Experienced Points:The Racism Blame Game

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 16, 2012

Filed under: Column 265 comments


From this week’s article: “In the past I’ve argued that that we could use more diversity in games. We have a truly shocking, perhaps even an embarrassing number of white male protagonists in this hobby. I’m sure most of us have seen that one image floating around the internet, showing a grid of pasty, unshaven protagonists from the last few years. Note how this is a list of white guys with short brown hair and stubble. If we open it up to other hair colors the list gets bigger, and if we include the long-haired guys then we end up with an army of thirty-something white dudes. […]This is not what’s pissing me off.”

I titled the article with “racism”, but it’s actually a more generalized rant about lack of diversity and who gets blamed for it. Read the whole thing.


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265 thoughts on “Experienced Points:The Racism Blame Game

  1. Infinitron says:

    30-something white males love kids.

  2. Kennet says:

    Soo… what you are saying is that there is a good chance that I might become the star of a videogame within the next couple of years? Score! I knew there had to be some good reason to turn 30.

    Now I just hope it’s one of those games where the hero gets a cute female sidekick who falls in love with him. Oh, and also one of those games where the hero doesn’t die at the end, preferably.

  3. Trevel says:

    I’m replying here because I don’t care for Escapist forums. Or something.

    The trouble is, you’re wrong.

    Well, on sexist lines at least … women go to see movies with male leads, men don’t tend to see movies with female leads: So we get 95% of movies with male leads. The occasional Bridesmaids is made, but infrequently.

    Same with races, as far as I’m aware. There are a few exceptions — most of whom you’ve noted — but movies want their white male lead as badly as video games do. That’s why Avatar: The Last Airbender got a Caucasian cast instead of Asian. That’s why The Help focused on the White People Solving Racial Problems. Black people watch white movies — white people don’t watch black movies.

    We’re willing to see these other characters, sure — but not as leads. Those ‘have to’ be white or male, preferably both.

    I’m sorry. Hollywood is still far from proving you wrong on this point. Even if it IS a little better than games are these days…

    1. swenson says:

      That doesn’t excuse it, and it doesn’t make it better. By doing things like that, the entertainment industry is only fostering beliefs like that, and that’s wrong.

      1. Trevel says:

        Oh, I know. I’m not happy about anything I said up there — I just don’t want to pretend that the problem is solved for Hollywood. It’s not.

        Not even close.

    2. Maldeus says:

      The new Karate Kid did alright, Independence Day was a hit, the Men in Black movies did fine. Yeah, it kind of sucks that pretty much every one of these is from one, specific actor, but people are clearly willing to watch a black protagonist shoot aliens and cycle-kick Chinese bullies.

      1. Thomas says:

        I mean Will Smith is currently the wealthiest and most sought after actor in the entirety of Hollywood

        1. David Armstrong says:

          But wait a second – Will Smith has uniquely cultivated a career out of playing the socially acceptable black male. Even from his earliest days on “Fresh Prince,” Will Smith was the black male that whites could love. And every other black character on the show was similarly white washed.

          Denzel plays the angry black man and look how his career has pretty much stagnated.

          Yea race matters. It does. Stop being a fool. And it isn’t racist if it’s backed by the truth.

          You know why European explorers rejected the idea that blacks built all these great ancient ruins in Africa? Because in their time, there WERE no great black civilizations. And today, THERE STILL AREN’T ANY. Africa is a crap hole of child-soldier warlords and radical Islamic terrorists. The only exception is South Africa, a white western country.

          We have the ruins of the Romans, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Mayans. We have fantastic locales of cultures that survived and kept a recorded history, so we knew who made them and we could interview their descendants. After the Roman Empire collapsed, the Italians didn’t go back to living in caves. So what happened? I’m asking the legitimate question, WHERE DID THE BLACKS WHO BUILT THESE FANTASTIC RUINS GO?!

          I’m sorry, but why don’t we have a Black Great Wall, or a Black Colosseum, or a Black Rosetta Stone? It isn’t archaeology’s fault if whites, browns, and yellows made all the cool old stuff. Even the Egyptians, Africa’s only claim to fame, weren’t black. They’re much closer to the brown Middle Easterners than to the tribes of Africa.

          And I’m sorry if you think I’m racist for pointing this out. I’m not. And I saw “For Colored Girls” and “Jumping the Broom,” and I can tell you that even entertainment made explicitly for a black audience is similarly lame and uninteresting. It’s not my fault black culture is boring and niched.

          And I’m sorry I type with proper spelling and grammar, that I can’t even give you that.

          Edit: I want to ask you the question, what would be the purpose in having made Shepard black? What for?

          If you think about some generic, theoretical “person,” that “person” will invariably be a white male in his mid 30s, not because of any racial egotism, but because that’s the one race/gender/age with the least baggage.

          If you made the character a woman, then you’ll be buying into a wealth of stereotypes your narrative will have to ignore or embrace. But those stereotypes will exist and the reader will be judging the character on those preconceptions that you, the author, probably never considered.

          If you made the character a racial minority, the reader will be asking the question, why? What was the narrative point to having the protagonist be a Puerto Rican, for example? Why would the author do that, why would the author go there?

          And this is why all the main characters are white males, because it’s the only way to tell a story without the politically correct action police from steamrolling your plot with accusations of racial bias.

          1. MichaelG says:

            How do you feel about Grand Theft Auto?

            1. duh says:

              Nico Bellic is ON the cartoon Shamus posted. Bottom row, second from the right.

              So where were you going with that quip? That an “ambiguously Eastern European” sufficiently counts as “not White” insofar as being exotic without racial or sexual baggage?

              What if Bioware had made Shepard a transgender, instead of Puerto Rican, because you’re terrible with examples? What would be the point of creating such a controversial, out-of-the-mainstream character if that’s not what the story is going to be about?

              You make a character a woman only if they’re going to be the love interest or if you’re going to tell a story about women. You make the character a type of ethnicity so you can tell that story. Otherwise, there’s no reason not to just make everyone a white dude. Why would you make a character a transgender unless you were going to make fun of them or show they have super powers? Why would you make anyone NOT a white guy?

              That’s the question that’s going to be asked, otherwise you end up in a bad spot – like Resident Evil where a pair of white people were gunning down hordes of black people. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t the hero be white and the villain be black without race injected into the discussion?

              Should everyone be black just so it’s all equal? Or would that be misconstrued as a race war?

              You can have a black guy kill whites – why isn’t that racist?

              Take a look at Chell in Portal – a Hispanic woman in a laboratory being forced by a disembodied white voice to perform chores or she dies. Of course, her ethnicity is never mentioned and her gender is just fodder for Glados to use to dehumanize her.

              How do I feel about Grand Theft Auto? I think if you’re going to tell a story about thieves, all the characters HAVE to be white, or else it’s negative racial stereotyping. You can’t have blacks and hispanics as burglars and murderers.

              1. Shamus says:

                Okay, David. You’re way, WAY too angry and confrontational here. I can’t even tell who you’re mad at, only that you are very upset and eager to say inflammatory things in boldface.

                Give the rest of this thread a pass.

                Others: This includes replies. Let it go.

                1. David Armstrong says:

                  Wait a second – calling me “angry” sounds like a cop out.

                  How is anything I’ve said untrue? I bolded that part of my comment to give it emphasis – Grand Theft Auto is a franchise about stealing cars and killing people. The game has a history of controversy because of the actions the player is allowed to undertake.

                  And in every game, the main character has been white. I assert this is the only conceivable race the main character could be – only whites are allowed to be criminals in mainstream media or else it’s racist.

                  Because of political correctness, a black or a hispanic cannot be a criminal, because that would be negative racial stereotyping, because the stats pan out that those ethnic groups commit crimes far outside their proportionate population.

                  Had Nico Bellic been from Liberia or Uganda, instead of Chechnya, Rockstar would have been racist. Because what do you do in that game? You steal cars and shoot cops and have sex with hookers. You can’t show blacks doing that – and pointing this out doesn’t make me “angry.”

                  Why is everyone white? I’ll say it again – because a mid 30s white guy, as a character, has the least baggage. A storyteller can get away with more with a white character than with any other type of character.

                  As a mental exercise, Shamus, why don’t you answer WHY Shepard could not possibly have been a transgender? You’re angry that the developers are passively accusing the audience of racism – and you think they’re wrong. Fine, so in your own words, tell me why Shepard could not possibly have been a transgender.

                  1. Blake says:

                    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas?

                    1. MichaelG says:

                      I think that’s the one I played — either that or Vice City. Don’t you have a black partner, and isn’t the main guy an Italian mobster? It’s been a long time since I played, so I forget.

                    2. Alan says:

                      Indeed, you play a black protagonist and gang member in San Andreas. Most, and perhaps all, of your immediate friends and family are black; most are criminals as well. I think San Andreas handled it really well. While on the surface CJ and his friends and family seem to match black gang member stereotypes, his story has a lot of nuance and subtly, addressing issues of trying to leave the criminal life, duty to friends and family, being perceived as a traitor for trying to better oneself, and betrayal. Damn fine game.

                    3. krellen says:

                      The Saint’s Row series also has several prominent non-white criminals, both as allies and enemies.

                  2. Shamus says:

                    I told you not to post in this thread again. And your response is to aim a bunch of aggression at me, put words in my mouth, and post more of the same? In your mind, how did you imagine this would go down?

                    I really hate to boot long-standing members, but if you think being “right” (hint: everyone thinks they are right) is so important that you’re willing to disrespect me, my site, and the people who disagree with you, then you can’t be here. There are a lot of places on the internet where you can rage against all the wrong people in the world. Go find one. I can’t welcome you here.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            I’ve looked through all the comments to find a better place to put mine, since this thread seems to go south. Nevertheless, I think this is the best place it fits.

            I think David Armstrong has a couple of interesting valid points here. First, there is the fact that writing a story with a minority lead is a literary minefield. In your book, you said you had to be careful to make Simon as unheroic as possible, because the mere fact that he was a a magic prodigy with spectacles made him too similar to Harry Potter.

            Take that same problem, multiply by 100, and that’s about how hard it’s going to be to write a black character without it looking racist. I mean, people raised a stink about there being black zombies in Africa, for chrissakes.

            Another good point, that I think is overlooked way too much, is that race is not just a pallet swap. You can’t just take white Shepherd, lower all his RGB values by 20%, and get black Shepherd. History and culture are tied to race and to gender. People who say “I have no problem with black people, but I can’t tolerate hip-hop” are racist–perhaps not in a destructive way, but racist nonetheless.

            In this vein, if developers decided to include a more diverse cast for their leads, I would prefer those leads not just be pallet-swapped white guys. One of the things I like about Left 4 Dead 2 is that it has black people acting like black people, yet being heroic at the same time. If you want to talk diversity, we need more of that, and not just more brown pixels on the screen.

            1. ehlijen says:

              I think these problems could easily be avoided by just having good writing. So what if the villain happens to be -insert minority- , if you make him the only member of that minority who’s evil and make is crimes story driven, not prejudice driven?

              Shouldn’t be too hard in a distant future setting like Mass Effect, at least.

              I do actually think you could take shepard, give him proper -insert minority- looks and just have the story play out as before because the story is about how mankind as a whole fits into the universe. Ie the setting from the get go assumes that mankind is united (apart from personal misgivings, generic crime and mad scientists, none of whom are race based as far as we see in the game).

              Yes, you have to think about what you write, but that’s nothning new (see ME2 main plot for what happens if you don’t).

              1. Abnaxis says:

                You can give Shep a minority look, but it wouldn’t help the problem–that problem being the lack of diversity in games. If your goal is to increase diversity, it isn’t helpful to create a token minority with a darker complexion that still acts in every way like he’s part of the dominant white culture. That’s not diversity. That’s sticking minorities in games just so you can say you have minorities in games and pat yourself on the back for being progressive.

                Doing it right takes a monumentally larger effort than what you’re talking about, and as soon as a developer makes a mistake in doing it they will lose sales as the politically correct squad storms their office. Race is more than skin deep. It is a social construct that has spawned distinct cultures and philosophies.

                If you really want diversity, those cultures and philosophies need representation as well. In a manner that doesn’t alienate or offend anyone. Good luck.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  But Mass Effect isn’t set in the current day where there is a dominant white culture. Why can’t the writers just say ‘this is the future, race issues have been solved/replaced with planetism (where colonists dislike earthers and vice versa)’ ?

                  In contemporary games, sure that’d be denial or avoidance (which frankly I think is still better than seeking refuge in white only settings, but to each their own). But if you make up the entire setting, you get to make up whether or not ethnicities are different in it or not.

                  Note for example how Shepard (to my knowledge) never gets to voice dislike for having 2 homosexual crew members on his ship in ME3. It’s assumed that the character of shepard is ok with it despite that not being nearly as certain in current day culture. This is a future where the writers decided that prejudice agaisnt homosexuality does not exist. Ie they are not writing about today’s culture (where it sadly does exist), not even just the white contemporary culture, they are writing about a culture they made up.

            2. OK, the hip-hop comment was weird.
              Can you be not racist if you just don’t *like* hip-hop? Because really, I think most of the stuff is as bad as most country, and I don’t like the influence it’s had on popular music. Of course, I’m prejudiced against redneck urbanites who think they’re cowboys, so maybe that’s a bad example . . .

              Meanwhile, the rest of your point depends on the setting. And the individual–take Barack Obama. The man appears to be a white guy who’s had all his RGB values lowered 20%. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But also, in a science fictional setting, theoretically nobody should be acting culturally like American whites from the early 21st century, even the whites. So it doesn’t really make it any worse if the blacks do it. And there’s no telling what sorts of black cultures might have evolved, or how assimilated how many of them would have become, so how they act is pretty much up to the writers.
              Fantasy’s a little different–it’s arguably weird if the place is full of blacks acting exactly like Northern European feudal Christian knights. Even there, it depends how seriously the setting is being taken; fantasy settings are often full of weird anachronisms.

              1. krellen says:

                Obama is a mulatto; his mother was white, his father was black. It’s natural that he doesn’t resemble the “typical” black.

              2. Kana-chan says:

                This is what I was thinking. It’s not like hip-hop is some kind of black-only thing (I’ve heard songs from Japan… don’t ask), it’s like creating a stereotype as a culture. Going down this road is all kinds of nasty, so lets hop tracks a second…

                Culture isn’t any one definitive thing.I’d say everyone who lives in America live in the American culture, and then from there you break it down in to subtypes of the overarching whole. There is nothing that says someone who is black absolutely has to act a certain way anymore than a white guy or girl has to act this way. I wouldn’t toss someone from New York and someone else from Texas in the same sub-type, but I think they’d fit nicely in the overarching culture of America, regardless of what skin color those individuals have.

                Same holds true for any other nation in the world. Living in, say, Japan wouldn’t make me ‘immune’ to that culture just because because I’m white. It just changes the subset of the overarching whole I belong too. That is what developers should be looking at, I think. Instead of trying to make characters that fill niches, make characters who fit the world (or in this case, culture) and then build up from there. If it’s someone from America or Japan, or Iraq, or Mars in 2362 or whatever, take that in to account before skin color. Then build up into a unique, believable, relatable character.

                1. Abnaxis says:

                  I was paraphrasing a lot of people who go online saying “I have no problems with blacks, I just don’t like Black culture.” This statement is usually followed by some sort of derogatory “pants on the ground” comment. That’s racist–regardless of how many whites fit the stereotype, the vast majority who do are black.

                  If you are racist, that means you are intolerant of other racial groups. It doesn’t matter if there are plenty of people who are part of culture X that aren’t part of racial group Y, if the majority are from group Y it’s still demeaning group Y when you are intolerant of culture X. If I say any adult who likes anime is a psychopathic pedophile who I would never want around my children, that’s racist. Even though there are plenty of whites, blacks, and mulattos who watch anime, the vast majority of the anime audience is Asian. Just because I am lumping a large number of Americans in with them doesn’t mean I’m not categorically prejudiced against a significant proportion of Japanese people.

                  There is nothing that says someone who is black absolutely has to act a certain way anymore than a white guy or girl has to act this way.

                  Of course not. I never said there was a singular black culture, or American culture, or anything of the sort. However, I will say that there is a cultural divide between Americans and other nations, as well as a divide between races. If I gather a random sample of fifty white people and fifty black people–similar in every measurable way (income, age, etc,. etc.) and put them all in a big cafeteria, they will divide themselves into racially homogenous groups. You will have black tables and white tables with almost none mixed. The experiment has been done, though unfortunately I don’t have a reference for it.

                  The reason for this isn’t because of hatred or fear per se, but because white people just have more common culture with other white people, and the same hold true for blacks. Culture grows from history, and people from the same race tend to share similar histories and similar cultures. That doesn’t mean everyone who is born black is a carbon copy of another black, but it does mean that two blacks are going to be connected by a distant commonality in historical experience and culture that a white and a black would not share.

                  Due to this phenomenon, cultural boundaries tend to fall on racial lines. As a result, you can’t choose to dislike a culture without being at least slightly racist. The two are inseparable. If you hate country music you are demoting the status of whites who make up the majority of country fans. Not that there’s anything wrong with disliking country music, but it is what it is.

                  Some level of racism is unavoidable, but that isn’t what’s important. The real issue is: how much do you let your distaste affect your interactions with others? One of the owners at the company where I work was looking for a house, and found one that was absolutely perfect…until he saw someone walking in the neighborhood with sagging pants. That was enough to make him start looking elsewhere. In my mind, that’s taking it too far–I don’t care what your fashion choices are, as long as you don’t give me trouble for mine. Others would disagree.

            3. Maldeus says:

              “People who say “I have no problem with black people, but I can't tolerate hip-hop” are racist”“perhaps not in a destructive way, but racist nonetheless. ”

              I have to disagree with this, as it seems like it contributes to the obliteration of meaning for the word “racist.” Racism means discriminating against people on the basis of their actual, physical race. Discriminating against a specific culture might not be any better, and possibly even worse, but it is a different thing, because there’s nothing stopping a white person from being raised in a culture typically associated with black people, or vice versa.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                I would argue that trying to look at racism without considering culture obliterates all significance of the term. The only reason we are having this discussion is because a long time ago, centuries before either of us was born, whites spread a culture of white supremacy to justify the forced servitude of blacks. Skin color is a superficial cosmetic difference that society has turned into a salient, distinguishing feature. Without culture, race is meaningless.

                Here is a reference to an article that does the topic much better justice than I can.

              2. Corsair65 says:

                Really? Saying Rap sucks is racist? That’s…logical. Really!

                1. Abnaxis says:

                  Again, let me stress that I’m not saying that disliking rap (or anime or country music or hummus or whatever) is the same thing as wearing a white sheet and burning a cross. While they do exist and do cause problems, cross burners aren’t the reason that a disproportionate number of blacks are convicted for crimes vs. whites.

                  Disliking rap does mean that you give less status to people who do like rap, which demographically means you are demoting the status of blacks more so than whites. That is the form racism is taking today–people don’t say “I don’t like blacks,” they say “all rappers are criminals” or “all drug users need to go to jail,” and this disproportionately puts one racial group at a disadvantage to others. That’s racism.

          3. Mari says:

            So what you’re saying is that white people like Will Smith because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X?

            I’m so sorry for that but it just had to be said. Poor Will Smith and Wayne Brady.

  4. swenson says:

    “Gamers need to have a character they can relate to.”

    I agree with you on the inanity of that statement. I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a protagonist in any game I’ve ever played (except possibly Chell), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy playing those games. And even if you take “relate to” to mean “can understand”, what’s so hard about understanding someone with a different skin or hair color than you? I’ve played plenty of games with male protagonists, and I never felt like I didn’t “relate to” the protagonist and therefore couldn’t enjoy the game. That’s just silly.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      I think it varies a lot. Personally, I love getting into characters a lot, and I have a hard time changing things up anytime there’s a custom character maker (although I tend to like going with black hair instead).

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      What’s more: If the character in the game is “just like me”, what’s the use?

      I _want_ to play someone different! The Last Ninja, Lemmings, Worms, a Persian prince, Orcs, Protoss … whatever!

      But if your main target-group is male and white, than that’s what they get. I guess that’s just playing it safe, marketing-wise. If you don’t follow the usual trope, that’s taking a risk.

      At least Pacman isn’t white. But he is 30-something …

    3. Niriel says:

      I don’t know what’s hard about it, but in some cases, it may actually *be* hard. Apparently, a purple (or blue?) character may create more empathy than a black one: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/05/27/racial-bias-weakens-our-ability-to-feel-someone-else%E2%80%99s-pain/ .

      1. Syal says:

        They should have tried it with a gloved hand, and pull the glove off at the end. I’m always assuming dark skin is thicker than light; I wouldn’t have as much empathy for them because I wouldn’t think it would hurt as much. A glove would take that out of the equation.

        1. Jordi says:


          If you obscure the skin color, there is no way of having a reaction to it, defeating the whole purpose of the experiment. If you put a glove on the hand, but still show that the person is black, you would still assume he had thicker skin.

          This research is well documented, reproduced and supported and it works both ways (black people have less empathy with white people too). If the reason is that everybody assumes that the other race has thicker skin, then that still sounds like racial bias to me.

          1. Syal says:

            Then you show it at the end and see if a person’s empathy is lowered after they’ve already had their initial reaction.

            EDIT: I guess turning off the violet afterward would work too.

        2. Just to be clear, your assumption is inaccurate. Try to keep that in mind, OK?

          1. Syal says:

            …does that mean they did do that?

            EDIT: I guess I should clarify that I’m not arguing against the accuracy of the test, I just want to see it expanded.

            1. I mean dark skin just has more pigment. Surely that’s obvious?

              1. Syal says:

                If I’m right, it’s a subconcious thing; it’s not that it is thicker, it’s that it looks thicker, and rational thought would only apply after the initial reaction. That’s why I want to see them test a secondary reaction.

    4. Jay says:

      Actually, this one may be a learning opportunity for Shamus.

      I bought his book, but didn’t finish it. I didn’t find any of the characters to be relatable. The hero struck me as dull and unpleasant, so I put the book down.

      Shamus, Google “six qualities of a hero”. If you’re going to write fiction, it’s something you need to keep in mind. And please consider this as constructive criticism; I’m trying to help.

      I think this is less important in games than in fiction, because the sheer fact that you control a character goes a long way to create relatability.

      1. Nick says:

        Assuming you are referring to these six qualities:

        How does Gilbert fail these characteristics? He’s a soldier, and a pretty good one, so competent, brave, moral and selfless right there, and his resurrection is central to the plot of the novel. And the page I got this from states that not every character needs to fulfill all of these, if it would make for a better story.

        You’re free not to like the book. Personally I quite enjoyed it, though the pacing was a little slow at times – but inkeeping with the time period, so I minded it less.

        1. What about being a soldier makes you moral or selfless?

          1. krellen says:

            Nothing. The fact that Gilbert’s first (and overriding) thought throughout was getting the vigor back to the Princess it belonged to, however, made him Moral and Selfless.

      2. Harry says:

        Wait, what?

        I haven’t read Shamus’s book yet (I plan to, but I want a print copy and I live in England, and I don’t think it’s on Amazon.co.uk yet). But ANYWAY. I did google “six qualities of a hero,” and the first thing to come up was an answers.yahoo.com page. This is clearly not as well-known a theory as you believe. It seems to originate from Canadian comic-book artist/writer Ty Templeton. The 6 qualities are:


        Now let me give you a fairly random selection of main characters in literature who fail to meet all of these qualities. I’m including both ‘high’ and ‘low’ literature, not that those terms have any meaning. Heroes who fail to meet these criteria include: Yossarian from Catch-22, Leopold Bloom from Ulysses, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files, basically everyone in A Song of Ice and Fire, Morpheus from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Rincewind from Discworld, Pierre Bezukhov from War and Peace, the three main characters of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series, arguably Kvothe from The Name of the Wind (depending on how far ‘selfless’ is meant to go), Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin from Perdido Street Station, and Artemis Fowl.

        This is a bad, bad, bad list which does not actually reflect what makes a good character or good hero. Even if it is intended as “general guidelines.” It fails on every level. Characters do not need to meet these 6 qualities to be relatable. Hell, I’d argue that a character who met all 6 would be far from ‘relatable’ anyway, if such a term had any meaning at all (it doesn’t; relatability depends almost entirely on the quality and intention of the writing rather than the character).

        Ty Templeton may be a very good comic book writer for all I know. He is wrong on this issue.

    5. Darkness says:

      White male, 60+ years old, average weight and height, no military experience, parent, grandparent. Those are my stats.

      Characters I play stats are wildly different:

      Female/black/straight, Female/white/gay, Male/white/straight, Male/black/unknown, Alien/female, Alien/Male, Fae/female/bi, the list goes on.

      Movies I watch leading characters:

      Female/Swedish/bi, Male/black, Male/American Indian, Male/white, Female/white, */*/*

      Maybe it is just the ads. I don’t follow those or TV but is seems the hype machines focus on the standard white/male and same for action games. FPSs don’t make any real difference to me as one cannot see the character anyway.

    6. Kana-chan says:

      Thinking about it, there is one thing I’d like to add to this.

      “Gamers need someone they can relate to.”

      Then were the frick are my female protagonists, games industry? And no, Shepard doesn’t count, since you just throw the male version on everthing, and anyone wearing less than 5 ounces of string doesn’t count either.

      I’m waiting on you to follow up on that statement, industry.

  5. Venalitor says:

    I always thought that the point of gaming was to play as someone other than yourself. The argument of relation breaks down there. I don’t want to be able to relate to the protagonist! That breaks immersion by making me a factor in other ways than as the decision maker.
    when they say “relate to” I’m thinking they mean not that you can just understand them, but they are like you.

  6. Dev Null says:

    I don’t know about everybody else, but when I play a fantasy game the first thing I do is work out which non-human race I’m going to play. Humans are boring. Whats the point in having a fantasy world populated by dragonmen and centaurs, and watching it from the sidelines like a tourist? Elves and dwarves are pretty passe in fantasy, but at least they’re a _bit_ different… Mass Effect I barely tolerated because your human-ness was an integral part of the story, but seriously; hands up who didn’t want to play something more interesting instead?

    Now pardon me, I have to get back to playing my blond female dwarven mage (who isn’t named after something Scottish. Whats with dwarves always being Scotts, anyways? Thats probably some weird kind of diversity problem all by itself.)

    1. ehlijen says:

      I don’t actually get this. What’s so boring and normal about playing a human who has to interact with all these wierd fantasy creatures? Just by being in a world that isn’t like reality, you change what it means to be human and that can be fun in and of itself.

      And if you argue that that change doesn’t happen because all the aliens/fantasy creatures are just aspects of humanity dressed up in silly costumes, then I have to say playing them wouldn’t be any different either.

      And frankly, diametrically opposinng stereotypes is not being unstereotypical. To do it you have to first acknowledge the stereotype and then you’re still building your character on it.

      I’m not saying don’t enjoy what you’re doing, just that no, I don’t think everyone agrees with you (I don’t) and those people aren’t wrong.

    2. Destrustor says:

      I always wanted the option to play a ghoul in fallout 3 and new vegas.
      In fact, in new vegas, your character doesn’t even have a plot-critical reason to not be one.

      And in the elder scrolls, I always go with khajiits and my brother always makes an argonian. Always. Even when the character is a heavy-armored spellcaster to whom the racial bonuses are useless.

      1. Irridium says:

        There’s mods for that.

        In Elder Scrolls I always play as an Orc that specializes in speech and sneak related skills.

    3. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

      Everytime I play a game where I get to choose a race other than human… I pick human. (Unless they have some kind of crazy non-humanoid race like a dragon or a space-octopus or something)

      1. krellen says:

        I totally want to be a space-octopus. What game lets me be a space-octopus?

        (EDIT: You better not say WoW. Draenei are a myth, like Fallout 3 or Ron Perlman.)

        1. ehlijen says:

          In first person? Not sure, but the Master of Orion series lets you be an entire species of space octopi…

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well,there are some hentai games….

        3. lurkey says:

          Well, if you’d be willing to settle for sans-space-octopus, there’s Octodad. :-)

        4. Blake says:

          If you’re down with P&P RPGs, Eclipse phase.
          Uplifted cephalopods are a fully supported race options http://www.eclipsephase.com/octomorphs-eclipse-phase

          Just be careful not to go too crazy, uplifted octopi tend to be prone to autophagy.

    4. Andy_Panthro says:

      I’d love a Mass Effect game where I could play as a Salarian or Turian.

      Imagine a game where you got to play as Garrus or Mordin? Wouldn’t that be good?

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Was just about to say that Garrus kicks way more ass than Shepard.

        1. IFS says:

          I would love to play as garrus during his time as a vigilante on omega, gathering a team, fighting mercs, arranging ironic deaths for serial killers etc.

      2. ehlijen says:

        In such a game you’d then have the human sidekick be more badass than the turian/krogan/salarian main character :P

    5. Jonathan says:

      Humans aren’t boring. The extra feat helps with non-Fighter classes, and the extra skill point lets you dump INT a bit more unless you’re playing a rogue/wizard.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:


    6. Adam F says:

      “Now pardon me, I have to get back to playing my blond female dwarven mage (who isn't named after something Scottish. Whats with dwarves always being Scotts, anyways? Thats probably some weird kind of diversity problem all by itself.)”

      See “Our Dwarves are all the same” on TVtropes. Anyway, I don’t know what it is either. My first encounter with Dwarves was in Tolkien novels, and they always strike me as being somewhat Semitic in those books.

      1. BK says:

        Their language is based on Hebrew, so you’re actually right on the mark here.

      2. FalseProphet says:

        Yeah, the dwarves with Scottish accents thing is one thing that definitely didn’t come from Tolkien. I’ve been trying to trace the ancestry of that trope myself, and I think Raymond E. Feist was one of the first post-Tolkien fantasy authors to give dwarves a clearly Scottish/Celtic-based culture. His Riftwar books were successfully adapted into some early PC RPGs.

        Basically, whoever produced the first audio-visual fantasy property (game, film, animation, whatever) with dwarves using Scottish accents probably deserves the credit.

        1. It may have been the British roleplaying gamers. British RPGs like Warhammer always seem kind of that way.

          1. krellen says:

            To be fair, dwarves as we typically see them are really Norse in origin, and the Norse did take over the northern part of Britain.

            1. Soylent Dave says:

              But not Scotland, interestingly enough – the Norse took the Orkneys (islands in the north of Scotland) and then the North of England – so really the middle of the island of Britain.

              The Scottish came about by a mixing of the Scotti and Dal Riada Northern Irish tribes (Kilt wearing Gaels) and woad-wearing spiky-haired ginger barbarian Picts.

              The Scots won, as you can probably guess from the culture we’ve got up there now (i.e. it’s called Scotland and they wear Kilts)

              (Yay! History!)

  7. george says:

    What about the fact that the overwhelming majority of characters have american accents?

    It’s gotten to a point in the media as a whole that if someone sees someone with a different accent, it’s usually pointed out to bad acting (Australians as a whole get treated as this, because everyone grows up in the same social background as a white american boy and thus behaves similarly in their maneurisms and expressions!)

    How can they possibly justify it for something like Mass Effect, where the alliance is supposed to be made up of all nations, or for something like dragon age where people live in entirely different cities yet still talk as if they’re from the same neighbourhood?

    1. ehlijen says:

      That’s probably mostly a mixture of seeking voice talent close to home and the casting people just thinking that’s ‘normal’ english. Yes you can get british and australian actors even in america, but usually only either the big names, which cost a lot to hire, or those who have already acquired a more american accent by living there.

      I doubt too many games developers would hire voice talent for bit characters internationally, if nothing else for tax reasons.

      In Mass effect I can actually see one accent dominating all; one nation already dominates the entertainment market. It stands to reason that will only get worse with even more global communication. The american one was just the one they had the most voice talent for.
      Also, they needed all the slightly different accents they could get for the aliens.

      They actually did do it in Dragon age: the Orlesians all had frenchish accents, for example.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        However,its extremely bad when you make a game where your protagonist is an imigrant,and then hire just another american to play him with a fake accent.Which is why I still wont play gta4.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Agreed, and glad I have so far avoided such games by dumb luck.

        2. JPH says:

          That was one of the many reasons why I couldn’t stand Assassin’s Creed 1. They went through great lengths to make everything historically accurate, and yet Altair, the main character, had a bland, generic North American accent.

    2. Jonathan says:

      I think the British accent Jon Irenicus had is part of why his lines “stick” so well. I can probably quote 75% of them from memory.

      …Then a memory of the memory, and then nothing. The Seldarine took that from me to. Now I hunger only for revenge…and I… WILL… HAVE IT!

      1. vukodlak says:

        Ah, see, English voices are fine for villains. But the protagonist is usually American.

      2. Zekiel says:

        I agree that Irenicus’ lines are VERY memorable. But its not just a British accent (I’m British – my voice isn’t memorable) – it’s the fact that David Warner has an amazing voice.

        “Life… is strength. This is not to be contested; it seems logical enough.”

    3. MatthewH says:

      Shepard’s VAs are actually Canadian (at least Canadian born, Jennifer Hale’s parents are Americans and she was raised in the US) -but same thing (I kid, my Northern Cousins).

      1. Bryan says:

        No he doesn’t, eh.

        (Sorry, could not resist… :-P)

    4. Soylent Dave says:

      Or when they voice coach English (or other accented) actors because their real accent doesn’t sound like what the American casting director thinks English people should sound like.

      (the most obvious example I can think of is Daphne from Frasier, who is Mancunian – and so should sound more like Liam Gallagher that whatever the hell accent it is that comes out of her mouth)

      1. Michael says:

        I seem to recall something incoherent coming from Sebastian in Dragon Age 2. The part that’s really incomprehensible is the voice actor, Alec Newman, is actually Scottish.

  8. TMTVL says:

    Can anyone actually identify all people in that image? Aside from Snake, Default Shepherd and (I think) Drake(?) i haven’t a clue who those clowns are.

    1. Irridium says:

      Left to right, top to bottom:

      Nathan Hale – Resistance
      Naked Snake – Metal Gear Solid 3
      Nathan Drake – Uncharted
      Chris Redfield – Resident Evil 5
      Michael Thorton – Alpha Protocol
      Don’t know
      Norman Jayden – Heavy Rain
      Sam Fisher – Splinter Cell Conviction (before it was rebooted)
      Commander Shepard – Favorite store on Citadel
      The Apprentice – Star Wars the Force Unleashed
      Don’t know
      Don’t know
      Tom Sevchenko (or “Sev” for short) – Killzone 2 and 3
      Don’t know
      Don’t know
      I think he’s the main guy from Alone in the Dark. Or… Alan Wake?
      Alec Mason – Red Faction Guerrilla
      Don’t know
      Nico Bellic – Grand Theft Auto 4
      Frank West – Dead Rising

      I’d say the ones I don’t know look familiar, but considering most protagonists look the same it’s probably not surprising. Frankly, I’m more surprised that I knew all the ones I did.

      1. Jonathan says:

        I have not played any of those games… I don’t recognize a single character.

      2. lurkey says:

        I’m curious how Naked Snake got his moniker. It’s not his real name, is it? You never know with videogame protagonists.

        1. GiantRaven says:

          He got the ‘Naked’ part of his codename because he was dropped into enemy territories without any equipment and had to procure it onsite.

      3. Eruanno says:

        Goddamn it, I was reading your post hoping to shed light on who those characters were – and you recognized the exact same ones I did! Damn it!

        And yes, that is Alan Wake in the bottom left.

  9. When’s the last time you saw a black woman as the main protagonist in a video game?

    For the fun of it, whenever I play a new MMO, I always try to create a human character that looks like a black woman.

    Sadly, there area LOT of MMOs out there that don’t even offer the option. Some may provide the choice of a dark skin tone, but then you just end up with an avatar that looks like a Caucasian person who spent too much time at the tanning salon.

    1. TGN says:

      In total I can think of Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, Shantae from Shantae on the GBA and Shantae: Risky’s Revenge on DSiWare, and… umm… Naiobe from Enter the Matrix, although the other playable character is a white guy and she’s from a film anyway so it probably doesn’t count.

      If I was to rack my brains I would probably be able to think of a few more, but yeah, that’s a pathetically low number.

      1. Audacity says:

        Jade from BGE is supposed to be black? I thought she was asian.

        1. Corsair65 says:

          Jade is brown. That’s all we’ll ever know. Seriously, there have been massive debates whether she’s a tanned white woman, black, hispanic, asian, god only knows what else.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      Does Left 4 Dead 2 Count? Rochelle is completely, unambiguously not-whitewashed black.

  10. factoid says:

    The pedant in me can’t resist commenting on the fact that at least two of those characters aren’t in their 30s. One of them is Starkiller, who is in his late teens, early 20s. Another is Sam Fisher, who is in his 50s.

  11. Smejki says:

    Calling this a racism is sick. It is like blaming japanese game for including mainly manga-style japanese people. This is Western culture, so what? It just respects the fact that white people are dominant in europe and americas.

    I would never expect African art to include predominantly other than black people and Asian to include asian people. And now a shock(!) – a islamic game would most probably include white muslim man. O snap!

    1. Shamus says:

      This is a language problem: We don’t have enough words here. Consider these mindsets:

      1) Someone looking for an actor to play Malcom X in an upcoming movie, and they want to hire a black man for the part.
      2) Someone who is a bit rude or awkward when dealing with someone of a different race, saying rude things or constantly commenting on the racial differences.
      3) Someone who doesn’t have anything against people of a different race, but thinks everything is better if people stick to their own kind. Don’t marry or make friends with those other people.
      4) Someone who thinks that people from another race are worthless sub-humans.

      All of these are “racist”, in the sense that they are decisions pertaining to race. However, #1 is perfectly reasonable and #4 is cultural poison. And we have the same word for both things, and everything in between. Most people think of #4 when they hear “racist” which leaves us without a word for the other three.

      Of course, reasonable people can still have reasonable conversations about the topic, as long as they watch the use of language. Since you’ve decided to brand me as “sick”, then I doubt you’re one of those people.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        As I’m used to using the word (and see it being used around me), a racist attitude means that someone thinks there’s a principal difference between people of different ethnicity. And that’s always wrong, even if it may not be directly evil or something.

        So … I’d say your first example is completely not racist (which would be different if the only black character was the comic-relief guy), the second … in theory yes, but I’d not call it that.

        Now what about the topic at hand? Hmm… close call, if you ask me. I think it’s probably not racism as such but the marketing people presuming something in that direction in the target group. I’d like to know if they can back that up with studies … and I’m afraid they might.

        Talking about example 2: That’s something I encounter often in relation to gender, and it makes me sick. Not the rude way, but casual remarks about my presumed abilities and inabilities regarding the driving of cars and listening to people. From long-time friends who should know me a lot better. I don’t get this.

      2. Smejki says:

        Shamus, I am sorry for being that straight. I didn’t mean to brand you as “sick”, it is just the approach of branding anything where is no perfect balance and political correctness as racist/antisemitist/machist/whatever-ist. I am conviced that this always leads to some sort of protectionism which in the end makes the real racism/whatever-ism stronger. I know you didn’t follow this approach in the article. My shout was a bit more general to the theme, not the article itself.

        In fact I live in a different language family environment (and my country is in no way multicultural) so it is quite possible that I perceive word “racism” other way than native Englishman.
        I must say you are right, we should invent some terms for specific forms of “racism”. But I wouldn’t call #1 racist.

        There is other problem i have with most game protagonists. It is their look. In my language we call them “frikulin” (singular) because they are free, cool and in (we also call them “shampoo” sometime, directly translated, also singular). It is the uniformism of style that is bugging me personally. Males have to be another Nathan Drake (see the horrible shampoo boy in Arcania: A Gothic Tale and compare it with older Gothic stuff) and females some derivative of Rihanna (see FemShep voting before Mass Effect 3). And according to the article you see it the same.

        I must admit I wrote the original post before reading the article. ::virtual self-slap::

        1. Shamus says:

          “I am conviced that this always leads to some sort of protectionism which in the end makes the real racism/whatever-ism stronger.”

          I agree, and often the hand-wringing about racism (the kind driven by hate) can be poisonous, and trying to make RULES to correct those attitudes is messy and counter-productive.

          “In my language we call them frikulin”

          I love other-language idioms. That one has no equivalent in English, but I think I get it, and it’s still funny.

      3. Atarlost says:

        You forgot

        5) You find someone who happens to be of another race odious, obnoxious, or downright vile.

        Eg. I once worked with a black/mexican guy I could barely tolerate. There is a genre of music associated in the popular consciousness with blacks of which I cannot stand listening to a single performer. I despise Hugo Chavez and everything he stands for.

        I did not dislike my coworker because his parents were black and mexican, but because we just didn’t get along. I do not find hip hop annoying because most of the performers are black, but all of them, by definition, perform hip hop. I do not despise Hugo Chavez because he’s Venezuelan, but because I despise Communism.

        But if I were a public figure I would be called racist for holding these opinions. In some venues I might be called racist for despising even mass murderer Josef Stalin because capitalism itself is somehow racist so opposing any communist, even Joey “Ukraine Famine” Steel is racist.

        So, yeah, I’m with Smejki. The word is poisoned. Just like you can no longer use what used to be a perfectly valid word for a female dog or a bundle of firewood to refer to a female dog or a bundle of firewood you can no longer really use the word racism as though it has an actual meaning. Sorry. Profanitization has stolen yet another word from the English language. Time to go mug some poor Lithuanian for fresh verbage.

        1. sab says:

          “I do not despise Hugo Chavez because he's Venezuelan, but because I despise Communism.”

          Wait what. You despise someone because of the economic system he prefers? How is that any better than racism?

          1. krellen says:

            All good Americans know Communism is Evil. </sarcasm>

          2. MelTorefas says:

            Communism is far far more than an economic system. Marx specifically advocated the violent overthrow of any non-Communist government, among other things. Communism is a governmental system more than an economic one. We rightly despise fascism. Despising communism is the same.

            If you want the economic system of communism without its governmental philosophy or pseudo-religious tones, you go with Socialism.

        2. I do not despise Hugo Chavez because he’s Venezuelan, but because he insisted on lifting so many of his people out of poverty, illiteracy, blindness and unemployment. Vile! Where would we be if North American leaders started doing that kind of stuff?

    2. krellen says:

      I am a minority in my state, and I am a dark-haired 30-something white male.

      Also: hablo Espaà±ol, pero sólo un poco.

      1. krellen says:

        Let me clarify what I meant here: I live in the only state where Hispanics outnumber non-Hispanics. There are four States (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas) plus the District of Columbia where if you pick some random person on the streets, the odds are they won’t be White. Note that two of those states are the largest states in the Union.

        It’s simply untrue that “standard white dude” represents America. In fact, nothing ruins my immersion more than going into a game and never seeing a Hispanic. I see Hispanics every single day; they’re part of my normal life. A world without them seems wrong.

    3. Soylent Dave says:

      Racism is really just acting on prejudice.

      So is creating a whites-only game when you’re white prejudiced? Yes, I think it is – because you’re assuming that your audience is primarily white as well (and, in the modern world, they aren’t going to be of a single ethnicity or background)

      I don’t think anyone is really doing it out of a conscious desire to oppress black people – but I do think designers are doing out of unconscious lazy prejudice – they just don’t stop and think that there are people in the world who aren’t white males.

      There are degrees of racism, certainly – but that doesn’t mean we should completely ignore lesser examples of it. I don’t think a segregated gaming industry is really going to help us create a world without racism…

  12. Astor says:

    I don’t think developers mean what you are saying they mean. I think they are saying “Within our priority target demographic (male american+europeans) the darkbrown-haired, white male is what fits the most.” And they have factual human demographics to attest for that.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if their marketing teams have conducted and/or learned while studying, studies about what their target demographic would identify themselves most with.

    So they are saying “Our games are all about Immershun[TM], so naturally we will create Average Joe as our protagonist, since that will be what most of our audience will identify best with.”

  13. Eric says:

    I’ll go one further and say that it’s insulting for the games industry to assume that players need to “relate to” the protagonist at all, in a way wholly defined by skin colour and gender. When I think of protagonists I can relate to, I don’t think of people who look and behave somewhat like me based on average statistics accrued from focus testing, I think of people who I can understand and sympathize with. What does it matter if someone is male, female, black, white, Asian, Latino, etc.? What’s important is if I know what their motives are, and that I want to see that character succeed. The idea that audiences are incapable of understanding people who don’t look and sound like them isn’t just ridiculous, it also assumes that everyone playing a game is a moron as well.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Yeah, I’d like to identify with a game character who’s matching my (perceived…) level of intelligence … Bonus if the person is witty and has some sort of inner coherence and doesn’t stand around in cutscenes while the effing villain gets away, just because the script says so!

      1. Pete says:

        Hm, come to think of it, I think thats exactly why I like the Half-life series so much: if an enemy gets away, its because it was actually impossible to catch up, not because my character momentarily forgot how to use a rocket launcher.

        See also: Mass Effect and (lack of) biotics in cutscenes.

        1. ehlijen says:

          See also Mass Effect 3 and playable cutscenes where your powers don’t work.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Oh Eric, you are so right! I don’t see anything else I can add to what you already wrote, but let me thank you for a constructive and insightful comment in a thread that was in danger of being overrun by bile and nonsense. Relatability of a protagonist comes first and foremost through good writing.

      (And, by the way, it does not necessarily have to do with intelligence: I don’t mind my protagonists being smarter/dumber than I am, the way I don’t mind them being fitter than me. Just give me a *reason* why they’re dumb, and a reason to care about them anyway.)

  14. Ben says:

    As some people have noted Shamus (both here and at the Escspist) you are a bit misinformed about the other entertainment industries. One of the major discussions within Hollywood for the past few years and especially this year with the Oscar nomination of The Help is how most non-white actors don’t do well in Hollywood.

    This sums it up pretty well.

    1. krellen says:

      They do substantially better than as video game characters, which says something pretty damning about video games.

    2. Shamus says:

      I didn’t say Hollywood was good. I said games are WORSE.

      Wayans Brothers. James Earl Jones. Hale Berry. Will Smith. Martin Lawrence. Samuel L. Jackson.

      There ARE black actors who headline in movies. Just not many. Imagine a Hollywood where there were no Black leads at all. Ever.

      1. Soylent Dave says:

        Or imagine a Hollywood where the only black leads that DO exist are just white people, blacked up.

        Bioware’s character designer does this all the time (some other games too, but not as consistently as Bioware) – you can darken the skin of your character, but you can rarely make someone who isn’t “white guy with an unusually dark tan”

        And when actual black and minority characters do appear, they’re in the same sort of racist roles they were in the 50s Hollywood – native tribespeople (Resident Evil 5), or ‘gangstas’ and drug dealers (Grand Theft Auto).

        It’s just getting a bit embarrassing, frankly.

        1. Destrustor says:

          I have seen a small portion of “the jazz musician”(or something very similar), the first hollywood movie featuring a “black” actor. He was just a white guy literally painted black, because an actual black actor would have caused a scandal at the time as he does have romantic involvement with the white female lead.
          That movie was a horrible racist clusterfuck and I’m glad that society has evolved past that despicable level, at least somewhat.

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:

            To be clear, Al Jolson wasn’t made up in blackface because audiences wouldn’t accept a black performer in the role. The movie was (loosely) about him, Jolson. The blackface came in because that’s what he, Jolson, did to perform on-stage, and had for 20 years. Years in which he, a Russian Jew that was made up to look like a black man, was the most highly-paid and sought-after entertainer in the world, star of Broadway for a decade, with more hit records than Michael Jackson and Neil Diamond would have combined.

            Go watch the whole movie, end to end. It’s WAY different than you’d get from a couple of performance clips.

            1. Destrustor says:

              Huh. Maybe I was misinformed. Anyway, the black paint is still kind of jarring, even with that knowledge in mind.

          2. krellen says:

            I think you’re referring to the first “talkie”, which is “The Jazz Singer”.

            1. Destrustor says:

              Yeah that’s the one I meant.

    3. MatthewH says:

      There is a distinction to be made between diverse casting and diverse viewpoints. The difficulty of diverse casting is that it can quickly devovle into stunt casting. The difficulty of diverse viewpoints is that you risk alienating -or at least losing -part of your audience.

      I agree, I think, that the problem with videogames is that their protagonists are bland. But I think they’d still be bland if we mixed up the races.

      Put another way, you could recast Will Smith in Independence Day with Vin Diesel, and I don’t think the movie would fall apart. On the other hand, recasting Sidney Poitier in Sneakers would be problematic -but I think it’s an important component of the movie that Crease, with all his history, is a side character to Robert Redford’s Martin Brice. It wouldn’t be near as fun to watch with Crease as the viewpoint character.

      And speaking of Sidney Poitier, you could not do In the Heat of the Night without him (and Rod Steiger is almost as important). And yet as artistically and historically interesting as the film is, I have never felt compelled to watch it several times. And Poitier’s monologue about his own prejudice against Endicott (Larry Gates) almost breaks the movie it’s so overwrought.

      So I guess all that to say, it’s more than the color of the model, and it’s the “more” which makes it harder to do than it sounds.

  15. Raygereio says:

    I honestly wonder if there isn’t some kind of conditioning going on originating with the media (movies, cartoons) we’ve grown up with to ascociate the image of a 30-something, brown haired white guy with action heroes.
    I mean if I think of a generic action dude, that is the first image that pops up in my head.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Bruce Willis. Die Hard.

      1. Syal says:

        Draft military during wartime, where the thirty-year-olds are the ten year veterans.

  16. Kresh says:

    I wonder why anyone cares about “diversity” in a game. Does it make the game better to have characters of different hues? How so? Oh, right; reality. I wasn’t aware that “reality” was a feature or desired attribute, but oddly enough, every time that topic comes up somebody always says “Feh, reality. It’s a video game. What’s reality doing there? Reality doesn’t matter.” This has always appeared to be the majority opinion when it comes to things like physics, rational character impulses, or anything that writers/ game makers need to change for the gameplay/ gameworld to happen.

    Honestly, I really don’t care who’s a character (or what race they are) in my game as long as they’re well written, believable (not the same as the previous), and treated as more than plot devices to keep the plot rolling.

    Here’s what everybody seems to be missing; having more “racist” er “racial diversity” in a game isn’t going to make anyone a better person. Why? Because if video games don’t make you violent, they’re sure as hell not going to make you a better person no matter what social issue is shoehorned into in the game. You’re not going to be less racist, or better understanding of others, or less whatever thing supposedly ills society this week merely because it was added to a game. Either games do have an influence on players or they don’t. You can’t have it both ways. “Conventional wisdom” says they don’t, so, tough luck for you people trying to solve “Society’s Ills” though gamer awareness.

    What is really being said here is “I want more brown people in my games because it makes my White Guilt flare up when I don’t see them.” It’s part and parcel of the PC bullhockey that says “Skin color isn’t important when judging a person, yet we think it’s really important, so we’ll point out that you’re being bad for not caring about a person’s skin color.” It drives me nuts. It’s hypocritical. It’s the norm for the “smart people” out there who tell me I’m a bad person because I think skin color is a worthless indicator of a person’s value.

    You want to make people less sensitive to skin color (AKA: Less racist)? Stop pointing it out every chance you get! Judge people by their actions, ignoring their skin color, and you’ll never have an issue with racism again.

    Problem solved. You’re welcome. Now, can we get back to a real topic?

    1. Raygereio says:

      “How are we going to get rid of racism?”
      “Stop talking about it. I`m going to stop calling you a white man. And I`m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”

      Seeing as Morgan Freeman is god, I don’t see how anyone can argue with that.

      You’re right though, people keep fixating on skin colour, gender, whatever. Sure, such innitatives as afro american day or the drive for more diversity in media, work sectors, etc, may come from good intentions, but ultimately they won’t solve thing as you’re still focussing on the skin colour and not the person.

      Another example of this that never fails to annoy me is whenever there’s a new government in the Netherlands, people start bitching about there not being enough female ministers. Why the hell is their gender important? How about you wonder whether or not they’re capable or not?

    2. Shamus says:

      “I want more brown people in my games because it makes my White Guilt flare up when I don't see them.”

      I know people put up with this crap usually, because this is the internet. But if you’re going to have this discussion on my blog you’re not going to get away with this.

      I VERY CLEARLY explained why diversity was a good thing. (Variety, branding, etc) You skated right past all this stuff and are then painting everyone with a lame, unsupportable, and inflammatory ad hominem.

      “Problem solved. You're welcome. Now, can we get back to a real topic?”

      This is a real topic. You don’t have to take part in the debate, but if you do you need to act like a grownup. Got it?

      1. Soylent Dave says:

        Incidentally Shamus (now the discussion on here is dying down a bit, I think), can I just thank you for addressing this topic in the first place – there are – as people keep pointing out – various issues surrounding equality in gaming that I don’t think we as a community talk about anywhere near enough (possibly because they’re very difficult issues and it’s easier just to ignore them), so it’s refreshing to see them being discussed as openly as this.

        1. Shamus says:


          This flame-war stuff is always draining for me, and I knew this was going to blow up. I often lose readers over stuff like this, which hurts. Glad it’s also appreciated.

    3. ehlijen says:

      There is a difference between saying games make you act in a certain way to solve problems that are not feasibly for most people and are portrayed unrealistically in games and saying games make you act in a certain way towards other people by expressing viewpoints that are held by actual people and do not require unrealistic access and proficiency to weaponry.

      Games are unlikely to make you act in a certain way, but they quite easily can make you form certain opinions.

      You are right in that to defeat racism or other isms we need to reach the point where no one notices, but we’re not there yet. Not by a long shot. For now, we need people pointing out the inequality to see it (it’s incredibly easy to not see it if it’s not against you).

    4. Maldeus says:

      “Because if video games don't make you violent, they're sure as hell not going to make you a better person no matter what social issue is shoehorned into in the game.”

      Not entirely true. Games (typically) tell stories, and those stories go a long way towards shaping the perspective of the people who absorb them. Especially young people, and especially young people who’s parents can’t be bothered or aren’t available to talk to them more than ten minutes a week, which is a depressingly common occurrence. A lot of people are effectively raised by the media they consume these days, and a lot of kids primarily consume video games.

      Which is not to say that video games are in any danger of churning out mindless, violent sociopaths, because the point of most video games, even the dumb ones, is not “murder is awesome.” Sometimes the point is “random violence will solve all your problems,” but there’s always been penny dreadfuls.

    5. Isy says:

      Speaking as a woman who grew up liking video games and scifi and certain qualities in my main characters (aka I was a nerd) – I can tell you Yes. It DOES matter to all the people you just mentioned. I grew up idolizing the detectives and adventurers like Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones. Only trouble is, after a while I realized there were no women in fiction who had the traits I admired.

      Therefore, I came to this “epiphany”: No one writes stories about women with these traits, therefore women cannot have those traits.

      I hated being a woman because I decided I couldn’t be “cool”. It took me a long while to realize this was not the case, and I still don’t like women in fiction. Even the “well done” ones. Which is funny, because I’m far more comfortable with women in real life.

      Saying “We don’t need diversity in video games” is very fine and dandy when you’re already well represented.

  17. “White people don’t seem to have any trouble going to theaters to watch non-white people.”

    The Last Airbender

    The Forbidden Kingdom

    Casa De Mi Padre

    Prince of Persia

    That’s off of the top of my head and in the space of less than ten seconds. If I do five minutes of searching da nets, you’ll be doing ten minutes of scrolling down before you hit the bottom of the post.

    I’m just saiyan…

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes, those movies had white people shoehorned in where they didn’t belong. Which doesn’t have anything to do with the point I was making.

      Again, I never said Hollywood was perfect. I only said it was better than games, and had examples of non-whites doing very well.

      1. RCN says:

        Also, remember that save Prince of Persia… those examples did pretty poorly on the box office.

        Not necessarily related but, well, I guess the male leads didn’t necessarily make american audiences relate better to these movies (or worse, made them resent those movies for trying to make them relate to those awful, awful characters.)

        1. StranaMente says:

          Someone has to mention that Jack Gyllenhaal is half jewish according to Imdb (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0350453/bio), so some of the critics towards him were somehow unfair…

      2. Okay, then what point was that statement of yours supposed to make?

        I would argue that Hollywood isn’t anywhere near as good, especially considering how long it’s been around compared to videogames. This is a form of entertainment that experienced the unrest and resolution of the civil liberties movement, and yet was never able to feature prominent mutlicultural and multiracial cinema outside of exploitation.

        And outside of race (which I am fully aware is outside the purview of the article), I’d claim videogames are practically miles ahead of cinema in the realm of today’s current cultural battle of sexual orientation, to say nothing of gender. You popped off three well known female roles, two of which pass the Bechdel Test. How long would it take for you to do the same for movies?

        Point being: Videogame’s are waaaaay too homogenous true enough, but Hollywood is definitely not better.

        1. Shamus says:

          “Okay, then what point was that statement of yours supposed to make?”

          My point in that statement was that audiences WILL go see minorities. That’s all. Whether or not Hollywood will cast them is another problem.

          “Point being: Videogame's are waaaaay too homogenous true enough, but Hollywood is definitely not better.”

          I suppose we can argue over “better”. In the last ten years, Carl Johnson (GTA: San Andreas) has been the only African character to get a lead in a AAA game. That’s pretty abysmal. Now you’re arguing that games are good because they’ve done better at including homosexual characters. Assuming it’s true, it’s probably only due to games which let you shape your own character, which moves away from the scope of the article. Remember that my article is talking about games that give us a pre-defined protagonist.

          1. Soylent Dave says:

            The Marine in the Aliens vs Predator 2010 remake was black (there’s a Heinlein-esque “ohhh, I was a black guy” cut-scene at the end (and actually you’ve got brown arms all the way through depending on your weapon, but that’s less noticeable, given the lack of lighting in the game))

            So er, that’s two games then. Although one wasn’t really AAA (AA?) and made sure not to explicitly tell anyone the main character was a minority until right at the end, like Heinlein did when he was writing in the 1950s.

            They certainly didn’t put him on the box or anything.

          2. Michael says:

            In addition to the AvP 2010, there’s also Unreal 2, though I’m a little fuzzy on if it was really a AAA title, which featured a black player character.

            There was also The Elder Scrolls: Redguard, though I’m not sure if that counts, as a AAA title either.

          3. “My point in that statement was that audiences WILL go see minorities.”

            Maybe you know something I don’t, but I’m pretty sure the numbers don’t back you up there. Also, black people aren’t the only minorities that exist. Frankly, they’re not even a good example for the point you make since that particular racial group is so significantly tied to our particular culture’s history.

            “In the last ten years, Carl Johnson (GTA: San Andreas) has been the only African character to get a lead in a AAA game.”

            50 cent got a game based entirely around him, then got a sequel. I can also think of two separate game franchises that featured native american protagonists, something I can’t say of any feature film I’m aware of.

            “Remember that my article is talking about games that give us a pre-defined protagonist.”

            Which is becoming less and less relevant as character creation is becoming more and more prominent. Again…just saiyan…

            1. Destrustor says:

              I would hardly call 50-cent’s games AAA. And they were basically selfish ego-stroking on his part, heavily sponsored by himself, so I’d say they really don’t count.

              1. Really? You don’t like him, so he doesn’t count. Do you honestly think that’s how this works?

                1. Destrustor says:

                  I’m simply objecting to you calling it an AAA game.
                  Unless you can have numbers proving how it’s one of the best-selling games, or what it’s budget is (and/or how much of it was personally paid by the guy himself just to get a pride boost), or how and why it is an actual great, critically-acclaimed game, I just don’t see how this thing fits in the “big leagues” of gaming.
                  I never said anything about disliking him.

                  1. Those aren’t the criteria for a AAA game.

                    “I never said anything about disliking him.”

                    Except for when you did of course. ::rolleyes::

                    1. Sumanai says:

                      Budget size is exactly what is used to measure whether it’s a triple A title or not. It means that the game gets certain amount of ad space, which costs money, and that it fills certain criteria for “quality”, whether visual, aural, polish etc. that also costs money.

                    2. Perception is what determines whether a game is considered AAA or not. It’s a completely vaporous term with no actual meaning, making an argument over what qualifies for the title completely pointless. I should have pointed that out in my last post, so my bad.

                      Regardless, the ‘fiddy’ games are comparable to any of the games shown or provided as examples so far with this issue.

                    3. ehlijen says:

                      I went through his post a few times and couldn’t find where it says he doesn’t like 50 cents.

                      He said a few things about him that might be seen as criticism of how the game was made, but no statement of like or dislike was made regarding those statements or the person in question.

                    4. Destrustor says:

                      The difference is between:
                      “I think that guy did something dumb”
                      “I think that guy is dumb”
                      I meant it as the former, you read it as the latter.
                      People make mistakes, people are flawed. Calling them out on it does not equal hate.

    2. george says:

      The last airbender raises an interesting point.

      Japanese people usually interpret anime as Japanese, whilst Western society typically treats them as Western.

      1. Eldiran says:

        The Last Airbender was so so so so so so SO terrible that I don’t think we can use it in any real discussion of movies or cinema. Seriously, it is an abomination. I don’t consider it a movie so much as a random series of incoherent images and noises.

        1. Maldeus says:

          I think he’s talking about the show. I’ve been rewatching it on NetFlix lately, and Aang doesn’t look decisively Asian to me. In fact, stacked next to Sokka and Katara as he so often is, he looks pretty white. But then, Goku and the rest of the non-green cast of Dragonball Z looked the same way, but apparently Asian people thought of those exact same images as depicting Asians.

          1. krellen says:

            He’s talking about theatres, which means he’s talking about the movie.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The last airbender 4.5 on imdb.
      Prince of persia 6.6 on imdb.
      The book of eli 6.8 on imdb.
      Black swan 8.2 on imdb.

      So yeah,while the film makers do seem to have trouble casting someone other than white guys for their leads,film goers dont seem to have so much trouble watching someone other than white guys in the lead.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        Well there’s also the fact that Black Swan is an actual, good psychological thriller while The Last Airbender was the death of M. Night’s career on screen, Prince of Persia was a cliched mess of bad writing, and the Book of Eli was poorly structured Christian propaganda.

        1. krellen says:

          I’ve always thought people completely misconstrued Book of Eli. It’s less about Christianity and more about any secret knowledge. The Library didn’t place the Bible in any place of special importance; it was filed on a shelf alongside other religious texts.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            That’s tough to say. A central message throughout the whole thing focused on how all society devolves into an amoral violence orgy without religion. I would even go as far to say they put Christianity specifically on a pedestal by making Eli such a holy bad ass and the BBEG a mustache-twirling blasphemer, but I can see how that could be up for interpretation.

            1. krellen says:

              The BBEG wanted to use Christianity as a tool for controlling the masses. Just because doing so was depicted as evil doesn’t mean Christianity is glorified; if anything, it was showing both the good side and the bad side of Christianity.

              1. LunaticFringe says:

                My issue with that comes from placing that Bible in that context anyway. The movie presents the Bible as an object of control, yes, but it also presents the ‘society in vacuum’ as a mindless amoral one while lacking it. It sits uncomfortably close to the old anti-atheist argument that ‘they believe in nothing therefore they have no morals’.

              2. Abnaxis says:

                I’ve thought about it, but the idea that stops me from following that line of thought is that the BBEG specifically wanted the Bible. He didn’t want the Koran nor the Torah. He didn’t consider making something up himself. No, there’s just something special about the one Word that will bring in the flock, and no other substitute will suffice.

                Like I said, I can see your interpretation and I can see how mine might even be colored by my own preconceived notions, but the overtones in the film are enough to push the setting from “this is what the world would be like without Faith” (a strong thesis directly alluded to throughout the film) to “this is what the world would be like without Jesus” (something a bit more in the eye of the beholder, as it were).

                1. krellen says:

                  Perhaps being an atheist happily coexisting with his mother the minister colours my impressions as well.

                2. LunaticFringe says:

                  That’s a good point, I doubt that you’d ever seen a ‘Book of Eli’-esque movie about, say, the Communist Manifesto as a societal/moral guideline, or Atlas Shrugged.

                  1. krellen says:

                    I thought Atlas Shrugged was a Book of Eli-esque tale about Atlas Shrugged as a societal/moral guideline.

                    1. LunaticFringe says:

                      Indeed it is, but it would never be something that would be used as a plot device in a mainstream movie. I mean, there is an Atlas Shrugged movie, but it’s a relevantly unknown movie that had a difficult time getting funding and being shown in theatres. My point was that in a big budget, mainstream, Hollywood movie, the use of the Bible as the plot MacGuffin rather then a more fringe book (such as, as Abnaxis suggests, alternative religious texts, or philosophically different political manifesto) reflects a certain degree of pro-Christian cultural stance over other beliefs. Honestly I would’ve loved if they had pulled a ‘Book of Dave’ and had the book be the insane scribbles on politics and morality of some pre-Fall janitor.

        2. Sumanai says:

          Doesn’t the fact that good films are more liked and bad films are less so, regardless of the main character’s race, an indication in itself that the viewers are not at large racist/unable to sympathise with people of other races?

          Meaning that the whole white washing thing in Hollywood, and the focus on white male main characters in video games, misguided. But marketers and management being overtly “careful” is not exactly news to me.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            That was somewhat my point but I conveyed it terribly. To your ‘average’ person, race isn’t really that much of an issue anymore. For the race issue in games I think it’s more a product of stereotypes then anything else. In all the examples in the pictures above, it wouldn’t be hard to replace the character with someone non-white, but I think it’s designers’ natural instinct to follow action-hero, science fiction, etc. tropes, which, big surprise, typically have white male leads. On the other hand, tokenism is a problem too, because then you get situations like Sheva in Resident Evil 5 (i.e. their ‘it’s not racist because you can play as a black woman’ defense).

            1. krellen says:

              Y’know, when I think action hero, I actually think of Samuel L. Jackson first – and I did so even before he actually became Nick Fury.

              1. LunaticFringe says:

                Well it’s a matter of age to some extent as well. Personally what I consider an ‘action hero’ is Bruce Lee, but I’m thinking that most video game developers grew up with John McClane, Snake Pliskin, Arnold, Stallone, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, etc. It’s not a perfect theory but I think that 80s and early 90s’s white male action leads have had a huge influence on developers. Considering that many developers are starting to treat games as ‘interactive movies’ that tell ‘their story’ I think they might be aiming for some kind of power fantasy themselves.

    4. Maldeus says:

      The Forbidden Kingdom was originally about an Asian guy getting in touch with his ancestry. Jackie Chan was the one who suggested they make it a typical American kid who only knew about Kung Fu from movies, because that was a situation viewers would be more likely to relate to. That’s a different thing from racism, because the concern wasn’t about the main character’s skin color, but rather the circumstances of his upbringing.

  18. RCN says:

    You know… your article reminded me of my main Shepard at Mass Effect. Really, in most games that allow you to customize your character, I like to make something interesting (not ugly, just interesting). In Neverwinter Nights 2 I took the most beaten down and old portrait I could, this guy with really sunken eyes and role-played him as this dry, deadpan-delivering tired vet.

    In Mass Effect I went with a black Shep. I don’t know, but just having that face made me not mind much the male voice actor. It just seemed right, most of the time. And now that I mainly identify with that Shep, I find it weird when I see the trailers and videos of ME3 and see the generic white Shep.

    My Shep is a badass black dude, maybe with a bit of an attitude, but he knows how to be properly diplomatic when the situation calls for it and is mostly compassionate about all kinds of life-forms. His main drive is to understand the reapers. Not some white punk who yearns for a pre-order rifle to shoot those reapers dead.

    The truth is, though… I don’t even think this is the fault of the developers, or the writers, or even of the publishers. This is the fault of the publisher’s marketing department. Marketing ruins everything, and that’s the story I’m sticking to.

    (Oh, interesting bit, my main Fallout 3 character was this short-haired tomboy gal who used her seductive ways to convince Burke of not blowing up Megaton by falling in love with her. I’ll always remember that as one of the most hilarious things I’ve done in Fallout 3, and there’s no shortage of that)

  19. Rack says:

    I assume I’m part of the problem here. In Bioware/Bethesda games I always create a 20 something white male, I enjoyed San Andreas less because CJ’s goals were so pedestrian and the language he used offended me. I was happy enough playing Beyond Good and Evil but really Jade was an attractive 30 something white male so I’m not sure that counts. Bayonetta was undeniably female, but more undeniably designed to appeal to 30 something white males. So far Heller from Prototype 2 looks like a dark skinned 30 something white male.

    I’m afraid videogames are in a weaker position than films in this regard. I need, or at least get more out of video game characters I can not only relate to, but resonate with.

    1. Michael says:

      “I was happy enough playing Beyond Good and Evil but really Jade was an attractive 30 something white male so I'm not sure that counts.”

      I’m sorry, were we playing the same game? I thought she was a mid-20s Asian woman.

      1. Keeshhound says:

        He means that for all intents and purposes, Jade’s character and role in the story could have been replaced with a 30-year old white male, and nothing would have changed significantly other than her voice actor and her character model.

        1. Maldeus says:

          Isn’t that kind of the point, though? You could get more diversity, at least on the surface, just by swapping character models and voice actors. That would at least give us more aesthetic variety.

          1. Keeshhound says:

            It’s a tricky problem; if all you have are characters who look black/asian/female/young/old/etc. but act like a white male in their 30’s then you’re still implying that “white 30 year old male” is the only proper way for a hero to act. Even if you make Obama Shepard in Mass Effect, He’ll still have Mark Meer’s white guy voice and manerisms, so is he really a “black” character, or is he just a white man who happens to have darker skin?

  20. monkeyboy says:

    Can’t read the article from here, so apologies if it’s been covered.

    I don’t think that the issue for video games is as big as it seems. Without the single “canon” protagonist required by movies or books, there already is wide diversity in games. You have multiple choice(RPG/MMO), unknown protagonists (most FPS) and no protagonist at all (casual games like bejeweled). The characters in the poster seem to be all console port/third person/shooty/fighty/single-canon-protagonist games. Even there you have games like the original GTA or Mirror’s Edge.
    Not to dismiss the problem, because I agree it is one, but it wouldn’t take a sea change to make things better, because the narritives that would require a young white guy (Italian Gangster/1950’s Cop) are few and far between.

    Oh, and since as RCN pointed out, you don’t have to play a white guy in Mass Effect, they should probably replace Sheppard with either Gordon Freeman or Batman.

  21. rrgg says:

    There are a lot of people who relate better with a character of their own race, the problem is just how overblown people think it is. If I were playing a game with all other things being equal yes I’d probably choose to play as the white guy over the black guy. But would I relate to a stupid, foul-mouthed, wisecracking, white guy more than a clean, good hearted, black man? Not a chance. This is how Roy became my favoritepoint character in the order of the stick.

    My point is that it’s less about skin color and more of a culture thing. Honestly I think for the vast majority of games or movies or etc. you could replace all the characters with random races but keep roughly the same actions and dialog and it would be exactly the same. (And this is what I think should be the first step in cutting down the racism in fiction)

    The issue that brings up though is another problem. How do you represent different “cultures” as well as race, as many of the people who do want more “minorities” possibly do relate better to the likes of 50 cent. Okay I don’t have an answer, but the current method of “Wait until someone decides to diversify a bit then stuff that character with every behavior and social status associated with their race” is not working.

  22. Zaxares says:

    I don’t mind having white middle-aged males as my game leads, as long as it makes sense for the world I’m in. (And for the record, I’m an Asian male in his early thirties.) Likewise, when I play RPGs, I prefer creating characters that match the game’s culture and setting. One good example of this is Guild Wars. The first game, Prophecies, had your characters start out in a typically Western-fantasy influenced land, where the inhabitants are mainly white. So I created my characters from that game to be all white people (2 males, 1 female).

    In the second game, Factions, your characters start in the land of Cantha, an Asian-themed continent, so my character was an Asian-looking assassin with an appropriate name.

    In the third game, Nightfall, your characters start in Elona, a continent inspired by Arabian/African culture. So my character for that game was a black man with a name inspired from Egyptian culture.

  23. Eruanno says:

    The weirdest thing is when one game developer uses a white 30-something male as the protagonist and claims it’s used so “gamers get to have a character they can relate to”…

    And then the next company puts out a different game, uses a white 30-something male as the protagonist and claims they made him like that because “he’s a blank slate so that you can project yourself onto him”.


  24. Atle says:

    Simple numbers and the power of statistics:

    If you alienate 10% of potential customers with a dumb white guy, and 15% with a stereotypical black guy, this can mean roughly 5% loss of sale.

    Also if we assume profit margins are 10%, a 5% loss in sale might mean 50% loss in profit.

    All numbers are hypothetical, but never forget that a slightly increased risk at the individual level means real numbers at a statistical level. So if the story or setting doesn’t demand a certain gender or color or age, it makes all the sense in the world to choose a character that will appeal to the most, and alienate the fewest. And for action games, that is the 30-something, dumb, white, guy with lots of muscles.

    (Also, choosing a dumb black guy as the main character there is the risk of being accused of being a racist for portraying blacks in a negative stereotypical way. Nobody calls you a racist for using a dumb white guy.)

    1. Daimbert says:

      I think that is part of the problem: you can put a white male character in almost any role and nobody will complain that you’re being racist. That isn’t the case for other races, and attempts to directly break the stereotype can backfire as well.

      1. Cineris says:

        You can be accused of being racist for doing, or not doing, anything. There is no universal definition of these terms, so academics & professional agitators love contorting logic and meaning to find racism/sexism/classism in everything.

        That’s the real problem.

        1. Or, the problem might be that the dominant groups in the culture are justifying the fact that minorities are so poorly represented in movies, games, and political life by whining about how tough it is to be criticized by those mean accusations of racism; all white males get to have is games, business boards, and political offices 80% filled up with white males. (As for movies, see how many movies pass the Bechdel test…)

          1. Daimbert says:

            Well, this might be dragging my comment into the mix, so let me reply here. Tossing out all of that “dominant group” stuff, in North American culture at least getting into race issues is problematic. While you can take standard white male stereotypes — white male nerd, white male cold, money-obsessed businessman — and simply use them to fill roles in your story, it’s a problem to do that to other races or even genders because you’ll get accused of fostering stereotypes. So, if you want to do it right — and the companies that would even think of doing this are ones that in some sense and for some reason think diversity is a good idea — you have to put it a lot more effort to break the stereotype, which essentially means — in fictional terms — playing around with your archetype. Playing around with your archetype can backfire on your pretty quickly. Add in that you might run into trouble if you play with the archetypes badly, and produce either a bland, uninteresting character or one that God forbid looks even more racist, and it’s a lot of work and care to get it right.

            Or you can just plunk in a white male protagonist and be as stereotypical, archetypical, bland and boring as you want.

            We might like companies to be less lazy, but really, if you’re in this to make money and have no guarantee that being more diverse will bring you more money, what would you do?

            1. The reasoning in favor of avoiding diversity is not difficult to understand, but just because there’s a profit-motive rational behind it doesn’t mean it’s a good phenomenon for society, or one we should refrain from criticizing.Sure, a guy who opened a restaurant or bar in the south in the 50s had a rational profit-motive oriented reasons for keeping it segregated, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t playing into a racist system that favored one group and hurt others; and fortunately, people DID criticize that sort of unfairness, instead of being understanding that segregated businesses was the only rational, safe choice in that time.So my point is, saying we can’t criticize the unjustness of the system because it’s totally understandable why people are afraid of making it more just isn’t sufficient, IMO, and complaining about the people who are upset about the unjustness seems myopic.

          2. Cineris says:

            Ah yes, the argument from innate knowledge of what is right / ideal / just. Maybe you can explain your metrics for “poor representation” and what “good representation” would be (and why it’s “better”) in simple terms for those lowly Morlocks who insist on a degree of rigor before trying to remake the world.

            1. Everybody is arguing for some sort of outcome- when you argue “that’s just the way things are”, you are not actually being ‘neutral’, but actually defending the current way of things. I don’t claim to have a perfect knowledge of what is desirable, but I would argue that a more just society is one in which women and non-white groups benefit from a more equitable distribution of cultural, political, and economic power/representation than exists currently.

              By seeking only to criticize those who argue in favor of change, and not criticize the way things, you are effectively arguing in favor of “the way things are.” Basically, ‘I’m ok with how things work, but I’m annoyed that people are trying to change it or criticize it…’ That’s completely legit, but just as much advocating a position as I am, and just as open to critique as mine.

              1. Cineris says:

                It’s true, arguing against your position isn’t a neutral argument. But again, you’ve failed to articulate any particular reason why a given set of ideals and policies should be given primacy over others, or how they’re better for society or more equitable.

                It’s pretty much a given that with our current level of knowledge, we clearly don’t know why things are the way they are in [any] society. Asserting that we do know the answers, and it’s *-isms, is just hubris (and pretty clearly wrong to boot).

                One thing we do know from scientific research is that people are not fungible, their capabilities vary both as individuals and in broader trends across groups. Approaching a society as if you can just slot in the right race/sex/whatever category because of preconceived political notions about what is right are unlikely to be beneficial to society.

                Anyway, I’m resisting the urge here to spiral off into long tangents and citations. Instead I’ll just recommend that you take a look at Stephen Pinker’s The Blank Slate — A great introductory book for beginning to understand the biological realities that underlie human behavior, and great for exploding the myths that political correctness promulgates.

                1. The argument that because we do not have perfect knowledge of how social systems work is incomplete, we’re better off not advocating or attempting any solutions to problems at all (or claiming they even exist!) is exactly the sort of complacent argument which is easy to make when belonging to a group which is benefitting the most from the current arrangement. Better keep feudalism because who knows what messy social chaos could result- all those critics have NO idea what could happen if the peasants get the right to vote!

                  Pinker in The Blank Slate makes an extreme biological determinist argument targeting extreme social determinist strawmen. Clearly people vary within societies and human character is in part genetically determined, but also societies vary as well and play a role in moulding what kinds of people we can hope to be, and societies have qualities that we (can choose) to find more or less desirable. Grossly unequal/violent/oppressive societies have existed and continue to exist because of social arrangements, not genetic ones.

                  What am I arguing for? Specifically, a greater effort to include characters of diverse sorts in games and movies, a lesser dependence on male-oriented movie plots, and the movement towards improved participation of substantial non-white male groups that facilitates non-white participation instead of represses it in political bodies (‘voter fraud laws’, gerrymanderingm, etc.) I am not arguing in favor of laws MANDATING things, but I am arguing in favor of social/media pressure on creators of cultural and political content and values to try to make a more representative society. And I believe that such a shift would not be a zero-sum transfer of resources from white-males TO others, but instead a net gain for everyone.

            2. Shamus says:

              “before trying to remake the world”

              Maybe this is where we misunderstand each other. To be clear, when I say, “It would be more enjoyable / interesting to have less cookie-cutter white males”, I’m saying it in the same way that I argue, “Games shouldn’t cost so much” or “companies shouldn’t use DRM”. I’m simply seeing an ill-advised behavior in the market and advocating voluntary change. I’m not calling for laws, or even boycotts. I’m not saying anyone is evil, or has ill intent, or that anyone is being oppressed. I really am pointing at something that could be better, and saying how it could be made so.

              The only explanation for why I get so much push-back on this issue is that perhaps my position is mistaken for “these people are evil racists and there oughta be a law to stop them from oppressing me by not giving me enough choice in games”. I know there are people out there that make that argument, but I’m not one of them.

              1. Tim Van den Langenbergh says:

                “Games shouldn’t cost so much,” eh?

                If every game starring a brown-haired 30-something white male and has voice acting would allow you to select a character, wouldn’t they become more expensive due to the fact that multiple voice actors would need to be hired, and voice actors for NPCs would need to record more lines (and the writers would need to write more lines and…)?

                1. Shamus says:

                  Two things:

                  1) I’m not talking about games where you make your own character. I’m talking about all the pre-made guys that look the same. It wouldn’t cost more to have (say) Alex Mason be a woman instead of a man. (Not saying that would have improved the game, he’s just a good example of a boring-ass guy in a game that really needed something to make it stand out.)

                  2) When I say games should be cheaper, I’m not saying that I want publishers to make less money just to be nice to me. I’m arguing that their pricing model is actually self-defeating. Lowering prices can mean more sales, which can make up for making less per unit. It’s not that I expect Mass Effect 3 to cost $5 at launch, it’s that they should continue to lower the bottom-end prices on old games. (EA doesn’t usually go below $20.) I think Steam can make a pretty good case that you can make a lot of money this way.

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      Except the 30-something white guy with lots of muscles is currently alienating nearly every female gamer, and at least some gamers who aren’t white. That’s a lot of people – possibly more people than are buying the game already.

      If you could not alienate them then you’d definitely increase your sales, so if alienating a significant customer base was a priority, game designers would be focusing on women. They aren’t.

      The “it will alienate our audience” line is an excuse for existing behaviour (lazy game design).

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, as I said just below this, companies don’t, in fact, know that they’ll increase sales. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. If they end up alienating as many customers as they attract, then it won’t make a difference, and they rightly will see little reason to try to change if it won’t make them money. Especially since if they screw up their attempts to aim at that other market the game will likely flop.

        Did the PSP version of Persona 3 have its sales increase because it introduced the ability to play as a female protagonist? Did Fatal Frame’s sales increase because it had a female protagonist? How many games can you find where it can be shown that having a more diverse cast/protagonist was a significant reason for the amount of sales it eventually ended up with?

        Don’t get me wrong; I think that better game design which will likely include diversity will increase sales. But people have to put their mouths where their mouths are, and do all they can to advertise and promote games that do diversity well, as much if not more than they criticize games that don’t. Then maybe we’ll see games do better that are more diverse, and then game companies will start doing it because it will make them money.

        1. Sumanai says:

          Marketers and managers unwilling to make changes to formulas for fear of breaking it are poison to the company they work in. Thing is, it’s a slow poison and its effects can be staved off by just one or two working changes that happen to fall between the cracks every five years or so. Assuming the company is large enough and they have strong IPs.

          The same thinking that drove companies to resist online stores is driving dull main characters. There are many successful games with white 30 something male as the player character? Then one part of making a game successful is for the PC to be white 30 something male.

          It’s fear, and like most decisions made out of fear, it’s bad for the decider.

      2. Atle says:

        There are more men playing action games (which are the game genre we’re talking about) than females.

        But alienate, as I used previously, is a too strong word. It’s not that black and white. It’s more about tendency, and as I said, tendency for an individual means statistics and real numbers for a large group.

        If the role in a game is “bad ass soldier”, “30 something dumb male” fits better than “30 something dumb female”. More soldiers are men. So we have a case of the simpler choice also fitting the story.

        I see there’s a discussion above about defending this situation is the same as arguing for it. No it’s not. What I am saying is this: The current situation is pushing developers/publishers to make choices in this direction.

        There was a comparison with this and restaurant segregation, because the current situation at that time made this the sensible action. That however misses the point, because having a “white 30-something male” as antagonist is not doing anyone wrong. It only becomes wrong when everyone does it. Segregation is, to compare, wrong in each instance.

        So what we have here is a situation more akin to the “tragedy of the commons”. Or in the world of game theory, the Nash equilibrium lies for everyone to use “white 30-something male” unless there are compelling reasons to chose something else.

        I’ll try to break it down to some major points:
        – Each company focuses on the best strategy for itself, the sum of this is what we complain about.
        – Every company has everything to gain by playing it safe. No company can be held responsible for the total trend
        – Slight increase in risk, slight decrease in number of customers, might result in a noticeable loss of profit.

        1. Soylent Dave says:

          This is a very good point, and I agree in principle – but I take some issue with this bit: “having a “white 30-something male” as antagonist is not doing anyone wrong”

          I think it does do wrong – because it creates a situation where black people (and women) are being told that they aren’t welcome in the gaming industry – either as customers or developers. That this hobby, this industry is not for them.

          As you say, it’s not the fault of any single game (or even game developer), and I doubt it’s what they’re setting out to do – but we do have a gaming industry which it’s not only uncomfortably almost universally a “white man’s club”, but where the community (as typified by Xbox live, but let’s not pretend that’s the only example) feels that overt racism and misogyny is A-Okay – and I don’t think we can continue to pretend that our hobby, our industry, isn’t encouraging this behaviour (even if only by attracting these kinds of people).

          It’s not something there’s a quick fix for, of course – but it is something we need to keep talking about, as a community.

  25. Daimbert says:

    One of the issues that I have with these sorts of discussions is that they always seem to be negative, meaning that they always point to recent games and say that there isn’t diversity there. What happens far too rarely, in my opinion, is pointing to the games that HAVE done it and praising them for it. If cases are cited, it’s always as if they are exceptions and so distracting from the discussion instead of saying something important. The problem with this is that gaming companies — like all companies — will have no reason to change anything unless they think that the change will make them money. You can give reasons why it might all you want, but they will — not unreasonably — demand to be shown that on the bottom line before they make the change.

    The racial aspect isn’t one that I can toss out examples from my own collections easily to show games where there is diversity, but I can do it for gender. The PSP version of Persona 3 deliberately added the choice of a female protagonist, which meant re-doing many S-links with decent effort, to rave reviews from the fanbase. Now, these games aren’t Mass Effects but they aren’t Obscure either, and I haven’t seen that played up all that much. The Fatal Frame series is often mentioned in the same sentence as Silent Hill and Resident Evil when talking about the greatest console, at least, horror games of all time and it always had female protagonists. Suikoden III — part of a famous JRPG series — had one of out three main protagonists be female. Final Fantasy X-2 had female protagonists (although it might lose points for the dress sphere concept).

    The point is that I think that companies that make an effort to be diverse need to get pointed out for doing so, and so get the advertising and hopefully the sales for trying, at least. In these discussions, companies that do that tend to be treated as if they are just doing the bare minimum expected, when in the current culture what they’re doing is taking a real risk. If you want to see more diversity in games, reward the ones that put it in instead of merely trying to punish the ones that don’t.

    1. Michael says:

      Honestly, and Shamus may want to correct me here, but the point kind of is to show companies that they can make more money without changing much about what they do.

      The reason it takes some effort to cite games that do this pretty well is because they’re so rare.

      Prey may be a good presentation of a Native American protagonist, and the game certainly benefited from that.

      Assassin’s Creed featured a Muslim protagonist (Altiar), and sort of independently of that did a fairly decent job of looking at the Crusades from a non-western standpoint.

      I mentioned Unreal 2 earlier, but in the range of a sci-fi FPS there is something laudable about the protagonist being black and the game literally not making anything of it.

      I’m a little on the fence with Just Cause, because, while it’s great to have a Hispanic protagonist, I’m not sure he isn’t simply a one note stereotype that does as much harm as good.

      From a diversity standpoint these are all good, or at least progress. The problem is, while I pulled that list basically off the top of my head and it is certainly not comprehensive, it is an unfortunately large segment of games featuring non-white player characters.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, my point is more that it shouldn’t be harder, even if they’re rare, because everyone who is concerned about this should be constantly bringing them up, so that if you’ve seen the posts complaining about a lack of diversity you’ve seen the few and far between counter-examples at least as often.

        And maybe more. I deliberately tried to review both Sakura Wars: So Long My Love and Catherine because they did things I loved and thought were great, and so I wanted them to get attention for that. It’s potentially more fun to post reviews or walk-throughs of bad games, but doing good games helps to encourage gamers to play them and in turn encourages companies to keep doing them. Free advertising is never something that any company will pass up.

        The interesting thing? I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed, but obviously I’ve heard a lot about it. I never really heard that it had a Muslin protagonist. Now, my interest was only casual, but if promoting diversity is a good thing and people think it did it well, why isn’t that mentioned more prominently?

        1. Michael says:

          Because the game never really points it out. The player character for most of the game is Altiar, an Assassin, (specifically a Hashashiyyin, though, there’s some alternate spellings, and I may have botched this spelling) during the Crusades. The Hashashiyyin were an Islamic extremist group from Persia, and incidentally where we get the modern word “assassin.”

          So, the game never explicitly states Altair’s religion, it’s implicit, in much the same way the Templar’s can be roughly assumed to be Christian in the historical context of the game.

          Of course, Altiar is also voiced by Nolan North, so it’s pretty easy to miss the ethnicity if you’re not familiar with the timeframe and actual historical orders involved.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            Not to mention there’s that whole All religions are lies constructed to explain pre-human technology that we didn’t understand plot point. Sort of makes the character’s religious views irrelevant if it isn’t a major focus as well.

  26. MichaelG says:

    I think it’s a mistake to focus just on race. The problem with games, and Hollywood movies, is that they generally play it safe. I haven’t played as many games as you, Shamus, but most of them seem cut from the same mold. Playing it safe on the race of the main character is just part of playing it safe on the plot, world building, game play, etc.

    And the reason both movies and games play it safe is one you’ve pointed out repeatedly — it costs too much to make games/movies. If you are going to bet that much money, you need to play it safe.

    The same thing is going to happen in indie games because the developers have spent so much time. Who wants to spend years of their life developing a game and then have it fail because no one wants to play the viewpoint character?

    And I don’t want to make this personal, but what went through your mind when you chose the setting and characters for The Witch Watch? There were foreigners in England during the Victorian era. Alice could as easily have been an Eastern European or Arabic person living in England, fighting prejudices as well as the Church and black magic.

    I assume you didn’t make her more exotic because you didn’t think you could write the character that way, or it just never occurred to you to try. What makes you think other writers, directors, game designers are any different? They don’t have to be racists to produce this kind of work — they just have to be playing it safe for marketing reasons, or staying in their comfort zone.

    1. Shamus says:

      “I think it's a mistake to focus just on race.”

      I totally agree, and I really regret the article title. I’m not really arguing for “more non-whites” so much as “less repetitive characters”. There are a lot more ways to make people distinct than simple skin color adjustments.

      “but what went through your mind when you chose the setting and characters for The Witch Watch? ”

      In my own writing, my goal is to have lots of different people. Not just race but… different!

      In our five protagonists, we’ve got a kid (Simon) a dead guy (Gilbert) a woman (Alice) your bog-standard 30-something white guy (Archer) and an aging homosexual. (Moxley.) That’s pretty pretty good, diversity-wise. The reader isn’t likely to confuse any of them on account of them having too much in common. Sure, I could have shoehorned in someone from the colonies in China or India, but that sort of “forced” inclusion can be problematic. “How did this person get into this exotic position of power amid such racism?” I would have needed to address that, which wouldn’t have added anything to the book.

      So yeah, there’s too much focus on race, and I didn’t help things with my post title. People are different in all kinds of interesting ways.

      1. StranaMente says:

        I was arguing about the differences among characters in NCIS.
        In the original NCIS you’ve got different and well distinct characters, from the goth girl, to the Mossad spy, and everyone got something that distinguish him from the others, and you can easily recognize them.
        Instead in the Los Angeles spin-off, the three main characters can only be distinguished as “the black guy, the white guy, the girl”, as they lack personality and are all (even the girl) just stereotypical action guys/girls.

  27. Don Alsafi says:

    I recently played through the first Half Life last year, for the very first time. And somehow I was convinced from beginning to end that Gordon Freeman was a black guy. (For what it’s worth, I’m not.)

    It’s interesting that HL1’s uncompromising first-person approach let me believe this for the entirety of my game. When later installments revealed that to not be the case, it was a bit jarring.

    No real point here; take from it what you will.

    1. Atle says:

      Maybe you associated Gordon Freeman with Morgan Freeman?

    2. ehlijen says:

      How did you avoid the start of the game loading screens with Gordon’s likeness on them?

  28. Cineris says:

    Cherry-picking a few points, in this case, protagonists for mass-market videogames, doesn’t make a strong argument. I have no idea who the majority of these characters are, and yet I can say with confidence that every single one of them displays the Dark Triad personality traits too. Is that a coincidence? I think not.

    Lets see some real data, not just insinuations of racism and sexism.

    Also worth reading: Cliff Bleszinski explains the Bald Space Marine.

    1. Shamus says:

      Reminder that I wasn’t decrying “racism”, but the attitude that “we have to make our protagonists bland because the audience demands it”. I’m totally willing to believe that writers make the POV character the way they do out of habit, or because they’re more comfortable writing that kind of character. I just want them to NOT turn around and insinuate the rest of us are too racist to accept anything else.

      1. Cineris says:

        Yeah. I think I understand your objection, which is why I specifically mentioned the personality traits as well. They’re almost the same person — Teenage boy power fantasy man. That’s really symptomatic of a certain style of game, which is these big budget action games.

        As for the racism bit — I don’t think it’s racist to acknowledge that people tend to consciously and unconsciously identify more closely with people that resemble themselves. That’s pretty well established (IMO) by research and expressed preferences. It doesn’t do any good to call it racism, anyway, because it’s unlikely that it can be changed just by trying to change cultural values.

    2. krellen says:

      “Cliff Bleszinski explains why the focus on graphical fidelity is bad.”

      Also, he doesn’t explain why all those bald Space Marines are white. Blacks, Asians and Latinos could all be bald Space Marines too.

    3. Darkness says:

      Bald appears in the original interview twice. Both within a couple of sentences regarding the inability to render hair well on current graphics engines.

      Will the next generation of graphics improvements change your view on bald?

  29. Alex says:

    Sadly, I don’t think this is a Hollywood or video game problem.

    I think WE ARE the problem.

    1. Syal says:

      Now I’m wondering if that was true of the original Mass Effect as well, or if it’s the result of them marketing to the Halo/Call of Duty crowd who’s only looking to play a male soldier in the first place.

      1. Bret says:

        Far as I know, the numbers weren’t that different back then, but they didn’t collect as thoroughly. And about 90% of players did mess with the face, so it probably isn’t just “Call of Duty” kids RUINING EVERYTHING FOREVER (man. Growing to hate that stereotype more than I hate Call of Duty).

        It’s as far as I can most guys are less likely to play as a girl, and most people seeing the guy with a gun on the box and assuming that space magic isn’t as fun as just shooting things.

        It fits the power fantasy, I guess. Pick a HaleShep (best shep) with biotics, you aren’t playing as you if you’re primary videogame demographic (Male 18-30 or so). On the other hand, if a guy slaps his name in, matches his own face, and picks guns-shoots-a-lot as a class, it’s an easy mental leap. The person on the screen is me as a space marine. I am having sex with a blue alien. This is good times.

        So, yeah. Problem is us. Wish I could be surprised.

        1. Audacity says:

          Just out of curiosity, how can any of you claim this is a PROBLEM with us? Videogames are wish fulfillemnt toys. They let us escape into a fantasy world and do things we couldn’t in reality. You’re basically criticizing other people for not having the same subjective fantasies you do.

          For example, I enjoy taking on the role of a stockbroker turned radio-era airpirate in Crimson Skies, but I don’t want to play as a half-naked blue elf chick in WoW. This isn’t a problem with me, just as it isn’t a problem if someone enjoys the reverse. To imply that because someone else’s escapist fantasy is different than yours there must be something WRONG with them, seems kinda asshatish.

          That’s not to say that an increase in game protagonist variety wouldn’t be welcome. It would, I’m tired of playing as the same character in every game. But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the majority of gamers (who happen to be male) choosing to play as male characters rather than female characters when given the choice. To say there is would imply that there is someting wrong with the reverse situation: i.e. female gamers are wrong to choose to play female characters when given the choice.

          One of the primary reasons my female friends give for not playing many games is that they don’t want to play as a male character (or some sexist female character like Laura Croft). But this more of a problem with game companies not recognizing the potential market for games oriented toward women, than it is a problem with their main demographic. I know we all love to hate on the lunk headed jocks who have become gaming’s target demographic in recent years, but that sterotype isn’t any more accurate than any other.

    2. Sumanai says:

      So, in a game were the player is supposed to not just sympathise, but take on the role, of the main character, a predominantly male player base decided to take their own sex?

      Let me make an example:
      If I play a game where I’m not in control of the main character’s behaviour in conversations, when that character starts flirting with someone, I’m fine with it as long as it’s well written and suits the situation and characters.

      If I play a game where I am in control of the main character’s dialogue and are therefore required to get into the same mindset, I don’t like when they start flirting or expect it from me. I’m not flirtatious, so I can’t make decisions in the conversation that don’t feel wrong to me. I’m effectively pulled out of my comfort zone, usually not helped that the situation is often creepy in games.

      So choosing a male character, because you’re male, in a role-playing game makes sense from the perspective that you’re supposed to get into the mindset of the person you’re controlling, and there aren’t too many people who can change their gender in their head.

      I’d be much more interested in statistics on non-role-playing MMORPGs, shooters, or others where the player isn’t asked to define a part of the main characters personality.

      1. krellen says:

        People who cannot get into the mindsets of those dissimilar to them are bad role-players.

        I was enough into the mindset of my Human Noblewoman in Dragon Age that I actually did fall in love with Alistair along with her, and he actually did break my heart when he said we couldn’t get married. It made her Noble Sacrifice all the more justified.

        1. Sumanai says:

          Since the majority of people are bad role-players, if only because of a lack of practice, I’d still say it’s safer to attribute the male-female Shepard ratio to that, rather than the players being unwilling to play a game with a female player character.

          Or having a notable preference to playing male characters.

          I know I’ve had a habit of avoiding female PCs in Bioware games ever since KotOR tried to railroad me into a romantic relationship simply because the character was female. Since I had no difficulty playing an asexual male PC (no railroady feeling), I got into the habit of sticking to them.

  30. Sleeping Dragon says:

    The lack of racial diversity was never that much of a problem for me, probably because I come from a country that isn’t really very ethnically diverse (especially not racially ethnically) so it doesn’t strike as “unnatural” to just see a white crowd. That said I fully agree that there is very little diversity whatsoever with protagonists, this is especially jarring considering game devs clearly show they CAN make interesting characters, though those are most often fed to us as companions cause Goddess forbid our character would have a personality, that would run a risk of said personality being in conflict with that of some gamers, and clearly nobody can cope with mentality that is different than their own.

  31. HeadHunter says:

    So, what are we supposed to do? Say “I refuse to play your game/see your movie because the lead character is of a certain ethnicity and/or gender”?

    Doesn’t that sound kind of racist?

    What ever happened to the idea that these things are supposed to be about the STORY?

    1. Shamus says:

      Okay, I am now officially sick of patiently explaining myself to people who can’t be bothered to read the article. It’s very short, the point was very clear, and your response makes it obvious you didn’t even bother to skim it.

      1. Aelfric says:

        MORE LIKE THIS. Anyone who says “it’s racist to be biased against white guys” is (1) stupid; (2) racist; and (3) worthy of contempt. I say this as an Ango-Saxon man in his thirties.

        1. Keeshhound says:

          So if someone bases their conception of you entirely around your skin color, it’s not racist? Sure, white guys have it easiest, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be the victims of racism too.

          Any time a person’s racial features are used as the metric by which they are judged rather than their personality, actions or abilities, it’s racism.

      2. HeadHunter says:

        I read it just fine, thanks. Perhaps I don’t understand what you were trying to accomplish with it, but it’s equally clear that you didn’t bother to understand the short and simple point I was trying to make in return.

        Why does it matter what the protagonist looks like? Aren’t you always saying that story is the most important factor of a game?

        And how, exactly, do you propose we change the situation? In all odf your article, I didn’t see any proposal for a solution in there, so what do you suggest we do? Basically, there are two options as I see it: 1) Accept the looks of the character and concentrate on the gameplay and narrative, or 2) Refuse to buy or play the game because of how the character looks.

        If you have a better idea, how about including it in the article?

        1. Shamus says:

          Your “boycott” suggestion was a silly strawman.

          “And how, exactly, do you propose we change the situation? ”

          See, you tell me you read the article, but here you are, clearly missing the point. My point was that the audience should not be blamed for the blandness of the characters. And now you’re asking me how we fix the blandness of the characters. We can’t. But it still needed to be said that this situation isn’t optimal, and blaming the gaming public is a lame dodge.

          “Why does it matter what the protagonist looks like? Aren't you always saying that story is the most important factor of a game?”

          MOST important? No! I certainly spend more time analyzing stories than most, but that’s my thing. It doesn’t mean that story is the most crucial thing. I hated games with good stories and loved games with awful stories.

          As for why the main character matters? As I said in the article: Having the same tired, stale protagonist is silly. Medium height. Medium build. Medium age. Medium length brown hair. Straight. White. Stubble. Gruff.

          Different protagonists would be more iconic, more interesting, and have better “brand” recognition. It would give us more variety.

          “If you have a better idea, how about including it in the article?”

          I did. Devs should come up with some other excuse for their bland characters than, “You’re too narrow-minded to accept anything else.” They can say they’re just writing what they know, or whatever reason they want to give. They just need to stop blaming me, because I don’t care who the main character is, as long as they’re interesting. (Like I said at the end of the article.)

          1. HeadHunter says:

            I never “suggested” a boycott – I never suggested anything. On that count, we’re even. Saying that the developers need a better justification isn’t a suggestion, it’s self-evident.

            But I’m not seeing why you feel the audience is being “blamed”. By whom, the people who make the games? Even if they’re actually saying it, it’s absurd. Might as well just ignore that.

            I’ll refine my question, to get more directly to the point: How do you propose we make the developers change this? As it currently stands, it’s an empty complaint. Did you have a better idea than voting with your wallet? If so, I’d be interested to hear it.

            1. Shamus says:

              “How do you propose we make the developers change this? ”

              The same way we “make” them change their DRM policy, remove QTEs, stop chasing photorealism, and all the other stuff I complain about in my last 130 weekly columns of “empty complaints”.

              1. HeadHunter says:

                While I find your columns entertaining and informative, I have to ask: How much has any of this changed, and how much of that change is due to columns like this? I’d dare to say “not much, and not nearly enough”.

                I’m not trying to be confrontational, and please understand that I typically agree with what you say… but the simple fact of the matter is: Money Talks. I’ve said it before and I still don’t understand why people can’t grasp it – to any company, putting your money down is a way of saying “You keep doing what you’re doing”. Publishers don’t care about Metacritic scores or reviews. Their bottom line solely represents units sold.

                So every time you buy a product like this, you’re telling the publishers “This is what the people want”. That’s not going to change anything; in fact, quite the opposite. Voting with your wallet is the only power a consumer has in the marketplace. All the words in the world are meaningless as long as the dollars keep coming in.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Money talks, but money says a lot of things. If a game takes off, or under-performs, why? Did customers dislike the main character? The story? The DLC? The ending? The gameplay? Was the marketing off-putting, or aimed at the wrong people?

                  The idea of “race” might not even be on someone’s radar. I can’t make people buy things, or not buy things. I can’t MAKE people care. But I can inform, or start a conversation. So that’s what I do.

                2. ehlijen says:

                  Voting with your wallet isn’t the only way. Creating competing products is another, and frankly one that the capitalist system relies on to stay dynamic.

                  No, not everyone has the means to compete with EA, but saying ‘this is what I don’t like about EA’s products’ could help those he might give it a shot be better at it.

                  So no, simply saying ‘I don’t like this but am powerless to change it myself’ is not useless.

            2. Peter H. Coffin says:

              “Suck it up or don’t buy it” is suggesting a boycott, to anyone that doesn’t like the current situation.

  32. some random dood says:

    Surprised no-one has mentioned the present tendency for lots of voice-acting for the lead character (or at least none that I could see when I started writing this). Think that is a significant barrier to the variety of characters you can play – can you imagine the number of VAs that would be needed to cover several accent-types to give a “local” feel to the character, an age-range, different personality-traits (e.g. cynical, enthuisiastic, diplomatic, sleazy, etc.), multipied by male and female (and, if sci-fi, robotic, alien #1, #2…). So instead the companies go for the options that are likely to sell the most with the minimum number of VAs that the game-maker can get away with.
    Pity we cannot go back to text for the characters. Can you imagine the possibilities for character creation where you could also define several traits for the character (e.g. allowed to pick 2 or three from such traits as cynical, idealistic, kind-hearted, ruthless, wise-cracking, shy…) and then the dialogue options presented will be a selection covering the traits identified for the character? I think going to voiced has decreased the role-play capacity for games. now get offa my lawn, you meddling kids!!
    Off-topic 1: anyone else see the news on enhanced Baldur’s Gate? Ars Technica mention pointing to the official site.
    Off topic #2: Anyone have any info on how to get Witch Watch on physical media (i.e. woodware edition) in the UK yet please?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Yeah, I think voiceacting as limiting factor has been mentioned a few times around here and I naturally agree that text was much more flexible. That said I’d risk saying that a better half of characters in that picture are not customizable. As such making a more characteristic character (see what I did there?) would require the exact same number of voice actors as the “bland” version, one.

  33. XtremeCaffeine says:

    Shamus, no offence, but you are not very good at writing about race.

    And also Hollywood is incredibly racist!

    1. Infinitron says:

      I didn’t know people needed a license from the moral authorities to write about race.

      1. JPH says:

        He didn’t say Shamus needed a license to do it, he was merely saying that Shamus isn’t good at it.

        And I disagree with him there. But don’t put words into his mouth.

      2. XtremeCaffeine says:

        “You are not good at this” is not “You need a licence to do this”

        What Shamus wrote is technically true, but he’s not very good at writing about race. It’s nothing personal, but having little-to-no first-hand experience of race has an impact on the quality of the article.

        Points like “Hollywood is the most diverse place on Earth” show this because while the movie industry does show more than solely white character, the overwhelming majority of releases ignore and resist any kind of POC representation.

        For example, The Last Airbender’s use of white actors for characters who were POC within the animated series.

        1. Shamus says:

          You literally mis-read the article. The proper quote is:

          “Hollywood isn’t the most diverse place on the planet […]”

          Which is the opposite of your quote above.

          1. XtremeCaffeine says:

            In which case I acknowledge that I was wrong in the use of that quote.

            However, saying that “White people don’t seem to have any trouble going to theaters to watch non-white people” is definitely untrue, at least in the minds of those with power and control over the purse strings. Look at the recent Red Wings controversy.

            1. krellen says:

              What the people who pull the purse strings think is reality is irrelevant. Actual reality is what we’re discussing.

  34. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ah,so youve finally finished the third game.So,did you reach this conclusion like many others?

    1. bit says:

      My main problem with the starchild… Stuff is that it really just doesn’t have any reason to be there from a storytelling perspective. The thing is, I really enjoyed the game up to that point; I felt that they pulled off the whole, “Uniting the galaxy,” In a way that made sense in the lore and was interesting and fun, with good callbacks to the previous games etc. It is a GOOD GAME. And if it had just ended with you walking up to the damn terminal and destroying the Reapers (And if insisted, it could have given you the control/destroy choice right there) And have you just, you know, WIN. Wouldn’t that have been a perfectly fine ending? I don’t understand what they felt was WRONG with that, and insisted on doing this instead. I’m not mad or anything, just… Mystified.

      1. ehlijen says:

        I think they were just lazy. To me this ending basically read like:
        The reapers are like ‘order’ dude, and you’re all like ‘chaos’, so they like, have to periodically kill you, bro.
        It could have worked, if they’d actually put any effort into it. I actually fully expected the catalyst to be a living mind to direct the crucible’s energies which would have led to a choice where shepard has to sacrifice someone to be plugged in and we get ending videos/short paragraphs for all the major plot points based on that person’s morality.
        But instead we get some clichee scifi buzzwords with no coherency to them.
        But the real killer is making the player walk slowly towards the three terminals for a minute rather than just offering A B (or C) as a convo choice.

  35. Even says:

    I can’t say I really care that much what character I get to play, as long as the character makes sense to me and the game doesn’t treat the any number of “special traits” the character might possess as a gimmick. I have little patience for that kind of bullshit.

  36. Des says:

    Hi Shamus,

    Just thought I would let that I really love you experienced points column. Oh and one more thing, I turned of adblock just for you website :)

    Every other website is still blocked, so that should give you an indication of how I respect you, and love your blog.


  37. MelTorefas says:

    Shamus, you knocked it right out of the park. Well done, sir.

    My current Skyrim characters are a female redguard (because the redguards are badass), and a female aldmeri (because I want to see if the game will let me join the Thalmor; then I plan to do it anyway using console commands).

  38. Sumanai says:

    I don’t think the argument developers/publishers give translates to “we make bland characters because you’re racist”, but
    “we make bland characters because we believe our clientele consists of emotionally stunted man-children who have difficulty sympathising with characters who don’t have the superficial characteristics of what they want to be themselves” with the subtext of “our M-rated game is targeted towards our perception of a thirteen year old”.

    Which isn’t better, but I just felt I had to nitpick.

  39. Alex says:

    I have no pity for slobs who only want to play as a tellingly idealized version of themselves(especially the 4 out of 5 people who play as Bulk Vanderhuge in ME). We can complain about companies not giving us variety, but ultimately it’s the fault of white guys with disposable income being insecure about everyone being invited to the party. These are the Bros who chart the course of gaming, and they’re steering us right into the toilet.

    As far as developers go, Valve is probably better than this at most, all things considered. I even like how they decided to market a game with two black main characters, one of them an old fat guy… but then they made the white, 30-something male the only one who wasn’t an insufferable George Lucas monstrosity.

    You win some, you lose some…

    Not that “Nick” isn’t awesome and perfect, I’m just sayin’. Even the best in the biz can screw up when it comes to this sort of thing…

    1. GiantRaven says:

      Why are you suggesting that people who want to play male in Mass Effect are somehow lesser than those who play female? That’s ridiculous. I play a male Shepard and it isn’t because I’m some lazy gamer slob with wish fulfilment issues, it’s merely because I find Meer’s voice to be the more humorous listening experience. Don’t lump everybody who plays differently to you into the same majority.

  40. X2Eliah says:

    Incidentally, that title image just begs for re-captioning with the text “VIDEOGAMES: Apparently, only kids play them”. Because, honestly, that assumption is a larger annoyance than the white male protagonist habit.

    1. bit says:

      And probably part of the cause of it.

    2. Harry says:

      Actually, it’s possible that the caption is intended to be a parody of what a typical Marketing Exec might think.

      If not, then yeah, you’re right.

  41. Race aside, theoretically if the developers were really trying to give the gamers a “character they can relate to”, then rather than thirty-something most of those protagonists should be teens and earlier twenty-somethings.
    One might argue that there should be a strong representation of overweight characters too. Obesity rates in the US are at about a third, and presumably couch potato gamers are hardly an exception, so we’re talking major representation right in the target demographic. But what do the obese have? Kung Fu Panda.

    So no, they’re not giving their target audience a “character they can relate to”. Clearly, whatever they are doing, it is something different.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Well, “can relate to” is a fuzzy concept. I think that teenage boys relate to 30-something protagonists a lot more easily than I do, though I am actually in the correct age range. There is a great deal of idealization going on in that relation.

      1. It might be argued that they are making characters that the gamers “would like to be”–older, more confident, fit, dangerous, taking no crap, yadda yadda. Not really the same as “can relate to”.

  42. Tim Van den Langenbergh says:

    I guess I’m just missing out on the whole racism and discrimination gig because I play more RPGs and strategy games and don’t care that much about shooters…

    Well, I mean FPS’s. I love Touhou, as it is just easy enough for me to be able to play and the music and characters just make the games completely addictive.

  43. Corsair65 says:

    I don’t think it has anything to do with being able to relate to the character, I think it has to do with laziness. Why come up with an original character with an original appearance when you can just transplant in Marcus Fenix or Nathan Drake and go from there after you change his outfit to the correct ratio of rusted metal to grimy leather and figure out whether his musculature is going to go from ‘Chris Redfield smuggling watermelons’ to ‘Ball of muscle with tiny head’

  44. Jonn says:

    I love how hypocritical that graphic is.

    1. Hale was replaced by an italian man, and is assisted through the first game by an English woman. (Plus, y’know, women or minorities people weren’t generally allowed in the military in 1951.)
    2. The real hero of MGS3 was the Boss, who is a woman.
    3. Drake has a number of female sidekicks and his best friend is an old guy.
    4. Chris’s partner in both story and co-op is a black African woman, and the RE series has a roughly equal balance of male and female protagonists.
    7. Of Heavy Rain’s game’s four leads, the FBI detective is the only one who’s an average 30-something white guy.
    8. Sam Fisher is in his forties as the series starts, and is currently fifty-four. His age and experience is actually a major character point. Also, that photo of him was never canonical.
    9. Commander Shepard is customizable, down to the gender.
    13. Killzone 2 and 3 have an ethnically diverse squad, and the lead character has an Eastern European background.
    14. Nico is European, not Anglo-Saxon, and GTA: SA, VCS, and CW all featured non-white protagonists. In fact, their backgrounds helped drive the plot in SA and VCS, the former of which you’ve actually played. You even made a post specifically starting with Carl Johnson.

    Basically, to make its point, the demotivator had to use an incredibly flexible definition of “30-something white guy” that includes even characters who aren’t actually 30-something, in games that have other protagonists or where the character need not even be white. If someone made a similar demotivator lumping together, say, Asian or Latin characters, everyone would be crying bloody murder.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pretend to be a black Scottish cyclops for a while. I’m only black, but I think I’ll still be able to relate to him just fine. Maybe I’ll play Beyond Good and Evil, or Mirror’s Edge, or Portal 2. Maybe Prototype 2 when it comes out. Or go back to Assassin’s Creed, maybe.

    Speaking of which, Desmond has some Middle Eastern and Italian ancestry, and now, we learn, Native American. But you, personally, referred to him as a “bland white guy” during the AC 2 playthrough. He sure is bland, but I’d hesitate to call him white, especially since he’s modeled on a French-Canadian model with Spanish ancestry.

    And seriously, you listened to MovieBob? I wouldn’t trust him to give me the time of day.

    1. Sumanai says:

      I don’t think “hypocritical” means what you think it means.

      Ignore me while I nitpick:

      1. “Replaced”? So you mean in another game of the same series they are no longer using him? How does that change the fact that he is the main character in the first two?
      2. It clearly says “protagonists”, which in case of video games tends to lean more towards “leading character” or more specifically “the one you play most of the game” not “hero” as such.
      3. Again, how does that change the fact that the protagonist is white, brown haired, 30-something male?
      4. Yet again, the partner, or other RE games, doesn’t change who or what Chris is in RE5.
      7. Good for them. But here’s a good place to note that Demotivators are not exactly meant to be an in-depth exploration on the shortcomings of various media, but a quickly consumed piece of funny. So a single “misstep” by a developer will end up mocked, while a misstep of a Demotivator will be mostly ignored.
      8. This instead is a good point to note that these sort of complaints tend to be about how characters look not what they technically are. It’s irrelevant if the character is quarter Asian and African if he still doesn’t look out of place in Scandinavia. This is because the creators can claim all sorts of things about the characters, but it can still be wrong if there are signs or proof that contradict it.
      9. Yet that is the default look that was used in every piece of advertisement and cover art until recently. It’s pretty clear there’s a canon Shepard, and that is a brown-haired, 30-something white male.
      13. Look at 8, also I have to wonder when East-Europeans stopped being white.
      14. Wait. I’m not white? Man. I bet the complaining will stop if everyone will just start using me as the protagonist in games. For note: I have a pale pink skin, short brown hair, I’m 26 and I’m male. Or maybe you’ll want to use my brother: Pale pink skin, short brown hair, 32 years old.
      Also: It’s still irrelevant what they’ve done with other games, since it doesn’t change the game in question.

      I really fail to see why you’re making such a big deal out of a Demotivator, that most likely had its characters picked either by what were available that showed the character from a right angle or were picked by how famous they were. One of them being the wrong age and one of them being the only one fitting from a line of protagonists you will be playing is pretty good. Considering it’s only supposed to highlight that there are many protagonists that fit the same mold.

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