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Diversity in the Gaming Industry

Outline: New scoring system that ranks games based on their representation of race, gender and disabilities reveals there is still a long way to go to accurately represent the diverse communities playing them. The notion that people with disabilities need to be "fixed" is rife in the gaming industry. While RPGs (role-playing games) sometimes offer a choice of playable characters, their default characters are often white.

Main Digest

A new study by Currys PC World investigating diversity in the gaming industry has found that, while the representation of race, gender and disabilities has improved in games since the nineties, there is still a distinct bias in favor of the young, white, straight male.

Video gaming is one of the fastest-growing entertainment mediums in the world, enjoyed by people of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds and predilections. But do the games we know and love reflect this reality? Currys PC World has explored representation in the gaming industry, looking at the games and writers that champion diversity and the frequency with which forward-thinking characters appear in popular games. We also collaborated with influential voices from the gaming industry such as Ian Hamilton, Accessibility expert and Jay-Ann Lopez, Creator of Black Girl Gamers to name a couple.

Using a bespoke scoring system (please see methodology for breakdown), they analyzed games that have made a mark at E3 and The Game Awards over the last 20 years. Games were awarded points for: female characters in prominent positions; for exploring LGBTQ+ plot points or themes; for mixed race characters prominently placed in the story; and for disabled characters or references. Their key findings are below:

Ethnic Minorities

Black and white clipart image of a gaming controller with eyes and pink tongue.
Black and white clipart image of a gaming controller with eyes and pink tongue.

Ethnic minorities are still underrepresented in games, but things are (slowly) improving:

Despite efforts being made in recent years to improve the ethnic diversity of characters in games, an analysis of all games nominated for a Game Award from 2003 to 2018 unearthed that black and ethnic minorities are still severely underrepresented.

While RPGs (role-playing games) sometimes offer a choice of playable characters, their default characters are often white. When other ethnicities are represented, it's also common for them to be type-cast.

"The diversity that is applied to white characters is something that is often missing when other races are depicted in games." Adam Campbell, co-founder of POC in Play. "Representation still feels incomplete and inconsistent. We're still also hard pushed to find those protagonists that are not the stereotypical Indiana Jones or the tough, bald, male type, so 'diversity' is the exception rather than the rule."

Females in Gaming

Representation of women in games is on the rise, yet the characters are often hyper-sexualized:

With as many as 42% of gamers in the UK being female (and that number rising to 52% in France1) it only makes sense that women are represented equally in games. This doesn't appear to be the case, however. While the last decade has seen a 189% increase in games featuring playable female characters, fewer than a third of game covers feature a woman in a prominent position. When women are featured, they're often sexualized. For example, the cover of San Andreas sports a blonde-haired woman in a come-hither pose.

"Female characters have historically been hyper-sexualized for the male gaze in gaming," says Jay-Ann Lopez, founder of Black Girl Gamers. "You can observe this with the various representations of Lara Croft. 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. Still, there are more and more holistic and nuanced female characters appearing within games."

Disability in the Gaming Industry

The notion that people with disabilities need to be "fixed" is rife in the gaming industry:

On the rare occasions that disabilities are represented in games, they are more likely to be physical ailments than mental. Mental health has only been tackled in the last few years as awareness rises. Plus, characters with a physical disability are often "fixed".

Accessibility expert Ian Hamilton says:

"This notion that people with disabilities are broken and need to be fixed - a concept known as the medical model of disability - was rejected and abandoned in the 1970s, yet still persists in media and in games, often through the trope of medical conditions being replaced by superhuman powers or superhuman prosthetics. Moreover, games are often guilty of furthering the myth that a disability is rare, with all the impact that has on broader prejudice and discrimination."

LGBTQ+ in Gaming and Game Themes

LGBTQ+ themes are being explored more in gaming narratives:

LGBTQ+ themes are rarely explored in games, and that's especially true of the biggest titles.

This being said, things are improving. Some of the biggest games to tackle homosexuality with grace in the last 20 years include:

"Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator lets players be either a cis or trans man and captures a reality of the gay community I haven't seen before in a game. Not every game can be Dream Daddy - and not every game has to be." Alayna M. Cole, MD of Queerly Represent Me.

Ultimately, things are getting better. Since 2012, nearly half of all games have featured diverse casts, LGBTQ+ themes or characters of color - as opposed to 26% pre- 2012. Plus, The Last of Us II, one of the biggest PS4 games coming out in the next year, is set to feature a female LGBTQ+ lead.

With time, here's hoping that the enduring (and inaccurate) stereotype - that only young, white men play games - will fizzle out.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_video_games


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(i)This information is from an external source (Currys PC World). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity, and/or length. If you are connected with this page and want it corrected/updated please contact us.

Cite: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English. Author: Currys PC World. Electronic Publication Date: 2019/08/31. Last Revised Date: 2019/08/31. Reference Title: "Diversity in the Gaming Industry", Source: Diversity in the Gaming Industry. Abstract: New scoring system that ranks games based on their representation of race, gender and disabilities reveals there is still a long way to go to accurately represent the diverse communities playing them. Retrieved 2019-11-21, from https://www.disabled-world.com/entertainment/games/gaming-diversity.php - Reference Category Number: DW#320-13720.
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