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Games Fail To Portray Gender and Ethnic Diversity 590

Posted by Soulskill
from the overrepresented-demon-alien-demographic dept.
eldavojohn writes "A new study has found that game characters tend not to reflect cultural diversity. According to the paper from researchers across four universities (PDF): 'A large-scale content analysis of characters in video games was employed to answer questions about their representations of gender, race and age in comparison to the US population. The sample included 150 games from a year across nine platforms, with the results weighted according to game sales. ... The results show a systematic over-representation of males, white and adults and a systematic under-representation of females, Hispanics, Native Americans, children and the elderly.' The researchers also note that games 'function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math,' and that without these groups represented properly, 'it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.'"
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Games Fail To Portray Gender and Ethnic Diversity

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  • by Shikaku (1129753) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:08PM (#28904987)

    Mmmrhmhmhmrhrmhmrmhm!

    • by Larryish (1215510) <larryish@nOsPaM.gmail.com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:49PM (#28905303)

      So that means we should develop a game where Cherokee kids shoot old Chinese women?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AftanGustur (7715)
        Although your comment has been moderated "funny" it has probably been so because people find the idea rediculous.

        And it is.

        Someone with more time on his hands than me will maybe dig up the study but I remember seeing a study of what kids are willing to play as a character in a game.

        It turns out that both boys and girls will play a boy/male hero in a game, but if the choise is only a female/girl character then the girls continue playing but the boys loose interest.

        So the answer to why game characters

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sortius_nod (1080919)

          As a male I tend to play female characters. I figure if I'm going to be looking at my character during play time I'm going to want something attractive to me.

          Maybe I'm just odd like that, but big burly guys really don't do it for me.

  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:08PM (#28904989) Homepage
    The only "science" that starts with the answer and works backwards from there.
    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:19PM (#28905105)

      I bet it shows an unusually high percentage of Dark Elves and Orcs, as well as Caucasians. What should we be inferring from that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      wrong.

      just like any "hard" science, social sciences also start with hypotheses based on observations. then, those hypotheses are tested in the field, using rigorous methods developed in the social sciences. while these methods might not be as "exact" as self-labeled hard scientists might be comfortable with, they are no less valid than the procedures carried out by a grunt in a lab.

      frankly, hard scientists (computer scientists in particular) are too uncomfortable with science that does not follow rigi

      • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:04AM (#28906413) Journal

        You say the token black guy was a gangster. HELLO? The entire series is about criminals with absolutely no social value whatsoever. They kill left and right for no other reason then that they are in a hurry. None of the leads are heroes, but this is only bad if he is black right?

        The black guy is no worse then any of the "white" guys. Who by the way happen to be hispanic or slavic as well as western europe white. Or do ethnic groups only count based on the amount of pigment?

        You then mention japanese games as an example... where of course the lead is japanese... but that is all right because a japanese person making a game with a japanese lead is totally different from a white person making a game with a white lead.

        You also happily ignore the countless western games where UNLIKE the japanese games, you can choose your own race. MMO's like WoW and Lotro. The sims. Dues EX. Fallout, all of them. Far cry 2(probably the widest assortment of backgrounds).

        You are indeed a closet racist. Everything whites do is wrong and everything someone else does is alright. Japanese games as an example of racial diversity. I want some of what you are smoking.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:10PM (#28905005)
    Honestly, I'm tired of this bullshit. Someone needs to tell the PC brigade to go fuck themselves. Game developers aren't obliged to fill quotas; all they have to do is make good games. Does anyone really care about what video game characters look like? These folks need to examine their priorities.
    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      Exactly. Not every game needs the ability to choose the race, gender, age, height, weight, etc, of the hero(ine!). It's a damn story in most cases, let the writers tell it their way.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:21PM (#28905125)

      Does anyone really care about what video game characters look like? These folks need to examine their priorities.

      Apparently some people do. And yes they do.

      Because: "There aren't enough people of color in videogames."

      Then: "You can't make a game set in Africa where you kill black zombies. That's racist!"

      and: "You can't make a game set in New Orleans where some of the zombies are black. That's racist!"

    • by Itninja (937614) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:42PM (#28905241) Homepage
      In many ways I agree. But the bulk of opinions expressed here are by people who only have know oppression as a literary motive or cinematographic plot device. I doubt many of us have been denied access to a restaurant because of we 'looked disruptive', been pulled over because we 'looked suspicious', patted down at the airport as a 'random search', or asked for our papers because we 'looked like illegals'. but that aside, I think diversity in games will happen in time. Just like black representation in movies slowly evolved from laughably stereotypical to whatever less than that is called.
      • by JordanL (886154) <jordan.ledoux@gm a i l . com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:18PM (#28905499) Homepage
        I am about as white as you can get. I get 'random searched' every single time I fly because I fly standby, which autoflags you.

        Discrimination is not a bad thing. It's the practice of using a data set to increase the statistical relevance of your sample. It's using unrelated information to discriminate that's a bad thing. For example, during the crusades it would not at all have been bad to be suspicious, cautious and downright hostile towards white people in the Near East if you were Muslim or Jewish. You would be discriminating based on entirely relevant information.

        The article says that it was weighted by sales, which means this study was self-selecting. Who buys most games? White males. What is the predominant findings? Characters are white males. All this shows is that people who buy games are similar psychologically to all other people in seeking out representations closest to themselves.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TheLink (130905)
          > Discrimination is not a bad thing.

          Yep. If I see a tiger on the street, I'll discriminate against it based on the track record of tigers in general. Too bad it was born a tiger and can't do anything about that.

          I'd treat it differently if we meet in a different scenario and find it's not like other tigers.

          It doesn't help the blacks that so many black kids want to be "gangstas" when they grow up, and if black kids do well in school they get accused by their peers of not being black enough.

          Anecdotally I kn
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        There are a few things for one, guess who buys the most video games? White (or Asian for Asian games) males. Unsurprisingly, most video games feature them. I'm a lot more likely to pick up a game featuring someone like me. I honestly have no desire to play a random fantasy game as a black person, I'd rather play it as a white person because I'm white. Then there is the fact that you simply can't show minorities being killed. For some reason a game that depicts white people being beheaded is ok, while the sa
      • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@NoSpAm.palegray.net> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:32AM (#28906861) Homepage Journal
        Oh, I know about oppression. I'm a 28 year old white male who grew up in Georgia (the US version). I got the crud kicked out of me as a child for befriending a kid who happened to part of one of the first black families to move into my neighborhood. If anything, it made me think long and hard about what race meant in my segment of American culture, with the result being I decided that if getting beaten for my friendships was the asking price, I'd gladly keep on paying it. I paid for it until I left to go live with my father a few years later (as soon as the law allowed me the right to choose where I lived, 14 years of age in GA).

        Frankly, this whole story is ridiculous. If people want to take issue with minority representation in video games, fine. They can go create their own games. This is 2009, and there are virtually no barriers to doing so should anyone be interested. Let's stop inventing problems for the sake of headlines.
    • by Comatose51 (687974) on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:27PM (#28905569) Homepage

      "Does anyone really care about what video game characters look like? "

      Yes. Anyone here remember the firestorm that ignited when EverQuest made the Erudites black? The smartest race in the game was black. A lot of gamers groaned and complained about that. Or how about gaming companies that provide free games but charge you for unique looks on your game charater? Remember how valuable the black dyes were in UO? People care. It's just that a large segment of the gamers population is white and male. Make a game where the heroes are black or some other minority and see how well that will do. Seriously, I'm not assuming anything. I want to see what happens. Or sell editions of the same game with different skin colors for the character. Charge less for the non-white, non-male version and see which version ends up being more popular. I'm really curious to see what happens.

    • by foqn1bo (519064) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:16AM (#28906467)
      Has it occurred to anyone that this paper isn't the "PC Brigades"? I'd be willing to be most of you haven't even bothered to read it.

      Nobody is asking anyone to fill a quota. Minorities and women are underrepresented in games for the same reason that they were underrepresented in film and television for so long (and still are in many ways)...because they are socially marginalized. It's more a reflection of the state of our culture than anything else. You're probably not old enough to remember it, but if you look back just 30-40 years, it's hard to even find movies that are shown from a woman's point of view -- one of the biggest critiques of film by early feminists was the way in which female characters were often passive objects, plot devices or romantic interests of the male leads at best. Social researchers are interested in the way our culture reflects the biases we have.

      You probably don't care, and that's fine. Nobody in the game industry is going to read this study any more than the slashcrowd, and if they did it's not going to cause them to rethink their plans. They make the games that sell, just like the moviemakers of yesteryear made the hero worshiping, male-centric films that audiences loved. Games, film and other cultural artefacts will continue to mirror the social gestalt, social change will be gradual, and most people won't notice. Social theorists and scientists (you can put scare quotes around it if you like) will continue to pay attention to these things, because they think, quite rightly, that having a pulse on our culture is a good thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by palegray.net (1195047)
      Loaded question: what's stopping minority groups from making games that have a different diversity level? Please don't hand me any lines about the accessibility of technology; I grew up dirt poor and did most of my learning at the public library.
  • I have my doubts. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:11PM (#28905015) Homepage
    I'm guessing this is based on locality. From my admittedly limited experience, there are a lot of Japanese games which feature people who are pretty clearly Asian. Many of them don't even get exported out of Japan.
  • Well yeah (Score:5, Funny)

    by davidwr (791652) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:13PM (#28905035) Homepage Journal

    Normal humans without special powers and skills are so underrepresented in those games. As a normal human whose only special power is the random temporary ability to cast ./ mod spells, I feel left out.

    When the mages and sorcerers get into MIT and I don't, I guess I can blame the games.

    • by mathfeel (937008) on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:34PM (#28905603)
      Someone should also publish a paper about the underrepresentation of female characters endowed with regular-sized boobs in video games.

      ...oops...PC police come knocking...
  • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:13PM (#28905039)
    A bunch of white dorky male geeks with no lives.

    I being one of them.
  • Sergeant Johnson.

  • by kevinatilusa (620125) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {lletsock}> on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:14PM (#28905055)

    Given a choice between creating an representative cross-section of America and an representative cross-section of their customer base, game makers are likely going to go with the people who are paying them money.

    • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:15AM (#28905869) Homepage

      Being able to somewhat believably portray an average white guy is hard enough. Add in females, skin tones, age, and weight, and your cost of development will go up if you try to make them look and act correct.

      Don't want to spend the extra time and money to get it right? Fine -- then you'll get short haired, masculine women, overly shiny or plastic looking skin tones, and overweight people who walk like they're only supporting half their weight. And this is usually what happens in most games that try

      So most games choose to put more time into perfecting gameplay than providing diversity of characters, and try to hide the flaws by using minorities less often.

  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:15PM (#28905057)

    Good thing they did not try to compare breast size and hip to waist ratios as compared to real world...

    • by Virak (897071) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:50AM (#28906089) Homepage

      I'm always annoyed when people bitch about the unrealistic portrayal of the female body in video games or fiction in general. It's not like women are unique in this regard, most of the men have bodies that are like finely-chiseled statues that few men in real life are going to match up to (and certainly not ones who play games lots). Do you hear them complaining about that? Of course not. That sort of person doesn't give a fuck about equality, they're just in it for their own benefit and putting up a front of egalitarianism to make them look like less of selfish bastards.

      Not that I'm saying that people in fiction should have realistic levels of attractiveness. It's been like that forever for good reason; most people would much rather prefer attractive people over unattractive people. The only ones calling for 'realism' just can't accept the fact that they, like most people, are average, and cannot match up to people on the higher end of the bell curve. The solution is not to try to prevent any portrayal of anyone superior to them in any aspect, but to stop being so goddamn insecure about themselves.

  • So.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cK-Gunslinger (443452) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:15PM (#28905061) Journal
    .. if someone develops a FPS where you shoot Hispanic 8-year-old females everyone will be happy? I kinda doubt it..
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:15PM (#28905063)

    Somehow I don't think that the average person wants a game where they play a senior.

    No one wants to bend down to get the Amulet of Yendor and not be able to stand up again.

  • by pluther (647209) <pluther@usaGAUSS.net minus math_god> on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:15PM (#28905067) Homepage

    The game I'm currently playing has four main characters. A Half-orc, a Tiefling, a Yuan-Ti, and a Dwarf. How much more diverse do you want?

  • It's true!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anotheregomaniac (1439993) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:17PM (#28905083)
    They also over represent people with big muscles, excellent combat skills and multiple lives. What tripe will be next?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lack of representation of children? 12 year olds save the world all the time.

  • Gahh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ceeam (39911) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:20PM (#28905117)

    They should make Duke Nukem (in DNF) a black, homosexual, vegetarian, female eskimo, right?

    I sure wish that people writing these papers would pay from their pockets - in form of investments - for such the games.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by genner (694963)

      They should make Duke Nukem (in DNF) a black, homosexual, vegetarian, female eskimo, right?

      They tried....which is why the project was shut down.

  • Mature Titles? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Reilaos (1544173)
    One reason I believe that children are underrepresented is, at least, partly the nature of mature games. Depiction of violence to children is frowned upon if not flat-out illegal in most countries. For the sake of consistency (why can't I rip off the child's head? It should be easier than the adults!), they're just excluded, I.E. Prototype.
  • The researchers also note that games 'function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math,' and that without these groups represented properly, 'it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.'

    Kind of a stretch there Mr. Social Scientist. If it involves a kid using a computer then that kid will grow up to be an engineer. Sure.

    More likely that kid will end up stoned in a dark basement somewhere playing WoW.

  • Help! I'm being oppressed!
  • I recently was struck by a broader instance of this, in relation to popular media in general. Outside of targeted forms of media (television shows or movies that focus on a specific demographic), I think this trend is as present in TV and film as well. Its as if we've gotten used to a mode of depiction, despite what we see daily at work, on the street, and in our neighborhoods. American is well on the path to be, by around 2040, a "minority majority" country, where the majority of citizens are not white. De
  • by Itninja (937614) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:29PM (#28905165) Homepage
    News for NERDS remember? Just do a Google image search on 'nerd' and you will see how diverse the /. demographic is. I count (on the first page of 21 results) only two females and the only non-anglos I see are are three duplicate images presenting them as thugs.
  • Random question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by michaelhood (667393) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:30PM (#28905177)

    I've always wondered this but never had the opportunity to post it remotely on-topic.

    Can someone explain to a non-anime person (myself) why all the characters in Japanese cartoons appear caucasian?

  • [video] games 'function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math,' and that without these groups represented properly, 'it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.'"

    Bullshit on that one. I know a lot of boys think they are "good with computers" because they spend a lot of time gaming, but reality rarely lives up to their self perception. The more the white male middle class and upper class potential professionals and potential elites spend their childh
  • by mfnickster (182520) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:38PM (#28905219)

    Hooper: "Always some white boy gotta invoke the holy trilogy. Bust this: Those movies are about how the white man keeps the brother man down, even in a galaxy far, far away. Check this shit: You got cracker farm boy Luke Skywalker, Nazi poster boy, blond hair, blue eyes. And then you got Darth Vader, the blackest brother in the galaxy, Nubian god!"

    Banky: "What's a Nubian?"

    Hooper: "Shut the fuck up! Now... Vader, he's a spiritual brother, y'know, down with the force and all that good shit. Then this cracker, Skywalker, gets his hands on a light saber and the boy decides he's gonna run the fuckin' universe - gets a whole klan of whites together. And they go and bust up Vader's hood, the Death Star. Now what the fuck do you call that?"

    Banky: "Intergalactic civil war?"

    Hooper: "Gentrification! They gonna drive out the black element to make the galaxy quote-unquote, 'safe' for white folks. And Jedi's the most insulting installment! Because Vader's beautiful black visage is sullied when he pulls off his mask to reveal a feeble, crusty, old white man! They tryin' to tell us that deep inside, we all wants to be white!"

    Banky: "...but isn't that true??"

  • For a long time while I was playing the Marathon series, I thought I was playing a black guy (because you could see the character's hands, which were dark brown). Then someone pointed out to me that the character had gloves on. Somehow, as a non-black person, I didn't feel any less oppressed as a result.

  • I would expect game characters to reflect the characters that players want to play. That doesn't require diversity.

    And when some games don't provide the characters that gamers want to play while other games do, I expect the games that provide the right characters to succeed and the ones who don't provide those characters to fail.

    It's called the free market, folks, and maybe you should worry about it a little bit less.
  • Next up... (Score:2, Funny)

    by dbet (1607261)
    The demons in Doom don't represent the full list of demons in the various religions in the world.
  • and a systematic under-representation of females

    ...but each one portrayed is stacked enough to count for two or three average women. So it breaks even.

  • by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:48PM (#28905293)
    In order to correct this clearly unfair distribution, I'll keep posing as a female 18 years old cheerleader in games, chats and everywhere.

    I only hope my efforts will be recognized by future generations...

  • Do they reflect the players?

  • The gaming industry is a multiBILLION dollar industry. If the studies they've done indicate that more people will buy the white male thing, then that's what they sell.

    Is it PC? No. Does that matter when making money? No.

  • they complain about it.

    More hispanic gangster bad guys and GTA games, that should address this awful imbalance.

    put some females in the game that you can pay for sex and then rob and they complain about that too.

    Developers just can't win!

  • BFD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:53PM (#28905327) Homepage Journal

    Big fuckin' deal. Who writes games? Mostly adult white males. Does anyone suppose that an adult white male is going to sit and ponder how a juvenile latin female might thing and act in some given situation? Nope. He don't GIVE A SHIT. Now, if that juvenile latin female wants to go into the game writer's world, and contribute something, then he'll give a shit. If she understands the game engine, and how the graphics work, if she can actually contribute to the (mostly mindless) plot of the story, then he WILL give a shit.

    You want this adult white female to attempt to create a juvenile latin female character? Great - he's feeling both magnanimous and sensitive, he's going to sit right down and create this character, and give her a leading part in the story. The character is going to be one of two things (maybe both at the same time, even). An over endowed little slut who wants nothing more than to bang the hero, OR an over endowed AND over muscled bull dyke who is as mindless and shallow as any female character has ever been.

    Which is the better choice? The bit of fluff, or the hunk of meat?

    Give everyone a break. If you want your group represented in games, or stories, or movies, or whatever the fuck, GET OFF YOUR DEAD ASS AND REPRESENT!!! Stop sniveling, stop whining. (Lest anyone think that I'm picking on the young Sotomayors of the world, no, this goes for blacks, male and female, Asians, Arabs, and even fucking ESKIMOS! Oh, cool, a great game idea, "Mighty Quinn wreaks havoc in New York!"

    While we wait for everyone to go do something useful, I'm intriqued by the idea of an adult male who appears to be white writing a novel from the perspective of a young Mexican girl. I just KNOW that everyone on slashdot will want to read it when I'm finished!! Quick, how do you say "pretty ponies" en Espanol?

  • villains (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:56PM (#28905349) Homepage

    A big part of the problem is, obviously, because game manufacturers are reluctant to use a female or minority character as a villain. "It's discrimination!" the protesters cry! (Yes, I'm serious, look what happened when a Tom Clancy game [gamespot.com] set in El Paso had Hispanic villains.) That right there cuts minority representation in half, or worse.

  • Who cares? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:56PM (#28905357)

    Except for pseudo-political-correct pathetic people who can't look beyond it.

    If I make a game in some post-apocalyptic Texas-like desert, of course you will see massively more Rob Zombies than Mahatma Gandhis. And actually intelligent people know that this has nothing to to with genders or ethnics.

    When I hire the best 20 people I can get for the job, I do not care if all 20 of them are white conservative males in their mid-50s, or half-Bantu half-grizzly half-swine-flu-victim-zombie girlie midgets in pink snake skin dresses. That's what it being irrelevant means. :)

    Race or gender quotas are really disguised racism. It's just the "other extreme" of the full circle. ;) (Yeah, that really describes it very well.)

    But one way to make you and even the hypocrites happy, is to use only two kinds of persons in your games: 100% average gray mixes of neutrality, and total freaking extremes. What are they going to say? That group chainsaw-vomiting pinky-toe made from knitted sea grass belts was not ethnically diverse enough when they fought that horde of grayish indistinct blobs of dust?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by akintayo (17599)

      If no one cares, why not place less white people in video games. If no one cares, why not make the primary character in video games Black, Latino or Indian. After all it doesn't matter, right ? With the exception of historical games, does ethnicity matter ? Would Fable be worse if the main character was non-White? Was Duke Nukem better because the main character was white? What about Crysis?

      I don't understand how you can say that having every character in every game be white is not weird. Even in your examp

  • By the same author (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:13AM (#28905855) Homepage

    The lead author is on the faculty at USC. By the same author [dmitriwilliams.com]:

    There's much more like this. The papers are competent but mediocre.

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