Like most other game sites, we run on willpower, a non-existent budget and a love of gaming, but unlike other sites, J Station X is also fuelled by a whole lot of anger and a little bit of indignation that the video game industry that we know and love still continuously fails to represent women in games, people of colour and those who identify as LGBTQ. It’s for that reason that I’ve put together the first annual Video Game Diversity Report so that we can yell back statistics when the mob bangs on the door protesting that gaming must stay as a Straight, White Boys Club. Read my findings after the break.
Go On, Yell At Me If You Must
Before we begin, let me quickly explain how I gathered the data for this thing, using a handily numbered list. (And feel free to criticise my data collection methods/suggest improvements using the comments section).
- For a start, I’ve only included games that were released in the year of 2013 on PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360 and Xbox One as that’s what JSX covers and there just isn’t enough time to cover every platform. I’ve also left out digital rereleases, sports/fighting titles with ensemble casts and characters available as extra DLC.
- Full disclosure: I haven’t played all of the titles that I surveyed because quite a few of them came out at the end of the year and if I tried to buy them all, my mind would go gooey and my bank balance would scare me even more than it already does.
- Finally, female characters, people of colour (POCs) and LGBTQ identified characters are the only diversity groups that this report delves into as covering class lines and religion is something I could only do with accuracy if I’d played them all, which I haven’t. I also limited the results to playable characters with those identities, otherwise FIFA 14’s blocky female crowd-goers would count as inclusion.
Also, spoiler alert, as many headlines from the past few months have suggested, things did get much better for women and minorities in gaming, but only just. Now, onwards and upwards to find out what these only slightly abysmal results said!
Women in Games
Unsurprisingly, female video game characters did the best out of the three diversity categories, featuring good showings from longstanding lady badass Lara Croft in her 2013 origin story Tomb Raider, as well as Capcom’s memory-splicing IP, Remember Me, featuring Nilin, a woman of colour (WOC), as the lead.
In the 60 games that I surveyed, a total of 89 men were playable, vs. just 44 playable female characters, meaning that there were over twice as many guys on offer to players across the big consoles as there were ladies, suggesting that we are a good way off of the percentages of 51% of female characters and 49% of male characters being playable, that would be reflective of the global population.
What makes it worse still is that almost half of our women in games total is due to the fact that they were part of multiple choice casts. In other words, men were also on offer as player chosen protagonists or, the game allowed you to design your character from scratch.
Is it good that in many cases female characters were an afterthought? Or that perhaps the developer or publisher may have felt that men were the more affable gender to pander to? Of course not and by all means, the examples in which women were part of a choose-your-own protagonist type character creation situation is not always an instance of that, but what is clear is that whatever is keeping women from being the single, lone lead of a story is obviously working in a big way (and needs to be brought down like a straw house in a hail storm).
People of Colour In Games
Racial profiling is rampant, stereotypes are alive and kicking and yet in a ‘post-racial society’, we’re still having to turn to media to set the tone for how entire generations look at people from other races.
Is it a big ask of our TV shows, movies and video games? Of course it is, but I was still pleasantly surprised/disgruntled by the batch of stats I collected for playable characters of colour in games. For a start, there were actually more playable women of colour (15) than there were men (14) and while it’s just a lone character making the difference, the actual make up of the female group of characters is important too.
One big thing I noted, was that the group of playable female characters was more racially diverse. For example, while the men were mostly made up of black and Latino characters, the female group was almost equal in terms of black, Latina and Asian representation, with Anarchy Reigns’ three Rin sisters making up a third of the group by themselves. On the flipside, however, men trumped the ladies in the games they were featured in – with 4 men of colour being granted their own stories (i.e with no possible change of character) while half that much were granted their own stories on the women’s side.
Again, considering that the global statistics suggest that there are more people of colour on our little planet than there are white people, the stats just don’t add up, which is concerning considering just how much of an impact good racial representation makes.
What is hopeful, however, is the likes of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, as they challenge players not just to take on the slave liberating boots of people like Aveline, a woman of colour embracing her heritage, or even Edward Kenway, who, while being a white man (with his own touch of privilege and ignorance, however) is still a vessel to tell important racial stories and considering that it’s being handled by diverse development teams too, the gameplay and stories are all the better for it.
LGBTQ Characters in Games
Where just about every developer missed the mark this year, is in terms of queer representation. Of all 60 games that I surveyed, just one queer character was playable, in Xbox 360 zombie killing title, State of Decay. That character, Jacob Ritter, isn’t even the lead character and is merely just an unlockable option, meaning that more than a few people will have passed over him in favour of rushing through and completing the game.
So pathetic is this statistic, that I even made this equally as pathetic pie chart to emphasise my point (and perhaps laugh at at the end of 2014 when floods of queer characters will have featured in our games this year, maybe?)
The lack of queer characters in our games in 2013 was especially exacerbated by an absence of many EA franchises. It’s a well documented (and well argued about) fact that EA support LGBTQ gamers and that Dragon Age, Mass Effect and The Sims have all allowed sexual orientations of players to be fairly well represented in those games, giving us romantic options of both genders and letting us choose whether or not we pursue them.
But 2013 didn’t have any of that, bar State of Decay. And yes, Gone Home is another example of a queer-centred story (the sister of the protagonist is a lesbian), but that game has yet to make it to any of the big 4 consoles or to the PS Vita, meaning that there are millions of people who use dedicated games consoles instead of their PCs, who will have missed out.
There have even been hints towards queer characters from Rhianna Pratchett, lead writer of Tomb Raider, who suggested that Lara and her best friend (NPC) Sam may have had a romance off screen, but this is just subtext, hearsay, and if that’s what we’re asking to be the be all and end all of queer representation in video games then we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Not only that, but even no releases in those EA franchises can account for the lack of trans* visibility, with there only being a handful of playable trans* characters in the history of video games let alone in 2013, one of the most progressive years on record.
How to Revolutionise the Future
I couldn’t possibly finish this post without pointing out the obvious flaw in my data collection. As extensive as I feel it is, by only looking at playable characters, this obviously limits the findings to a subset of data. For example, female sidekicks and those characters reserved to playing the ‘funny black friend’ role have been missed out, even when the representation is good, nee great, (again, see Tomb Raider where half of Lara’s 6-strong expedition team was of colour).
But even with that in mind, it’s pretty obvious that diversity in our games leaves much to be desired and on PS4 and Xbox One, the next-gen gives us a chance to do much better in terms of diversity, but it’s just a case of developers, publishers and the fans too, calling for more women, more people of colour and more LGBTQ characters in our games in the future.
Do you think 2014’s games will feature more diverse characters? Or do you think there will be less in our games this year? – Let me know in the comments below.