Videogame Characters "Lack Diversity," Study Finds

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Videogame Characters "Lack Diversity," Study Finds


Social psychologist Dmitri Williams of the University of Southern California [http://www.usc.edu/] says videogame characters lack ethnic and gender diversity, which can lead to "identity formation" problems among children.

Williams' study examined "the top 150 games" across nine platforms and all ratings, with weighting applied based on each game's popularity. He found that less than three percent of videogame characters were "recognizably Hispanic," and of those that were, all were non-playable supporting characters. Women, children, Natives and the elderly were also lacking in proportionate numbers; despite women making up 40 percent of gamers, he noted, only ten percent of playable game characters were female.

"Latino children play more videogames than white children. And they're really not able to play themselves. For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve," Williams said.

"Ironically, they may even be less likely to become game makers themselves, helping to perpetuate the cycle," he continued. "Many have suggested that games function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math."

African-Americans appeared in proportion to their real-world numbers, according to the study, but they mainly show up in sports titles and those that "reinforce stereotypes," such as the 50 Cent [http://www.50bloodonthesand.com/us/] games.

But as TG Daily [http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/43437/98/] points out, the study has two major limitations: First, that many games feature non-human characters, and second, many first-person perspective games never give players a look at who they actually are. The study only looked at games that included visible, human characters.

"The characters the developers put in the games do not match the real world," Williams said, although he admitted that his possible explanations for that fact were simply "informed guesses." But from a more practical perspective, he did have one piece of advice for developers. ""These are highly underserved groups," he said. "It's a missed sales opportunity."

via: GamePolitics [http://gamepolitics.com/2009/07/30/research-video-game-characters-lack-ethnic-amp-gender-diversity]


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L.B. Jeffries

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Gah, this is such an irritating issue to discuss with people because everyone feels like there is some hidden insinuation going on. When someone points out that statistically there is a severe lack of Latino or Black characters in games, Caucasians bristle because they feel like they're being accused of something they're not. It's just stating a fact, one that could probably do with adjusting since I don't think most players particularly mind who they're playing as.

It's also just more complicated than add more diversity. Japanese developers are selling to a pretty much homogeneous audience and that's a huge chunk of video games. Most of their characters use abstract art but the skin color is Caucasian. The study also addresses the fact that most developers would prefer to keep their avatars as abstract as possible because it's cheaper. Just slap a pair of gloves and a helmet onto the character and suddenly they could be anybody.

There definitely ought to be more diverse NPC's in games but it's not like many shooters have much of a story anyways. You have to factor in that these aren't movies, no one is interested in listening to anyone regardless of who they are when they want to be blowing things up.

So I guess I'm just pointing out that it's a lot more complex than just saying one group is underrepresented. Games aren't a TV show, I don't sit and watch people talk unless it's a very specific genre. If you wanted to do a study like this properly, examine RPG's and adventure games for ethnic diversity.
 

Booze Zombie

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You know what's even better than diversity? Not giving a shit about what colour someone is.

Seriously, there's noting I'd hate more than a game called Diversity where every person of every colour and creed runs around being awesome and super and none of them can die because they're all AWESOME.
 

Nargleblarg

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What the hell did anyone ever play GTA 4 now tell me how does niko and little jacob "lack diverstiy" they're practicaly stereotypes.
 

Pandalisk

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You mean all women arnt sexy things to google my eyes over?
and the white man isnt a leader for no other reason than noone else wants to?
and the black man isnt able to rip a man in half but dies all the time early on in the game/Life.
 

VaioStreams

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I personally don't care what color my game character is. what i care more about is story line and character traits/personality. which brings me to this statement. I'm tired of space marines.
 

Legion

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Booze Zombie said:
You know what's even better than diversity? Not giving a shit about what colour someone is.
Exactly. I didn't play GTA San Andreas and think "Damn, I really can't identify with this black, ghetto dwelling gangster. Rockstar are not allowing me to be me."

They are called characters for a reason.
 

Jumplion

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L.B. Jeffries said:
A agree, and case in point for the first paragraph, the two posts that came after you...

All of this is just statistics, he's not attacking the industry, the guy is just providing some information as to how much "variety" is in games.

Booze Zombie said:
You know what's even better than diversity? Not giving a shit about what colour someone is.

Seriously, there's noting I'd hate more than a game called Diversity where every person of every colour and creed runs around being awesome and super and none of them can die because they're all AWESOME.
You know what would be even better? Having a variety of characters that are not just support characters or the enemy. Or better yet, having the person's origin's conflict with the story and actually have some impact, I could imagine that if a character hated blacks and you were a black character eventually he'd stop hating them. Could break some new ground in characterization and diversity in games, who knows.

Freakout456 said:
What the hell did anyone ever play GTA 4 now tell me how does niko and little jacob "lack diverstiy" they're practicaly stereotypes.
Okay, 1 game out of 150 across 9 platforms and all ratings is now the rule?
 

plastic_window

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I don't see why I should trust what this study says when they have no proof to back up what they have said. They've counted the number of white male protagonists in games and then said:
Malygris said:
"Latino children play more videogames than white children. And they're really not able to play themselves. For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve," Williams said.
It makes logical sense that this might happen, but there's no evidence provided to back up this theory. It's all just speculation at the moment.

I agree that it is predominantly white males that feature as the main character for most games, but I don't think this is necessarily doing harm to the people playing the games. As has been said before, there are games in which you can change your skin colour or gender, and gamers who don't care what skin-colour or underwear they are wearing.
 

The Bandit

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L.B. Jeffries said:
Gah, this is such an irritating issue to discuss with people because everyone feels like there is some hidden insinuation going on. When someone points out that statistically there is a severe lack of Latino or Black characters in games, Caucasians bristle because they feel like they're being accused of something they're not. It's just stating a fact, one that could probably do with adjusting since I don't think most players particularly mind who they're playing as.

It's also just more complicated than add more diversity. Japanese developers are selling to a pretty much homogeneous audience and that's a huge chunk of video games. Most of their characters use abstract art but the skin color is Caucasian. The study also addresses the fact that most developers would prefer to keep their avatars as abstract as possible because it's cheaper. Just slap a pair of gloves and a helmet onto the character and suddenly they could be anybody.

There definitely ought to be more diverse NPC's in games but it's not like many shooters have much of a story anyways. You have to factor in that these aren't movies, no one is interested in listening to anyone regardless of who they are when they want to be blowing things up.

So I guess I'm just pointing out that it's a lot more complex than just saying one group is underrepresented. Games aren't a TV show, I don't sit and watch people talk unless it's a very specific genre. If you wanted to do a study like this properly, examine RPG's and adventure games for ethnic diversity.
It's not a lack of comfort with the subject, it's a lack of the subject's relevance. WHY is it necessary to add every color of the rainbow and every walk of life to every game? Because of... identity formation problems? What the hell does that even mean? You're telling me that a poor Latino kid is going to somehow forget that he's a poor Latino kid because he's playing as a white guy?

Game characters need more diversity, yes, but in the "space marines are boring" sense. Games use too many stereotypes, and it's getting old. The LAST thing games need is some political correctness quota to fulfill. All that's likely to do is create more stereotypes that developers throw in so they have a Hispanic guy and an old guy. All forms of media already do it with black people. Even when the black character is the main character, he's STILL stereotyped.
 

Sparrow

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What? Seriously? How pointless is this topic?

All the most succesful games will to appeal to the 18 - 35 male audience, because it's the biggest portion of the game buying market. Odds on this market will also be white too.

Not that any of them would really care if they were black, but you get the point.
 

ultracheeser

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3 years of gaming and this is the first time I've noticed the "lack of Diversity". I think video games are very diverse, regardless of the statistics.
 

L.B. Jeffries

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The Bandit said:
L.B. Jeffries said:
In which I jabber a lot.
It's not a lack of comfort with the subject, it's a lack of the subject's relevance. WHY is it necessary to add every color of the rainbow and every walk of life to every game? Because of... identity formation problems? What the hell does that even mean? You're telling me that a poor Latino kid is going to somehow forget that he's a poor Latino kid because he's playing as a white guy?

Game characters need more diversity, yes, but in the "space marines are boring" sense. Games use too many stereotypes, and it's getting old. The LAST thing games need is some political correctness quota to fulfill. All that's likely to do is create more stereotypes that developers throw in so they have a Hispanic guy and an old guy. All forms of media already do it with black people. Even when the black character is the main character, he's STILL stereotyped.
Fair enough, your argument ends up with the same conclusion as mine. I'm just bored of playing generically angry white men. Part of what makes games fun is roleplaying and experimenting.
 

SilentHunter7

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Malygris said:
He found that less than three percent of videogame characters were "recognizably Hispanic," and of those that were, all were non-playable supporting characters.
Someone hasn't played Gears co-op.

Also, how do they factor in games where you never see the protagonist? Halo, for instance.

They also failed to mention Mass Effect, where it seems that they followed the theory that in a few centuries race will be so mixed, that it will be indistinguishable [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Race_of_the_Future]. Or else everyone is just really, really tan, I don't know.

Or any western RPG, for that matter. Nowadays any WRPG worth it's salt allows some sort of customization. In the big budget ones, the customizing options are practically limitless.
 

Jumplion

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The Bandit said:
It's not a lack of comfort with the subject, it's a lack of the subject's relevance. WHY is it necessary to add every color of the rainbow and every walk of life to every game? Because of... identity formation problems? What the hell does that even mean? You're telling me that a poor Latino kid is going to somehow forget that he's a poor Latino kid because he's playing as a white guy?
Money.

They're a huge untapped well of profit to be made to actually make a game where the gay guy isn't a stereotype and actually has conflict with the characters. But besides that, there's no harm in adding a little bit of sprinkles in. It's not adding every color of the rainbow, you're putting words into his mouth, this is all purely statistical and shows that gaming just needs to open up a bit. When was the last time you've seen a women not portrayed as a sex toy? A Black guy not a gastah? A latino also not a Gangstah? Or just a Gay guy?

I won't say the other forms of media are innocent, this happens across all media like TV, Movies, and Books, but that doesn't mean we still can't try can we?

Game characters need more diversity, yes, but in the "space marines are boring" sense. Games use too many stereotypes, and it's getting old. The LAST thing games need is some political correctness quota to fulfill. All that's likely to do is create more stereotypes that developers throw in so they have a Hispanic guy and an old guy. All forms of media already do it with black people. Even when the black character is the main character, he's STILL stereotyped.
This, however, I regretfully agree with. But why can't we just do something about it, it's not as hard as we make it out to be. Just put in a few dashes of ethnicities as a major role, maybe like an engineer in a space-ship or something (though if that guy's Asian, HIGH-OHH!). I'm not saying it's neccisary, but it would be nice to see something other than the "space marine guy" as you said.
 

RebelRising

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I clicked on this article to see what a study made of the generic and overused character archetypes that make up most lead characters and NPCs, and how to develop better writing and more diverse personalities in gaming beyond the damsel in distress or space marine.

Instead, it's about race. Again. *sigh*
 

Jumplion

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SilentHunter7 said:
Someone hasn't played Gears co-op.
Once again, one game out of 150 across 9 platforms of all ratings makes the rule? Or to be fair, two games out of 150 across 9 platforms of all ratings make the rule? (previous post)
 

ItsAChiaotzu

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Um, gotta say.

Who cares?

The reasons they're mainly white males is because that's the most simple character to make, and can't really be called offensive.

Besides, a lot of very popular games are made by white males, and they probably don't want to make a game about an elderly black woman just to please certain minorities.
 

Florion

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We blame racism in games on the developers for not making games diverse enough. I'm sure developers could blame us, the audience, for not being receptive enough and not digging enough out of our pockets. The sad thing is that most sensible people really enjoy games that stray from the angry, ripped, white man protagonist, it's just that the 18-35 white male demographic is happy to be catered to and feels no obligation to broaden its horizons. It probably doesn't even realize it's being covertly racist by not being offended by the lack of diversity.