Inclusivity in video games
Video games and software development share an unfortunate “feature”: Both are dominated by white men. But recently some progress could be made on either front. Developers share their experiences with gatekeeping, sexism, and racism; and more video games tell inclusive stories with diverse characters.
Don’t get me wrong: This is just the beginning. For each small success, a huge pile of rottenness waits to be poked. This I learned while expressing my dismay for John Bain’s views on GamerGate. Apparently daring to speak his name immediately summons the Gamergate apologists. As important as it is to unearth the bad, we should also praise the achievements along the way.
Contrary to widespread belief I’m not a big time gamer. Yes, I do own an enormous amount of video games. However, I rarely play them because most games are too complicated for me. Thank you, dear game developer who implements a super-duper easy mode, I’m grateful indeed! That aside, over the years a handful of games crossed my path that feature an inclusive story and gameplay mechanics.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
At first glance, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim doesn’t present itself as particularly focused on inclusivity. However, one of the core strengths of open world and role-playing games is their openness: The player can create a character to their liking and more or less do whatever they want. In case of Skyrim same-sex and interracial marriage is possible. For a game released in 2011 this can be considered quite progressive.
One of the most well-known video game series got a fantastic reboot in 2013. The first two installments, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, were written by Rhianna Pratchett. The games feature the lead character Lara Croft. When Tomb Raider was first released in 1996, the notion of a female protagonist was revolutionary, and not something the publisher accepted without a fight.
Today female characters and especially protagonists are more common in games. But some publishers are still under the impression, that “women don’t sell.” Most recently voiced by the wretched management of Ubisoft. The games industry “executive and management men” are truly a disgusting lot.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us Part I and especially Part II tell deep stories. PTSD and loss of loved ones lead to a never-ending spiral of blinding revenge. Not only do the characters commit unforgivable acts, but the player is also forced to go with them and learn all sides of the story. An eye-opening experience.
Homosexuality has become a widely accepted orientation; very interesting indeed because The Last of Us is set in a contemporary timeline. The transgender character Lev played by Ian Alexander is a welcome addition. Go watch season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery for the fantastic characters Gray Tal, also played by Ian, and the non-binary Adira Tal, played by Blu del Barrio.
Life is Strange
The Life is Strange series (Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and Life is Strange 2) tackles a wide variety of topics. Amongst them are physical and mental abuse, suicide, homosexuality, immigration, and racism. While the games use magic systems as a mechanic, the stories itself are grounded in reality and relatable for teenagers and adults alike.
Life is Strange 2 let me experience what racism in the US feels like. It is gut-wrenching. The interactive nature of games conveys feelings in a way, books or movies cannot. Good games make the player a part of the story. The Life is Strange games achieve this with powerful stories.
Tell Me Why
The story is all about being transgender: coming out, transitioning, and living as a transgender person. Tell Me Why has been developed by the studio behind Life is Strange, which becomes apparent in the gameplay and story that covers a very complicated but important and relevant topic.
Transphobia has been rightly compared with genocide. I truly hope serious games contribute to the education of a wider audience. Life is Strange 2 made me feel racism and thus deepened my desire for a united peoples of the Earth. Maybe Tell Me Why can do something similar for others and foster acceptance and respect for trans and queer people.