Listen. I’ve been working with games for about 14 years. During that time I’ve heard a whole lot of bad excuses from gaming companies when it comes to the representation of gaming minorities* in games. I’ve also heard a lot of bad excuses when it comes to representations that are sexist, racist, homophobic etc. The excuses range from the usual “girls don’t play games” to “it’s not ethical to kill women enemies”. Or for that matter as Ubisoft claimed “it’s too expensive to animate women”.
In some cases, the developers push back. I can’t tell you about the example I appreciate the most, because well – NDA**. But I can tell you about for instance Remember Me, where the developers pushed back and said “a woman lead, or no game”. Unfortunately that kind of conviction is still rare.
But that wasn’t the point I wanted to make. The point is this.
If you choose to exclude gaming minorities from the story or gameplay of your game, you’d better take responsibility for it. If you choose to make sexist, racist or homophobic content or ads for your game, you’d better take responsibility for it.
It’s easy really. If you fuck up – like Starbreeze and the Overkill Payday video – don’t try to make it go away by not talking about it. By the way, where is that internal review that was promised? The one where Starbreeze would find out why Overkill made an overtly sexist video to support Payday? Or for that matter how that video reached YouTube?
To be honest I’ve almost stopped caring about the many messes made by developers and publishers over the years. Deep Silver with their “feminist whore” code. The Hot Coffee mod in GTA San Andreas. Well. Frankly, the whole GTA-franchise when it comes to how women are viewed as disposable and not really anything else but background noise.
Why not just own up? Say “hey, we made this very sexist video because we like looking at girls in bikinis, and we thought they’d make a nice background for our man here.” Or “you know, we could have included playable women but we preferred having another feature instead.” Or “um.. it’s sexist? Really? We had no idea because we simply didn’t think about it. We just did something that we thought was cool”.
Because this is the issue, isn’t it? I don’t think there was any thought behind any of it, I think the creators just thought it was cool or whatever. Or as one japanese game developer said (I think it was Suda51) “Everyone likes boobs” after having placed two giant breasts in the middle of a street. This was a cleverly disguised ad for the game he’d just made.
The problem is of course that the gaming culture, critics, journalists and other various and sundry people with opinions is starting to change. This change means that misses like the feminist whore power in Dead Island and trying to “sell” gaming headsets by letting five interchangeable women dance around in bikini will not pass undetected anymore.
When it doesn’t I’d personally prefer if the perpetrators said “hey, we didn’t realise it was sexist (or whatever), but now that we know we’re sorry and we’ll try to do better.” Or why not “yeah, we know it’s sexist but we made it anyhow and we’ll continue doing it because we actually like the status quo”. If I had an answer like the last one I’d at least know which companies and games to avoid in the future.
* Minorities in the audience, represented in games etc. Notably women, people of color, non-heterosexual people etc.
** Non Disclosure Agreement