Are Video Games Becoming More Diverse? (Part 1: LGBTQ+ And Female Inclusivity)

It’s difficult to argue that female and LGBTQ+ representation in video games isn’t extremely limited. However, with each year that goes by, media becomes increasingly more diverse. So how much progress has been made in the industry, and how far do we have yet to go?

The LGBTQ+ Community

Queer representation in gaming media has been slow and rocky. In 2018, video game journalist Sam Greer found that out of thousands of commercially released games, only 179 had LGBTQ+ representation. Eighty-three of those games included a playable queer character, and out of those, only eight were pre-written to be LGBTQ+, with the rest having queer representation as optional.

Back when video games were still first emerging as media, the LGBTQ+ community was primarily depicted as being creepy, sleazy, or used as the butt of a joke. Birdo’s description in the 1988 instruction manual for “Super Mario Bros. 2” is “He thinks he is a girl and spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘Birdetta.'” Or “Mad Party F***er” which included a homophobic AIDS reference towards gay men.

In the 30-odd years since the release of these games, however, accurate representation has improved, led mostly by independent developers. Recent indie games like “Night In The Woods” (2017), “The Outer Worlds” (2019) and “Dream Daddy” (2018) have all portrayed accurate and likeable representations of LGBTQ+ characters, including minority sexualities such as Pansexuality and Asexuality. In the past ten years, indie games have risen in popularity to the point of becoming mainstream. With this, a more substantial platform has been created for the advocacy of LGBTQ+ diversity in games. These games have all been widely successful and praised for their inclusivity, but why indie games, and not Triple-A titles?

Alayna Cole, Managing director of Queerly Represent Me, said that “There’s still a lack of evidence for major publishers that diverse casts of characters will sell to games’ audiences; there is a lot of historical proof that straight white male protagonists do well on the market, and without enough evidence showing other characters can also succeed, many companies are relying on this ‘safe’ approach.

“However, independent game developers are a different story. Many of these are based on individuals’ personal stories and give an entirely different perspective on gender and sexuality than triple-A games.”

And this isn’t to say that Triple-A games completely exclude LGBTQ+ communities. Major titles such as “The Sims“, “The Last Of Us” and “Borderlands” all multiple queer characters, several of them also being playable. “The Last Of Us”, which has a lesbian lead character, won Game of the Year in 2014 and as of this year has sold over 20 million copies, thoroughly shattering the concept that the inclusion of LGBT+ characters damages the success of a game. The problem is that most game developers (and seemingly all of Nintendo) seem to be determined to ignore this.

Female Representation

As of last year, roughly 40% of people who played video games were women. With more and more women and young girls playing video games, you’d think that the level of female representation within the game they’re playing would rise also. Unfortunately, this has yet to be the case. Feminist Frequency found that at E3 2019, out of the 76 featured games at the event, only 7 of them were centred around female protagonists, with male representation being almost 3 times that. This gives the impression that assists in encouraging a culture of which the female experience is secondary to that of men, and that women don’t fit into the “hero” archetype as well as a man could, encouraging a toxic and misogynistic culture within the industry.

When women are included in videogames, unfortunately, more often than not they are the victims of male gaze. Women are often hypersexualised, scantily clad NPC’s that do nothing but promote harmful standards and expectations.

Jay-Ann Lopez, creator of Black Girl Gamers, said that “Female characters have historically been hyper-sexualised for the male gaze in gaming. You can observe this with the various representations of Lara Croft or female characters in action games wearing armour that only covers their extremities and nothing else. I do not believe there is an inherent problem with women being viewed as sexy. However, when it is the only version of women shown, it strips us of our depth and limits us to serving as purely visual objects.”

This isn’t to say that there is no accurate female representation at all. Games like “The Last Of Us”, “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” and “Horizon Zero Dawn” all have incredibly realistic and likeable female leads. The problem is that these types of characters are far and few between when this should be a mainstream topic. This shouldn’t be an issue in 2020, but here we are.

The nature of video games makes them a powerful tool for empathy. It gives players a chance to relate to and understand a person or group of people that they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to do so. Not only that, but individuals need to see themselves represented in order to support their own self-worth and confidence. For the gaming industry to be missing out on this opportunity, after all this time, is to ignore an ethical responsibility that creators have for their audiences.

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