Unfair Expectations

Video games are a developing culture. That is not to say I am defending video games for the many questionable actions they have taken over the years, but I feel it is important to note video games are very young when compared to most other media and entertainment.  Yasmin B. Kafai, Melissa Cook, and Deborah A. Field write an article “Black Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about diversity in a Teen Virtual World, which explores the many issues plaguing virtual reality and character creation with these games as they deal with race. It is no secret that video games struggle with diversity whether it is race, weight, gender, or sexuality.

Like other media video games deal with similar issues of marketing, typically games featuring main leads that are not male, attractive, white, and straight don’t sell as well as those who stick to that “standard”. But here is where things can get more complicated. Television and movies don’t work within individual bubbles.  If you want to see a movie with a strong white male character one can go watch plenty of things on that, while the same can be said about strong females, or funny females, or black families, they may not be equal in number but there is something for everyone theoretically. But video games work in virtual reality, they are meant to give players control of a character and thus that character should be relatable. People want to play characters and design characters that look like them or look how they wish to appear.

This is great! Video games can allow one to do this! But in many ways it becomes unfair, and video games get held to a standard that other media is not held to. For example I don’t a TV show with a female main lead and expert her to appear as a tall thin white male just because I am watching, no the TV show is about a character who is not me, and so it is fine. Within video games however players just force this logic upon game designers.  Thus writers are forced to write very bland protagonists so that the player can customize anything over the character (such as being male, female, black, white, gay, fat etc.) and have no impact on the story.

Through this video games individually must act within a bubble that gives the player control to customize their hero to become whatever they want. Everyone must be represented in each game and that is unfair. Players in a way have grown to expect too much choice even though the technology has only recently gotten to the point where this is viable.

For a great example of this I would recommend watching this video from HAWP, an online video shorts series. In this episode they discuss how Saints Row the Third as being a very silly game but it actually acts as one of the most open and diverse games to ever be created.

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