay tops the ranks for non-cis players, with good narrative ranking highly for UK-based POCs.
The graph below shows how the frequency of stereotyping has a profound effect on gaming habits in certain groups:
What’s the gain?
Aside from the fact that problems surrounding diversity should be reason enough to act, MTM’s research emphasises exactly why developers need to pay more attention to what its customers want. Starting with the stats showing that greater diversity matters to all types of gamers:
Seeking to improve diversity is desirable in itself, reflecting the complexities of the world, but it also makes a more welcoming and progressive gaming ecosystem.
Top reasons why it is important that video games include a diverse set of characters are: to create a more inclusive and accepting gaming environment, to make the game appeal to more people, and to represent under-represented groups.
It may seem tough to know where to start when it comes to resolving such a critical issue.
From the data collected, the ability to identify with characters is at the forefront of the participants’ desires and perceptions of what games should offer:
- 70%: More diversity of characters would attract more people to play games
- 70%: I should be able to choose my character’s hairstyle, clothes, accessories etc, regardless of gender
- 62%: It is important that games include characters I can identify with
- 55%: It is important that games include characters that represent me
- 44%: It is important that games include characters that look like me
A part of what this entails for developers going forward is the ability to take more risks, particularly for those traditionally underserved.
11% disagree that diversity in games is important. That 11% were 51% male, 76% white with an age range of 45.
A concern held across many industries is the resounding fear of alienating specific audiences and types of customer that have been a leading contingent within that area. Crucial to MTM’s research is the discovery that the apparent risks posed by developers investing in diversity is conclusively low and, effectively, not remotely worth worrying about.
One anonymous cis white female aged 37 commented: “It doesn’t [matter]. A game isn’t about reality for me. It’s another dimension – a distraction from the real world.”
A long way to go
As is usually the case, progress is present, but we still have a long way to go. While some people do notice improvements, most are waiting for more:
The general mood among those surveyed seems mixed, and despite recent development, more needs to be done with key gaming audiences:
- 40% of female gamers feel female representation has improved.
- 38% of gamers of colour feel Black representation has improved.
- 21% of non-cis gamers feel non-cis representation has improved.
- 26% of gamers of colour feel Asian representation has improved.
Despite research emphasising the need and desire for change, there is huge room for growth.
A good starting point would be to listen to what people from those communities want…
It is clear from the data uncovered by MTM that change is not only necessary, but vital for the continued success of the gaming industry. What started off as a minority segment of the industry’s consumer base are only growing in voice.
Plus, why would you want to buy a game that has a character who doesn’t even remotely represent you, when there are others on the market that do?
This article first appeared in the winter 2022 issue of FEED magazine.