We got an early Christmas present last year when Overwatch poster-girl, Tracer, officially came out of the closet as Blizzard Entertainment released their latest webcomic Reflections. This was a huge revelation as openly gay Ubisoft lead writer, Lucien Soulban, has previously written that most triple-A publishers are too afraid that such a move would damage sales, tending to stick to minor, side characters.
Overwatch has been pretty vocal in the past with wanting a varied and representative cast. The game celebrates the backgrounds of its diverse cast from around the world, has introduced female characters with non-standard silhouettes, released a character who falls within the autistic spectrum, and earlier this year made strides by introducing a playable (visibly) older woman – a character architype which is oddly missing from many games. For a game that has seemingly gone out of its way to be this inclusive, it almost seems odd that we haven’t had confirmation of an LGBT+ character up until now. And Blizzard isn’t done yet: in response to a fan question, Blizzard confirmed that there are “multiple” LGBT+ characters in the game.
With it being LGBT history month in the UK, now is as good as ever to look into why all forms of diversity in gaming, and by extent all media, is important.
Reaffirmation of self-image
Growing up is difficult enough with schoolwork, friendships to maintain, and various other social pressures. Growing up is even harder when you don’t have anyone you can relate to – you likely didn’t have this problem if you don’t fall into a minority. Simply turn on the TV, open a book, or turn your head to the left; representation and reaffirmation of your gender, sexuality and colour of your skin is there.
Always saving some damsel in distress or watching a camera that consistently focuses in on a female characters more suggestive features, a passing glance at older video games will be far more than enough to tell you that games used to be made by and for white heterosexual men. However, as Soulban demonstrates, games are now made by, and more importantly played by, a more diverse demographic than this. These people deserve the same reaffirmation that straight white men enjoy.
This isn’t exclusive to sexuality either. Speaking to Wakemag, college student Simone Ritchie recalls how she used to draw herself with blonde hair as a child because she thought it was prettier than her naturally dark hair. She goes on to say that she believes that if the media she consumed as a child has shown a more accurate representation of who she was and contained someone she could resonate with that she may have been more willing to embrace who she was at a younger age.
Educating against prejudices
Whether we like it or not, the media we consume has an effect on us. We subconsciously absorb it, and when put to good use, it can be used to promote empathy and tolerance.
Games are a safe and familiar environment to many which can be used to introduce different cultures with a small or non-existent platform in current media to those in communities who may not normally be exposed to these groups. Dialogs can be opened where these minorities can introduce themselves in a way that may feel ‘less threatening’ to a more conservative audience.
Over time exposure can make groups feel less alien. Audiences may even begin to understand and emphasise with the difficulties that these groups face on a daily basis.
With the lack of representation that some groups currently suffer, there’s an enormous opportunity to tell stories that haven’t been touched upon before. Entire cultures have yet to have their mythology or way of life explored through any medium, let alone video games, and could provide a fresh new approach.
It’s not only cultures; stories of sexuality, gender and disabilities are still relatively unexplored and can provide compelling narratives that many users can empathise with and relate to. Even if someone may not have struggled with their sexuality, many people can recall the feeling of not fitting in at one point in their life.
Whenever the topic of diversity comes up in any medium there are always a vocal minority who appear threatened by the prospect – to be clear, the goal of diversity isn’t to reduce the number of white or heterosexual characters, just to increase the numbers of others. It’s very telling that the worry that these individuals feel over the prospect of losing just a portion of their present representation is a reality that many minorities face today.
While it would be wonderful to get to a place where we don’t feel the need to celebrate another LGBT, female, black or disabled lead, we simply aren’t there yet. These things are still a huge event in our industry, and we must continue to celebrate inclusion to show our support for continued diversity.