“Though Gamergate started in 2014, its specter still haunted those who made, played and cared about video games this year.
No matter your feelings about the hashtag’s goals — or even if you really believed it was “about ethics in game journalism” — Gamergate at least opened up seams of discussion about how women and minorities are treated in the gaming world, both on screens and in its communities.
As many of the public-facing fires died down, those involved in every aspect of gaming were re-examining their world. While the discussion about diversity didn’t start or end with Gamergate, the vitriolic Internet war was too big, and too fresh, to forget.
First off, who plays games?
As video games have become easier to access — thanks to mobile devices and browsers — the playing population has broadened beyond simply those who invest in a console or computer. Data now show that everyone is playing games.
Pew just released a study saying that 50% of adult men and 48% of adult women — a nearly even amount — play games. That’s backed up with 2015 data from the Electronic Software Association, the main gaming lobbying arm, which says those who play games are 56% male and 44% female. (The ESA’s statistics also include those under 18, which may account for some disparity.)
It’s now a stone fact: women are playing games nearly as much as men. While that truth may not be obvious in some of the marketing materials aimed at game-buyers, creators seem to be getting the message.At this year’s E3, America’s flagship gaming tradeshow, you didn’t have to search long to find games with female protagonists.
Newly-announced titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, ReCore,Mirror’s Edge 2 and Lara Croft GO! all featured female leads. There were even more options that offered gender parity between playable characters, whether it was the fully customizable male and female protagonists in Fallout 4 andCall of Duty: Black Ops 3,or the dual storylines of twins Jacob and Evie Frye in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Cortho and Elizabeth in Dishonored 2. It was truly exciting to see characters without ridiculous proportions take the lead in games — rather than serving as objects to be rescued in the final castle.
Adjusting the color balance
Things are a bit worse if you aren’t a white female, though. Most of these heroines aren’t minorities, and it’s far more rare to see a character who looks like you anywhere in gaming if you’re from any nonwhite racial or ethnic background. That’s true even though that same Pew study said that black and Latino players actually equal or outnumber white players by a small margin; 53% of blacks and 51% of Latinos said they played games, compared to 48% of whites.
There were a pitiful amount of playable minority characters in games from 2015, excluding characters you could customize in a character creator. Until Dawn featured two minority characters in its playable cast of eight; Halo 5 had Sergeant Locke; Battlefield Hardline starred cop Nick Mendoza; Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China featured badass warrior Shao Jun, along with non-playable characters like Tales From the Borderlands Sasha.
That’s really not a lot to be proud of, since few other games broke that mold…”