IGN: Why We Need More Gay Characters

IGN: Why We Need More Gay Characters

Here is a link to a great piece by Luke Karmali of IGN about the lack of gay characters in video games. While he does note that representation and inclusion are up considerably in the last few years (mostly in part due to western studios such as Bioware and Naughty Dog), it is still an uphill battle to get proper and adequate representation for the LGBT community in gaming.

"Gone Home" is one the few games to feature a LGBT relationship.
“Gone Home” is one the few games to feature a LGBT relationship.

Growing up is hard. Growing up in a world where you find it nigh on impossible to catch sight of someone you can relate to is harder. The inclusion of gay characters in games leads some to believe that one day there will be no heterosexual characters they can choose to play as, that this is a slippery slope that will inevitably cause entire entries in popular franchises to be populated exclusively by LGBT characters. Such a premise is ludicrous. It’s also the exact reverse of what’s facing young lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially transgender gamers – who are represented even more poorly still – in most titles today.

I won’t say much more about the article, as the author has already said everything much more elegantly than I could ever, so please take some time and give the article a read.  For more articles about the LGBT Community and Gaming, check out these articles:

Can Video Games Alleviate LGBT Bullying

Kickstarter for Documentary about LGBT Community in Games 

Racist Games: Custer’s Revenge (Atari 2600)

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Warning: If you’re offended by crudely pixilated genitalia, look no further pass this sentence! Honestly, it’s nothing more than blocks in this scenario. Literally. 

In chronicling the games from Racist pasts, one has to start at one of the very first. Even before game’s could tell much of a story there was some pretty heavy racism in video games. Thus, we look back at the most racist games of the Atari 2600: Custer’s Revenge

Oh God! No! What am I even looking at!
Oh God! No! What am I even looking at!

Amongst racist games, this is probably one of the most well known titles. The game receive a huge backlash upon release because of it’s sexism, racism, and down right digusting nature. Released in 1982 as an adult title for the Atari 2600, the game has carried several titles over the years: Custer’s Revenge, The White Man Came (That’s one’s silly) and Westward Ho.  I should mention, there are actually several more adult video games on the Atari 2600, but Custer’s Revenge is arguably the most graphic and offensive.

How could anyone not want to play?

So what’s offensive about these 10 blocks walking into those other 10 blocks? Well, the game puts you in the role of General George Armstrong Custer. For those unaware of who General Custer is and for sake of back story to this atrocious game, General Custer was a notable general during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. His most famous and last  battle “The Battle of Little Bighorn” involved his cavalry fighting a coalition of native American tribes rebelling against the treatment of native American tribes (You know, the whole killing most of them and putting the rest on reservations. that treatment). General Custer and his men were killed at the  Battle of Big Horn,  which later came to be called Custer’s Last Stand. While I don’t want to get into which side was at fault, as certainly American History is favorable to Custer and the American cavalries , it doesn’t take a activist to know that there was much more to the battle that American history overlooks for the sake of favoring Americans. With all of this, you may be asking: What does this have to do with this horrible video game?

Well…That’s where the game comes in. We are to assume that General Custer, famously known for being slain by native American rebels, has come back from the grave to get his revenge on the people who killed him. How does he do that? Rape of course!

The point of the game is  to get a naked General Custer from the left of the screen to the right of the screen where a naked native American woman is waiting, all the while dodging spears that are being thrown.  That’s it It’s a simple, stupid game. There’s honestly not much to say about the game that can’t just be visually seen from a screenshot of it. Upon getting to the right of the screen, Custer has sex with the Native American girl up against (presumably) a cactus. Terrible. Just terrible.

 

That’s essentially all there is to say about the game. It’s horrendous and completely and utterly racist and sexist. It has grown to one of the more famous racist games to the point that there is actual fan art for the game, and a fan remake was released several years ago that depicts the racism and sexism in much greater graphics. I’ll leave you to find that fanfare if you really desire, though I highly recommend you do something more stimulating like watching paint dry or licking your shoe.

For better of worse, this game will forever go down as being of the most racist games of all time.  It’s also worth mentioning that Custer’s Revenge is the second thing you find when googling  General Custer.

 

 

Tropes vs Women in Video Games – Part 3:Damsel in Distress

The third installment in the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series has been released today. I’m not going to say anything about it,  but here’s a brief description:

This is the third installment in our three part mini-series exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this episode we examine the rare Dude in Distress role reversal and then take a look at the use of “ironic sexism” in retro inspired indie and mobile games. We conclude with an investigation of some titles that attempt to subvert or deconstruct the traditional damsel narrative.

Nintendo and Racial Under Representation

This is a picture of the character select screen from Super Smash Brother Brawl, a fighter featuring many of Nintendo’s main characters. You may notice it, but something is certainly lacking in this picture (No..It’s not MegaMan)

Nintendo has been in the video game industry for well over 30 years, and the number of franchises and characters they have created is unrivaled in the industry. However, Nintendo certainly has been slow to change on certain issues (Wi-Fi, DLC, Account Systems, hardware, etc). They’re by no means the most dynamic developer out there, despite revolutionizing the industry many times over. One issue that they seem to be trailing behind is that of racial representation in video games.

Let’s think for a moment: How many non-white Nintendo characters can you think of? How many characters of color? I can think of two: Doc Lewis from Punch-out, and maybe Ganondorf.

What gives Nintendo? Two characters out of hundreds, neither of whom are playable and one of which is a villain. There may be some characters in the Fzero universe, but who knows the characters outside Captain Falcon from Fzero? So we’re essentially left with zero, and there are certainly no protagonist who are non-white.

Another concerning issue comes from their lack of customization to include non-white players. For example, the recent Animal Crossing allows players to customize nearly every aspect of their character and city. One feature lacking is the ability to change or choose your characters skin tone. Gamers of colored have asked “Why can’t my character’s skin color match my own”?

It’s only recently that Nintendo has allowed players to choose between male and female, so why has an option for skin tone been missing from most games? Mii’s skin can be darkened or lightened, so why not in game? This isn’t isolated to Animal Crossing either, as games like Pokemon lack this ability as well.

Reasons Given for the lack of diversity:

“Most of Nintendo’s characters were created in the NES days, non-white characters would be more difficult to distinguish”

This excuse may have worked when Nintendo was first developing for arcades, but certainly the NES was powerful enough distinguish non-white characters. As I mentioned, Doc Lewis and several of the punch-out casts were characters of color, so it was certainly possible. Even McKids featured a non-white playable character. Is Nintendo really unable to do what McKids can? Regardless, Nintendo has had 20+ more years to make more characaters, and with expanding universes like the Zelda universe there’s no reason why Nintendo can’t create more diverse characters.

“Japan isn’t as diverse as we are”

I understand that Nintendo is a Japanese company, and racial diversity isn’t as big of a concern in Japan as is it here, but being one of the foremost worldwide gaming developers Nintendo has to consider a wider audience. Being a Japanese company hasn’t stop other developers from creating characters of color. Likewise, Nintendo’s mascot is an Italian plumber- I don’t think they’re letting region dictate their characters.

So there you have it. While I am singling out Nintendo, this issue goes far beyond the big N. Characters of color have traditionally been very underrepresented, and often misrepresented, in video games. Varying studies have been done on the representation of race in video games, and they hardly even come out too positive. As the video game industry progresses, it’s important that we demand diverse and interesting characters. Children who are non-white need positive heroes and protagonist just as much as their white peers.

Media Molecule Studio Director: “It takes women working on games for games to change”

Media Molecule Studio Director: “It takes women working on games for games to change”

In a recent interview on BBC Radio, Media Molecule Studio Director Siobhan Reddy addressed the issue of gender in the gaming industry. For anyone who doesn’t know of Media Molecule’s work, they’re the studio behind the real-time sock puppet life-simulator that is “Little Big Planet”

“We have a lot of women within the industry who run studios and pack a mean punch, the influence of women within the industry is pretty great, but we need to see that on the game design and programming side as well.”

What Reddy refers to is the lack of female representation in gaming, be it through the lack of female protagonist or the lack of industry focus. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, with female gamers making up nearly 50% of the gaming population, it’s certainly time for the industry to take notice and start making accurate representation of females in games and making more games that appeal to females and both males and females.

Reddy herself is in a small majority, as most studios are still run by males and the gaming industry in general is a male dominated one.   She believes by empowering females to design and make games that the gaming industry will change for the better. We’ve certainly seen the call for this in other avenues, such as the girl scouts promoting young girls to design video games.

“It takes women working on games for games to change. I know there are all sort of discussions about where it is now and where it has been but I’m interested in where it’s going… particularly like the type of things we’re making at Media Molecule and lots of other studios are making, games which are for both genders and all ages.”

So who knows, will these call for more females to enter the gaming workforce make for diverse and fair games? One can hope. Meanwhile, we can all make our Sackboys as awesomely feminine as we want.

Neat.

 

ESA: 2013 Data on Video game Consumption

The Entertainment Software Association, one of the foremost collectors of data on the video game industry, has released their 2013 data about video game consumption and use. It’s some pretty nifty information on gamers, their buying habits, and their make-up. In terms of sociology and video games, this is the bee’s knees (That’s a good thing, right?)

Let’s talk about some of the more interesting findings.

58% of American play video games:Look to your left, look to your right. Chances are the person sitting next to you is a gamer. This means that gamers are no longer in the minority. Like it or not, if you’re an American you’re most likely at least a little bit of a gamer. While this statistic doesn’t go into how it defines gamers, it shows that playing video games is now a hobby or activity that most Americans partake in.

45% of Gamers are female:gen Video games are no longer a boys club, unless you’re a game like “Bully”..then you kind of are. Females are increasingly making up a half of the gaming populations, which means that they are no longer a demographic developers can ignore.

Also interesting: The percent goes up a little when looking at “who buys video games more”. What this might mean is that guys, moreso that girls, pirate games more.

The Average age of a gamer is 30: Sorry kids. You’re no longer the key demographic for video games (You haven’t been for while). The average age of a gamer has gone up in recent years. Why? We’re seeing the first generation who grew up with the second wave of video game consoles growing up, and they’re the ones with disposable income.Tricks are still for kids, so take solace in that.

Card/Board Games make up most of online games played:World of War Craft who? typeCard games and other more traditional games make up the most online games played. Why? Most likely online gambling, but it is interesting. We don’t generally think of online poker or online gambling as “gaming” as there’s no real content to purchase or games to sell, but it’s definitely a big part of online gaming.

52% of Parents say that Video Games are Positive Parts of their kids lives: Contrary to a lot of the headlines that you’ll read about parents worrying that video games are negative to their children’s well being, the majority of parents believe them to be positive for their kids. Perhaps we’ll see the “VIDEO GAMES MADE MY 12 YEAR OLD PREGNANT” and “GAMES TURNED MY BABY INTO A MURDER” headlines disappear (They were never real).

Shooters/Action Games are still the most popular games:Americans like violence, and it shows in our video games. With games like Call of Duty still topping the charts, the most commonly bought video game is either a shooter or an action game. Cool story bro.

Video Games Sales are on the Decline

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Even though the number of gamers are growing, the sales of video games are coming down from their all time high. While this could mean it was just a burst of a bubble, other contributing factors could be the increase of mobile and free-to-play games on IOS and Android platforms.  Gamers are playing more, but spending less. This state doesn’t take into consideration the amount of money spent in game. Also, purchasing games is becoming more and more popular, most likely due to the importance of Steam and other downloadable services.

So there are some interesting facts from this year’s study. The ESA is made up of individuals from all over the gaming industries in very well known and popular gaming developers, so it’s a trusty sample of respondents coming from all over. For more stats and information about ESA, please visit their website for the complete report.

Is Nintendo Being More Gender Inclusive?

With E3 having wrapped up last week, we’re now left with the empty void of having to now wait for many of the games announced to actually come out. Of course there were a lot of headlines: Microsoft announcing ridiculous restrictions on their console, Sony relentlessly attacking Microsoft for their restrictions on their console, and then Microsoft reversing their decision on said restrictions. Fun stuff. Perhaps the least provocative at E3 was Nintendo, who chose not to do a formal E3 conference, but instead a Nintendo direct released online. While I could go on and on about what they did or didn’t announce, I’ll spare you the rant. However, one interesting thing to come out of Nintendo this year is the number of female protagonists in their showing this year.

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Of the games Nintendo Highlighted this year, most of the games featured female protagonists, or at least playable female characters. This comes as more of surprise, as many of the games with female protagonists are series that have traditionally had male protagonists only. Does this mean Nintendo is being more gender inclusive in their games? Have they heard the pleas of female gamers and well known female gaming critics like Anita Sarkeesian? Is the world going mad? SHOULD I SELL ALL MY VIDEO GAMES FOR CANNED BEANS?

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the games Nintendo previewed this year.

Super Mario World 3D

The newest Super Mario game to be announced, Super Mario World 3D features Princess Peach as a main playable character. This is the first time she has been playable in a mainline Mario platformer since the American Super Mario 2 on the NES in 1987, which was only a fluke because the game it was sprite swapped with “Doki Doki Panic” had a female character! Of course the game also features Mario and friends in Cat suits clawing around and meowing like cats, so…maybe they thought Peach would fit right in? The amount of furry drawings will be horrendous.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Returning to the franchise after being absent from Donkey Kong platformers since Donkey Kong County 3 in 1996 is Dixie Kong. She joins Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong on their second outing from Retro studios.  Fans of DKC will already know what Dixie can bring to the table, as she was the starring character in both Country 2 and 3. As long as we don’t see that creepy Baby character that occupanied Dixie in DKC3, I’ll be happy. Also, I think there’s a healthy chance we’ll see her show her face in the newest Smash Brothers.

 

Pikmin 3

One of the bigger surprises is the inclusion of a female character in Nintendo’s Pikmin 3, which will release later this summer. Up until this point the franchise had only focused on Captain Olimar (and later joined by Louie) as he charted an unknown land were he assigns tasks based on the color of the pikmin’s skin. Brittany, seen in pink,  joins Alph and Charlie on the Pikmin planet for some adventure and countless death of Pikmin at the hands of other larger animals. We’ll see how she fares in a few weeks.

Beyond these main titles, many of their other games showed look to include playable female characters, including Mario Kart Wii U, The Wonderful 101, and Super Smash Brothers X.

So there you have it. Is Nintendo turning a new leaf on their perspective on female gamers?  Either way, it’s refreshing. As many analysts and gamers pointed out, companies such as Microsoft showed no games with female protagonists this E3, so Nintendo really is out in front this year. This is kind of new for Nintendo, as Nintendo has historically been a much more old fashioned kind of developer. Yes, they have had franchises with female leads (Metroid, Drill Dozer), but for their most popular franchises like Mario and Zelda they have typically relied upon female characters that are stereotypes or cliches. Perhaps with the advent of the Wii’s popularity in recent year they now know they can no longer ignore the population of female gamers.

Can Video Games Teach Young Girls To Be Rich?

Can Video Games Teach Young Girls To Be Rich?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanshapiro/2013/05/09/can-video-games-teach-our-daughters-to-be-rich/

These two articles came out in the last few days, and they examine how children’s gaming is gendered, and ask the question “what are games teaching or not teaching our daughters”. The authors ask how video games can be used to teach young girls the attributes and qualities that young women often lack (like the drive to be the financial breadwinner) that young men seemingly gain. They evaluate video games as tools of socialization that are instilling these qualities in boys, and not girls.

Super Princess Peach teaches young girls to save the day by using their emotions.

Media at large paints women as the damsel in distress much more often than as a strong female lead, and video games are no different. The princess role is as old as writing itself, and characters like Peach and Zelda are certainly only modern interpretation. Even though we’ve seen Peach take the reigns in games like Super Princess Peach, Super Paper Mario, and every Mario Sports title ever (SHE CHEATS IN MARIO STRIKERS. YOU KNOW IT. I KNOW IT), lead female roles in video games are still rare.  Certain franchises have been more progressive than others, enabling players to choose between genders (See Mass Effect, Pokemon, etc) but the majority of story driven games are often centered around males; there’s some, but not too many. Likewise, games with female main characters tend to have their protagonist silent (see Metroid, Portal 2)

Final Fantasy XIII Prominently features Lightning as the main character…A lot of male gamers..didn’t like her (Then again they hated everyone in the game)

But is their hypothesis true? Can video games be used to make young girls more ambitious? Certainly. Why not. Hey, ok. Video games are inevitably a tool of socialization in today’s world; young boys and girls are learning lessons and characters from their on screen personas ( I learned how to be a battle toad from Battle Toads). Thus, it’s important that young girls have strong role models in their games, rather than merely pushing gender roles upon our young.  Likewise, it’s up to us to monitor and know about the games our kids our playing and to choose games and stories that reflect the ideas and attributes we want to instill in our kids.

Some awesome games with strong female characters:

  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Tomb Raider (Eh)
  • Portal 2
  • Metroid Prime Triology

Please comment or share your thoughts, favorite games with female leads, or anything!