It’s Time to Retire the Phrase ‘Diversity in Games’

When discussing making games with characters who aren’t white, straight, male or cisgender, a phrase often used is ‘diversity.’ When publishers and developers disclose the demographics of their workforces, these are often called ‘diversity reports.’

And for the most part this terminology works.

Video game characters and the people who make them are still homogenous. We see the same sorts of faces telling the same sorts of stories about the same sorts of people and there is very little space for marginalised voices. Diversity in games, in terms of the dictionary definition of ‘variety’ or ‘a range,’ is very much needed, but the industry doesn’t just need to be diverse it needs to be inclusive.

Words Matter

On the surface, the call to make games inclusive rather than diverse may seem like semantics. But the word diversity allows games companies to do the bare minimum; diversity is just a numbers game.

If a game features an equal number of male and female characters but the men are allowed to be fully clothed while the women are scantily clad, breasts bared and are reduced to their sexuality, that’s diversity.  However, it’s certainly not equal treatment nor does it make female gamers (or anyone with respect for women) want to play that game.

If a game is made with a team that has an equal number of white, black, Asian and Latino developers but the non-white team members’ opinions and ideas aren’t valued or considered as highly as that of their white peers, that’s diversity but it’s not inclusion.

The idea of using the term ‘inclusion’ over ‘diversity’ is not a new one. Legendary broadcaster Oprah Winfrey and ground-breaking director Ava DuVernay made headlines when they suggested it last year. Said Winfrey (via TIME):

I used to use the word ‘diversity’ all the time. We want more diverse stories, more diverse characters …’ Now I really eliminated it from my vocabulary because I’ve learned from [DuVernay] that the word that most articulates what we’re looking for is what we want to be: included. It’s to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made.”

Those who commonly shut down discussions about diversity (or inclusion) in games often do so while whining about ‘token’ minority characters who have been shoe-horned in. They don’t want their games to feel as though someone is being pandered to.

Not Pandering

Ironically, this is what many of us on this side of the progressive fence have been asking for for years. We want to see ourselves and our stories on a screen (or at least people who are the same ethnicity/gender/sexuality as us) in games and we’ve rolled our eyes and chortled in the faces of developers who bandy about the term ‘diversity in games’ as though there’s a quota to be fulfilled. Or, as is often the underlying feeling, that developers require a base level of diversity in their teams and games so as not to be criticised for it.

Besides, ‘diversity’ isn’t a solution to all of these problems, especially when it doesn’t come from a good place. The developers behind games have to want to value people of all identities or backgrounds, they have to want to feature marginalised characters in their games (or at least not be totally adverse to the idea). Otherwise you get racist, sexist games that fail to do little else besides display their unconscious bias.

Don’t settle for diversity, push for inclusion.

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Jasmine Henry

Staff Writer at New Normative
Jasmine Henry is a games and technology writer from the UK who has been playing video games since before she could tie her own shoelaces. She is also a serial games hoarder (thanks Steam sales!) and dreams of a day when the representation of women and minorities in games is no longer debated and is simply just the ‘norm’.


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