Sometimes, you just want a change. You want fresh, new, original takes on genres that you love while the publisher wants reskinned sequels like a plucked chicken with a coat on. But we’ve had 7 whole years of that and the time is now to throw the system out the window attached to a giant lead balloon, and Sony’s upcoming PS4, could be the very console to start that revolution.
What Do We Want? Diversity. When Do We Want It? NOW.
As gamers we want the best games money can buy, we’d like games that represent all of the faces we see in real life, because sometimes those less seen faces belong to us. But right now, there are hands on stat sheets like they’re religious texts and noggins that tell publishers to ‘do more of the same because it sells so let’s not tweak the system’ like they’re up to their ears in kool-aid. An incendiary statement? Absolutely, but as explained right here in our About Page, we know the following to be true.
- In 2012 alone, approximately over 1/3 of all video games released on PS3 and Xbox 360 were shooters.
- Of all of the games released in 2012, only three featured notable female protagonists.
- Only one LGBT character was featured in PS3 and Xbox 360 games in 2012.
With over half of the global population (51%) being female, and with non-white faces also outnumbering white ones, these figures are hardly representative of the wider masses. They’re probably not even representative of the homes and peer groups that these games are being sold to. But you’re smart, you likely had some of idea of this, so now the next question is ‘how does it change?
In Walks Sony With Its Binder Full of Women
The PS4, we know to be arriving on our various shores and land-locked continents later this month. Unless you close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears yelling ‘lalala I love my SNES emulator’ then you can’t miss it. On the in-store posters and in the TV ads we’re told tales of the PS4’s giant 8GB of RAM and its 500GB hard-drive, but this is the weak story, the real gold is when you find out what that powers and good grief do Sony have all manner of playing cards up their giant waving sleeves.
In the first 4 months of the PS4 alone, those paltry stats? Blown out of the water like a jetstream of cool, representative air. The PS4 launch window already has so many inclusive titles, more than you can shake an actual binder full of women at. If this were a roll call, the following would all get high 5s and thumbs up for being big on well developed female characters and less on the boob jiggle physics, as per female inclusion in the past:
- Battlefield 4 (where the lead female character is a woman of colour)
- DC Universe Online
- Injustice Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
2014 looks even stronger for female characters on PS4 too with Destiny, EA Sports UFC, Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV and Mirror’s Edge 2, just to name a few.
We’re going to have some critique on site soon as to whether or not games with ‘choose your own protagonist’ systems equal inclusiveness but for now, it’s undoubtedly a move in the right direction.
The PS4 is Moving Minority Mountains Too
Right now, the picture could be better for ethnic minorities. The faces of black, Asian, Native American and Latin@ people of all genders are greatly underrepresented (so imagine the case for just women of ethnic minorities), so bad that it should be criminal. But, as ever, we’re hopeful because changing the tides is important and next-gen could looks to be the driving force.
At the moment, we have just one playable minority face making its way onto PS4 in the launch window (excluding those of the sports sims) but what better way than with a PS4 exclusive? His name is Delsin Rowe, he’s the protagonist of inFamous: Second Son and he just happens to be Native American. His profile over at Game Informer is a great take on Rowe and his fire and smoke spitting supernatural abilities, but really, his race is possibly just as important as the embers spouting from his fingertips. Assassin’s Creed 3 featured a Native American protagonist, Connor “Ratonhnhaké:ton” Kenway and was one of few in the media – games, TV, films or otherwise – so for Delsin to be lauded as one of the reasons to buy a PS4 in the coming months is massive.
PS4 and the Future of Non-White, Non-Male Faces
We can talk about the PS4’s 2014 release schedule, you can get excited for these games and I can write about them, but beyond that, the future is even brighter. It would also be useless for us to sit here and hope that ports of our other favourite diverse games make it to PS4 (Ubisoft if you’re listening, AC Liberation on PS4 please!) when the new, up and coming stuff, or the games we haven’t even thought of, could eschew straight, white and male faces left, right and centre, or at least open the door for more diversity.
Sony clearly have a commitment to this with the games already on the roster, but the plan for indie titles in particular could outlast the console itself, like a titanium time capsule filled with bedroom-based developers. If Sony are actively saying that anyone has a chance to develop PS4 games then everything is possible. If publishers are saying more often than not that they don’t want diversity, in favour of sticking to the norm, then the developers will have the power to swiftly stick a middle finger up in the air and say ‘we don’t need you’, without having to worry about a lack of funding in exchange for a more inclusive vision.
It also means that we could see some queer characters (noticeably absent from this list due to an unfortunately poor showing on next-gen so far) make their way to our game boxes, to really complete this round of ‘everyone deserves to be represented correctly’ bingo (or just because there are good stories to tell and misrepresentation is doing no one any favours). And, as we’ll explain, it could have social implications too.
What It Means, What It REALLY Means for Women and Minorities
Being portrayed as ‘equal’ in the media doesn’t just make those ‘othered’ by society feel warm and cozy as they snuggle into their beds at night (though I’m sure it goes some way to helping), it actively changes what society thinks of them. It’s said that if you see a gay character on the TV, you’re 100% more likely to accept them and their rights, so imagine if you have to play as one in a game? Imagine if not just you, but all of your peers and every Pride Parade picketing bigot played that game too? Austin Thomas Rowe at Georgia State University backs this up, discussing the fact that media portrayal helps “people make sense of their social world”.
In terms of women, Tracy L Dietz, Ph.D. Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology. University of Central Florida, states in her book that “that video games, like other media forms, impact the identity of children” and can even effect adult’s perception of themselves and those around them, stressing just how much of a Big Deal games can be in the wider scale of things.
I’ve waxed lyrical on how important diversity is and truly, it’s important! The PS4 could very well be the vehicle to get us one step forward to a better, inclusive interactive world, but we’ll be covering the Xbox One’s role in that soon too.
For now, if you want more on the games or topics we mentioned, you can sign up to the J Station X newsletter by following that link (or via the form in the sidebar). I think you’ll really want to read what we have coming up soon.