More Diversity in Games is Evidence of More Creative Freedom
One of the arguments I often see when browsing through internet forums is the argument that people advocating for social justice in games are leading to the censorship of game creators. It’s a weird argument, but the sentiment is easy to understand when broken down. When people complain about female characters in games being oversexualized, races being underrepresented, and other social issues present in games, developers sometimes change their games in order to accommodate those who seem to take issue. But is that accommodation leading to the creative freedom of developers being compromised? This seems to be where a lot of people differ in views.
One of the most recent examples of a developer changing their game because of an outcry is that of Tracer in Overwatch. Tracer is a female character in the game whom fans seem to love. Tracer is not only an awesome female character, she is an awesome character overall. This is impressive to see given that we do not get to see awesome fleshed out female characters in games as much as we do male characters. This is why some people complained about a certain pose that the character would do that seemed to be sexual in nature in a way that was out of character for her. Because of the complaints, the developers of the game switched out the pose for a different one.
The changes that the developers made upset many people who believed that the game had been almost tainted in a sense since the developers changed an aspect of the game, even though the game wasn’t fully released yet. It’s understandable. What if I was a person who really liked Tracer’s pose? What if I thought that the pose was the best part about Tracer? Because of a few people’s complaints, something I love is now ruined and the creative freedom of the developers is compromised. There are some good points to be made about how we treat art and how we treat a product that was made for a wide array of people. One thing that we don’t often think about however, is how advocating for diversity in terms of race, gender and more can lead to better games. And not only that, lead to even more creative freedom for developers.
Having initial worries about changes being made to a game is understandable. Interestingly enough, many of us only have this issue when it comes to changing the design of a character or anything that remotely has to do with social justice. We worry that when people ask for more black, Asian, and Hispanic protagonists that this will lead to creators shoe-horning in diversity for diversity’s sake. We worry that creators will not be allowed to create freely. We don’t want our game content to be censored. But, what if I told you that a developer changing an aspect of their game because of public outcry is not censorship?
In the case of Overwatch, the game hadn’t been officially released yet when the changes were made. However, even in many other cases, developers change aspects of their games all of the time. There is the movement in Witcher 3, the balancing in fighting games, the glitches in Fallout 4, and hundreds of more cases of developers changing parts of their game that I could list due to fan feedback. In the case of Overwatch, many would argue that it was the artist’s vision for Tracer’s character. But, what if I told you it was the vision of CD Projekt Red for Geralt in Witcher 3 to control in the heavy manner he did originally? It was their vision for Geralt to control in a way that many players found difficult. Fan outcry made them update the game to make Geralt control better. None of us complained about the change. This type of thing happens often. Fans complained about the Gallahorn in Destiny being too powerful of a weapon. This led to Bungie making the weapon weaker. Bad design choices can be in line with bad mechanics. If you create a character that is jarring to the experience of a game or that takes a player out of that immersion, that’s just as bad as having a mechanic that does the same thing.
One of the main problems with the argument that “we don’t want developers making their games diverse just for diversity’s sake” is the fact that we forget how desensitized we are to the social issues apparent in games. By this, I mean that most games we play have a white male protagonist. An overabundance of games sexualize female characters. Many games lack diversity in characters in terms of race, gender, sexuality and more. However, most people in the real world are not white males. Most people in the real world are varied in terms of race, personality, body type, sexuality and so on. Different types of people groups are completely absent in many games, and the issue is that we don’t see this as an issue. In an industry that is trying to make the push towards realism in its products, this is a glaring problem. The real world is colorful and yet, our games are often not. This is not just a social justice issue, it’s a quality of product issue. And yet, we often fear that diverse characters will be shoe-horned into our games against the will of creators. Have we ever thought about how white male characters are already shoe-horned into all of our games? Or have we thought about how overtly sexual female characters are forced into our games?
The screenwriter behind the movie “Chronicle”, Max Landis, spoke about the process behind making a film. Landis mentioned how he originally wrote one of the main female characters in Chronicle to be a chubby smart Asian girl. Instead, the studio changed the character so that they could cast a Victoria’s Secret model. This is standard practice that takes place in producing the products we love. We like to believe that what we are ingesting is art in its purest form. We like to believe that every aspect of the games that we are playing was conceived in the mind of an artist and created with the intent of self-expression. This is simply not the truth. Games are ultimately made for selling to the consumer and making money. Games are made with money in mind.
Unless you’re playing a self-published indie, every game you play has been heavily altered from the original vision. That’s how business naturally works. It is the reality of game development. If you want to sell your game, you do whatever you can to create a product that appeals to the widest audience. Life is Strange’s main protagonist was almost a male because of this reason. The female character in Chronicle was changed for this reason. Sexy characters and white male protagonists are shoe horned into games for this reason. Your games are altered from a piece of art into a consumer product. This is why I firmly believe that advocating for more diversity in games will give creators the chance to be more creative in the way they approach developing their games. We should stop being fearful of how our outcry will affect the future, and start thinking of the ways we can be different from a past of game content being controlled by what only the dollar dictates rather than what the artists want to express.
This piece was written by Blessing Adeoye. You can find Blessing on the internet either getting into dance battles or analyzing game culture in the name of social justice at @blessingjr on the Twittersphere. Tweet me your worst.