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What the Gaming Industry Can Learn From the American Dream
As the United States celebrates another year of existence, I remember the oft-quoted adage: “All men are created equal.” If you live in the United States or know anything about its history, you’ve probably heard this phrase. Equality is one of the foundations of the “American Dream,” the idea that anyone can be successful, prosperous, and accepted. In today’s world, it is perhaps more apt to say, “All humans are created equal.” It is certainly true for the gaming community, right?
Well, if you’ve followed industry news, you’re aware that, sadly, it’s not. The gaming industry is plagued with instances of discrimination, most recently against women. It would appear as though the community at large has forgotten that, above all else, the gaming industry is an entertainment medium, and ideally, entertainment doesn’t discriminate. Yes, it happens anyway, but that is no justification.
In lieu of eschewing social tropes and stereotypes, the industry has seemed to embrace them and, if anything, is only growing more overt about them. You need look no further than the recent examples of sexism for proof. After E3, Ubisoft claimed no female character models would be playable in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because, of all things, it was too expensive to develop a female model. As if that wasn’t enough, just this week it was announced that the Hearthstone gaming tournament would be segregated, with females and males playing separate titles. The reason? Essentially, it boiled down to avoiding the situation in which a woman bests a man in a game and, apparently, conforming to traditional sports (according to the International e-Sports Federation).
Homosexuals aren’t altogether represented fairly in gaming, either. Earlier this year, Nintendo was criticized for not allowing same-sex marriage in Tomodachi Life. Though the company claimed they had not intended to make a social statement by excluding same-sex marriage, the point is clear: they weren’t conscientious of their entire fanbase.
As gaming has evolved, it has, of course, been accepted as an art form, not mere entertainment. If anything, this casts the industry in a paler light. Art, even more than entertainment, does not discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or anything else. The purposes of art are self-expression, delivering powerful messages, and evoking emotions (among others). These are not exclusive rights, and to behave as though they are through neglect or active segregation calls into serious scrutiny the validity of the art in question.
This is not to say the gaming industry is all bad. It isn’t. Despite earlier criticisms, Nintendo is still, for the most part, a great example, at least in the gender equality department. Casting Ubisoft in a rather embarrassing light, their upcoming Hyrule Warriors, a mash-up of The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, initially announced three female playable characters to one male playable character. To date, five female playable characters have been announced, as opposed to Link being the only male. Crystal Dynamics has also handled gender with tact, presenting Lara Croft as considerably less sexual in the rebooted Tomb Raider series, not to mention humanizing her a great deal, having her retch upon committing her first murder and undergoing therapy (as seen in the second game’s E3 trailer). And finally, the outcry against segregating gaming tournaments has prompted a reversal on that decision.
BioWare has also shown they are not afraid to diversify. In their Mass Effect series, same-sex relationships are possible and even represented. Volition, Inc.’s Saints Row allows for transgenders. Fable II, developed by Lionhead Studios, also allows for homosexuality. Clearly, some in the gaming industry are not afraid to explore what is considered in some societies to be a taboo subject. Is it enough?
In truth, the industry still has leaps and bounds before it corrects all the problems, especially considering recent news has been disheartening. The fact is the gaming industry is not a boys’ club. Women have enjoyed games for as long as men have and, even if the majority of gamers are still men, the number of female gamers is steadily growing. The gaming industry is also not a straight boys’ club. As seen by the recent backlash against Nintendo, there is a sizable homosexual community in the gaming realm.
It is sad articles like this even need to be written, but these problems need to be addressed. The gaming community, I’ve found, is motley, but horribly misrepresented. It goes back to society’s views working its way into industry leaders’ brains, misconstruing them so that they believe only straight men are playing their games. The industry needs to let go of these ridiculous stereotypes and embrace all aspects of its diverse culture.
“All men are created equal.” As the United States of America celebrates its 238th Birthday, the gaming industry would do well to remember this core foundation of the American Dream—that all people are equal.