All technologies considered: NPR
There is a myth that only white nerds play and make video games. At this week’s video game extravaganza in Los Angeles called the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft did little to change that image.
At the company’s E3 press conference, there was an invisible announcer, but there was only one woman who was on stage and spoke. Bonnie Ross, who heads up the Microsoft studio that produces her hit game Halo, spoke for less than two minutes.
“When you think of the Halo universe, you think of it as a real place inhabited by real characters,” Ross said during his brief appearance on stage.
Leigh Alexander, who writes about gaming culture and business for the Gamasutra website, is an avid gamer but says Microsoft has turned her off her Xbox console.
“That branding never really appealed to me, and when I watched Microsoft’s press conference, I felt the same way,” says Alexander. “I didn’t experience any diversity.”
It’s a complaint that has haunted the gaming industry since its inception.
“I think that’s a fair comment,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft vice president for devices and studios. “We are very aware of whether we have women who are on stage for us, telling the story, playing certain games? I think we had a few yesterday, telling our story, but we could do more; we want to do more.”
But what was on stage mirrored what was in the games.
One game among this year’s titles has sparked an internet storm. Assassin’s Creed Unity – the latest iteration of the franchise – is set on the eve of the French Revolution. The game, developed by Ubisoft, will be available on Microsoft’s Xbox One as well as Sony’s PlayStation 4. Players can play as up to four characters, but none of them are female.
In an interview with gaming site Polygon, Unity creative director Alex Amancio said having a female assassin was “a lot of extra production work”. Twitter lit up and criticism piled up under the hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate. Game reviewer Alexander thinks Amancio’s comments are telling.
“What their response reveals is that they didn’t,” she says. “That from the beginning it was not a problem.”
Alexander was also among many – including game designers – who wondered why animating a female character was so difficult.
“I think they have to assume they’re going to have to animate all these flowing dresses, flowing hair, shaking tits and things like that,” she says. “[It’s] a really interesting insight into how technicians in the video game industry view women’s bodies.”
But Alexander says it’s also curious because Ubisoft put female protagonists in previous versions of the game; a statement from Ubisoft indicates that it is committed to diversity and will continue to seek to showcase strong female characters.
To the company’s credit, actress, comedian, and gamer Aisha Tyler has hosted its E3 press conference for the past three years. Tyler says that initially she received a lot of flak from a segment of the gaming community who refused to believe she was actually gaming.
“Coming and telling me that something that I’ve lived with and loved since I was little is illegitimate, that I’m lying about it,” Tyler says, “I’m literally saying to somebody’s face, ‘F – – k you’ – and I made it to this floor.”
Tyler says she loves games like Halo and Gears of War. But, she says, there’s a large segment of gamers who fit the white-lonely-nerdy guy stereotype.
“This is a band that was left out and now they’re turning around and they’re leaving out, and the irony and the hypocrisy of that is extraordinary,” Tyler said. “So I’m calling a lot of people about it. So nobody’s letting you into your club and now you’ve got one and you don’t want to let anyone else in and you know you’re just full of them right now. moment .”
Tyler says that over time the criticism of him has diminished. Although the first gamers may have been white men, today nearly half are women, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, African Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 are spending more time playing video games. than young whites. Sadly, 85% of the people making the games are white and male.
“So look at me, an African-American man running the American branch of a Japanese company,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. He says Nintendo cares about diversity, but it has a higher priority.
“We look at it as a way for people to have fun and the way the characters are or the way we approach the business is really from that perspective,” he says.
Nintendo’s new lineup notably features the princess from its hit game Zelda as a warrior. And with its first Wii console — which focused on fitness games — Nintendo expanded its market among women. In 2013, the global games industry surpassed $90 billion in revenue. The fastest growth was in mobile and online games, which are more diverse. Alexander, the reviewer, says that now that console games are being played online, major game companies should expand their roster of characters.
“Competitive online games were very present at E3, and no one really wants to buy them and play them only with 17-year-old boys,” Alexander said.
And certainly the controversy around Assassin’s Creed Unity has shown that on the Internet, players are ready to fight not only to win but also to be heard.