Everyone Games, but we still need diverse games!
#GX3 Guest post by Rhadamus @Rhadamus
If you attended GX3 the past weekend, you might recognize me as the guy who cosplayed Kaidan Alenko, a Dragon Age Templar, and Little Mac! GX3 was my second year in attendance; GaymerX-2 was actually the very first convention I had ever attended! The positivity I experienced during GX2 actually pushed me to continue attending conventions and continue cosplaying!
My overall experience this weekend was incredibly positive. I met many people I’d previously only interacted with over Twitter, and was able to finally put faces to names. I had lots of pictures taken of me cosplaying, sat around and talked with lots of new people, attended some great panels, and emptied my wallet because of takoyaki. Being in a queer safe space definitely helped me suspend my heavy introvert barriers and genuinely interact with a wide array of people.
The conversations I had with other attendees and my experiences attending panels will be my primary focus here, but I want to make something clear:
My intent is not to throw Bioware games under the bus. They are wonderful, I love their games, and I cosplay their characters regularly—however, they should be held accountable and can/should always strive to do better. As they have continuously brought in more concepts of diversity/inclusivity into the gaming industry, I feel that they are the ones to look to first for the types of changes I’d like to see from major developers.
I unfortunately could not attend all the panels I wanted because there was just such a myriad of excellent choices, but there are two I’d like to focus on:
“Diversity in Games – What’s Next?” and “Building Believable Fantasy Worlds”
I’ve been playing video games pretty much my entire life, and have always had a habit of trying to insert myself into the role of the player character, when possible. As a Filipino, here are some stereotypes others (especially those unfamiliar with “Asian Culture”) placed on me throughout my grade school days:
-Knowing martial arts/how to wield a sword/how to throw fireballs
-Wearing straw hats and sandals and living in a house that smells like fish
-Being good with math/science/technology/musical instruments
-Having really strict parents who were secretly ninjas, wandering mystic healers, or stingy merchants
I’d like to thank popular media for these. But of course, I only exaggerate a little bit– My parents weren’t that strict. Whether or not any of these stereotypical statements held true in my life, the way people of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) descent have been portrayed in most forms of media could use a bit of an update:
[Caption: “Are you a Renegade enough Spectre to rescue the Salarian Councilor from Space Ninja Kai Leng!?” (Bad Dudes VS Dragon Ninja, 1988 and Mass Effect 3, 2012)]
During the “Diversity in Games” panel, the statement was made by Tanya DePass:
“I’d like to pretend that I exist in this world.” Such a simple, but strong statement. A statement that particularly resonates with me. As I said, I have my tendency to place myself into the role of the player character. Thus, I would hope that in some way, shape, or form, I can express myself and my will through the actions made by my virtual avatar.
For a game series as focused around player choices as the Dragon Age series, I have found myself lost in the world of Thedas for countless hours. And I have found myself continually impressed by the growing number of choices given to the player in terms of how a character can look, who they may romance, and how much of a jerk you can be to bald ancient elves.
But one thing has always stood out: If I make my player character look like me (or someone else with Filipino features) this process often takes a long time in the character creator… but in addition, there is a high likelihood that no one I encounter in game that will look like they share the same heritage or origin.
The statement was made that “No game can be everything to everyone.” I agree. However, the next statement left me with a bad taste in my mouth:
“Why are there no Asians in Dragon Age…? Well… No countries in Dragon Age have Asian people.”
[Caption: My response to the statement: “What? Come on…”]
I know that this statement was not made out of malice, but still, I would ask that some consideration be given to a portion of your game’s audience that appear to be just as dedicated to the franchise as any other cross section of the consumer population. I recall that during this panel, there were at least 4 people of API-descent who were sitting in the front row, including myself, and we were all cosplaying as Bioware characters. Personally, ill-intended or not, those words sting a little bit.
Fun fact: The number of API cosplayers who were in Bioware costumes during both of these panels, totaled about… seven. That’s almost the same number of Asian characters in the entire galaxy of the first Mass Effect game.
It’s not that I would ask that the DA team write in a new country where “Asian-looking” characters live. (This could be even more harmful if done poorly) But perhaps the team could include facial presets that would make it easier to create facial features that represent a broader spectrum of people. And then take a sampling of these different types of facial features and skin colors and spread them more widely among all the characters in the game. That way, more people are represented and included.
When you mention the ridiculousness of another company’s claim made about women being difficult to animate and thus aren’t included, yet your own game includes a 9-foot tall bull man…I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch to include Asian facial features and skin tones, even in just the background characters. My main point here is that I just ask that content creators look at their audiences—especially when you want your fantasy world to be believable. A Eurocentric fantasy world where people of color are rare doesn’t only lack plausibility for us, but also feels uncomfortable (and borderline hostile). I just trust that creators can do better. They haven’t failed, but rather, have a long way to go. So when it’s said that there are no countries in Dragon Age that have Asians… I feel like there’s a missed opportunity for discussions of thoughts like I’m sharing here. I felt stifled when the floor opened for questions. I wouldn’t want to be “That Guy” who brings up the point during Q&A and kills the positive vibe of the convention.
I could keep writing, but there are so many examples of how the portrayal and inclusion of API-people could be improved in entertainment media. These are just the opinions of an adult consumer who has repeatedly seen the same types of depictions from childhood until now. This issue is becoming less about any particular instance where a person of API descent was portrayed in a potentially harmful or stereotypical way. This is an issue of the normalization of inclusion—so that when there are API characters in games, there’s enough representation and variety in characterization that dipping into stereotypical roles or tropes becomes less harmful—because that character’s inclusion isn’t tokenized. All characters need not be completely original molds, but intentional use of stereotypes should be done carefully and deliberately. David Gaider touched on this briefly when discussing the conception of Dorian’s character in DA: Inquisition.
I carry the same hopes for inclusion and variety in characterization for women, more groups of people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and other people who have experienced marginalization due to their identities. And I understand that it will take time for media of all forms to get there. So let’s keep talking about how we can do better.
In a queer safe space, the dialogues hopefully can take place a little more productively. While many of us have been oppressed in some way, and we are able to connect more easily with others because of this, remember that we aren’t single issue people, because we don’t live single issue lives. There are tons of opportunities to listen and understand and help others when people with different experiences are sharing. Remember not only to respect the opinions and experiences of others, but to know that sometimes it’s important to sit back, listen, and learn.
[Caption: Sometimes you gotta hold it down as the only Filipino crew member on the Normandy.]