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Games Fail To Portray Gender and Ethnic Diversity 590

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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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?
  • 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.

  • Mature Titles? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Reilaos ( 1544173 ) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:20PM (#28905121) Homepage
    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.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:38PM (#28905221)

    When RE5 had black people as zombies in a game set in Africa, that was racist. When Schwarzenegger plowed the female terminator into a toilet head first it was sexist. What the fuck do these people want, do they even know? DO they want kids, women and black people get gored the same as white men or NOT.

  • 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...

  • 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?

  • by stu9000 ( 861253 ) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:55PM (#28905337)
    This comment gets rated 'Insightful'? To me it shows a complete lack of understanding of how media constructed 'norms' over time influence societies norms. The discussion of race and gender representation in computer games is long overdue and is just as valid as such discussions about film and television, perhaps more so seeing how games are played proportionally more by younger people. If you don't think this discussion is valid then IMHO you don't understand the influence of media in creating role-models.
  • 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 [] set in El Paso had Hispanic villains.) That right there cuts minority representation in half, or worse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:05PM (#28905431)

    of coarse they dont.

    Intelligent players dont like playing the ignorant thuggish type.
    ignorant thuggish club whores dont like playing snobby intelligent people.

    You cant make a character thats intelligent and thuggish. You could.. but it doesnt happen in real life.
    so its best to just avoid the question in the first place and make a generic avatar.

    as far as "race" diversity.
    Asians make games with asians in them quite often.
    White guys make white guy games.
    as soon as intelligent black guys start to program games (to a higher degree, because im sure some already do), then they will be more popular.

    It has nothing to do with dislike. Its not that I dislike certian races, I just have a preference for "self style".
    You tend to "like" things that are "similar" to yourself.

  • by JesseL ( 107722 ) on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:07PM (#28905443) Homepage Journal

    Discuss racial representation in games all you like. Nobody is stopping you.

    Just don't assume that people need to come to the conclusion you might like, or any conclusion at all. Don't even think about trying to use legal force to get game developers to change based on your discussion.

  • by JordanL ( 886154 ) <jordan,ledoux&gmail,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.
  • Just don't assume that people need to come to the conclusion you might like, or any conclusion at all. Don't even think about trying to use legal force to get game developers to change based on your discussion.

    When the hell was legal force used on movies or television?

    ECONOMIC force, sure. But I didn't ever hear of a law or court order requiring diversity in privately funded media. (Publicly funded media, or "media broadcast over public airwaves", is economic pressure.)

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:32PM (#28905597)
    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 same game with the person being beheaded as black would be deemed "racist". For some strange reason if black people are depicted as "bad" that becomes "stereotypical".
  • by Nightspirit ( 846159 ) on Friday July 31, 2009 @11:43PM (#28905661)

    You are correct, all the research that comes out of neuro and social psychology is completely worthless as it isn't real science, despite the fact that it actually has everything you mentioned. But don't let facts stop your baseless accusations.

  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:02AM (#28905773)

    Will you guys just stop it already?

    Face it: your side lost. Anthropogenic global warming is established fact. Do you also subscribe to Lamarkism, phrenoloy, abiogenic petroleum, and the luminous aether?

    It's easy to poke a few isolated holes in any theory. You've made real progress when you're able to posit a theory that better explains the facts. Until then, you AGW deniers are behaving just like the other children in the room, the "intelligent design" advocates.

    Put up or shut up.

  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:23AM (#28905917)

    The low-level, theory-side parts of psychology as are scientifically rigorous as it gets. (Ever hear of B.F. Skinner?) Psychologists working in these areas run experiments, compute correlations, and test hypothesis like anyone else.

    On the other hand, the application side (i.e., therapy) is still chock full of "qualitative" research, unsupported speculation, and subjective interpretation. Psychological theory informs clinical work quite a bit, but there's inevitably a fudge factor involves when taking generalized results and apply them to individuals.

    Still, patients (err, clients, or whatever the word is this week) ask for help, so psychologists are forced to fill in the blanks left by our rather incomplete theories using non-scientific methods. That's the core of OP view that psychology isn't a "real science". In reality, it is: it's just that therapy (by necessity) uses non-scientific ideas in addition to the results of psychology-the-science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:24AM (#28905937)

    I disagree. Metal Gear Solid IV anyone?

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:32AM (#28905971) Journal
    > 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 know of at least one African black in the USA who was told by his parents to not to be like the American blacks (especially the "gangsta culture").

    The gangsta culture is a disease that's infecting and weakening the blacks.
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by akintayo ( 17599 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:38AM (#28906011)

    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 example, Texas is almost 40% Latino and more than 50% female ... yet a bunch of white male characters seem normal to you. I really don't get you, to me it seems adding more people and their stories would improve video games ... unless you need yet another game based on Europe in the middle ages.

  • by BakaHoushi ( 786009 ) <Goss DOT Sean AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:42AM (#28906037) Homepage

    I mostly have to agree with the parent. I've noticed when I play the Sims, I tend to make pale white characters. And yes, I'm whiter than sour cream. This does not mean I hold anything against any other races (though that statement sure sounds like the beginning of such an admission). It just means I make characters that visibly, I find more attractive/I can relate to more.

    How many Japanese games feature a purely American setting? (I can think of a few, like Dead Rising, but it's in the minority) Most Japanese developers feature their games in a clearly Japanese setting. Similarly, American developers rarely feature games outside an American (or at least Westernized) setting. It's not racism, it's merely a case of "write what you know."

    That being said, with games often offering a great deal of customization these days, is it really an issue at all?

  • 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.

  • by eltaco ( 1311561 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:52AM (#28906107)
    there's a grave difference between psychology and sociology. For this post, I'm going to assume you meant what you typed and know the difference between the two, although the alternative is more likely.

    you are absolutely correct that psychology cannot ever offer corporeal results ("the capture of the invisible", Moravia 1983). Psychology can easily offer empirical evidence though. (certain) methods of testing give statistical probabilities and reinforce or deny a theory. I don't use the term "theory" lightly here - psychological research, when done properly, is as stringent as physics or maths. In fact, maybe even moreso, as we do not deal with corporeal results and thus (dis)proving something on a chalk board is very hard for us (I might be punching over my weight here, I have little knowledge of applied physics, plus I'm thinking more of mechanical physics than quantum physics..). furthermore, of course psychologists understand and use the null hypothesis. disregarding or using a null hypothesis as grounds for research is the dumbest idea I've ever heard! we use the same formal defintion of theory as the physicists and chemists, just fyi.

    the formal definitions of psychology are:
    - applied science
    - theoretical / formal science
    - and has roots in the humanities.
    (I apologise for the language barrier - it might not be technically accurate for the english language)

    blabbering that psychology isn't debatable and lacks rigor in experimentation is laughable, at best. we get papers over papers of psychologists citicizing each other over the smallest mistakes, loopholes and possible inconsistencies. if you'd like to see a shit storm a psychologist (well, behaviorist) started (nowadays, more or less the status quo [makes /. arguments look bland tbh], although less public) check out W. James ( [] ) or Darwins later years (yeap, many of his works fall into the category of psychology. He did a lot for evolutionary psychology.).

    disclosure: I study cognitive science (to put it bluntly, a mix of CS and PS []) of which one main field of application is R&D (yeah, the skynet guys :-\ ).

    p.s. tbh, whoever modded you up most likely got triggered by your yellow press style. just to formalise my point; you are incredibly wrong. see above why.
    I'll answer any questions.
  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:18AM (#28906219) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, the social "sciences" love to pretend they're scientific, but they really aren't. I think Feynman put it best when he talked about them:
    "Because of the success of science, there's a kind of pseudoscience - social science. They don't do scientific research, they don't find any laws, they haven't found anythinig yet. They give you experts that sound sort of scientific, they sit at a typewriter and type something like organic fertilizer is better for you - maybe it's true, maybe it's not true. They haven't proved it... I've realized how hard it is to actually find out something. I know what it means to know something. So when I see how they get their information and see that they haven't done the work necessary..."

    Awesome rant, and still true today. []

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:41AM (#28906319)

    No, no, no.

    For the white male, video games are the last refuge from the actual diversity and matriarchal oppression of real life. Stop trying to screw up 'depictions of real life!!' with some 50-50 mix of sexes. If there's got to be a woman in a game, it should be as a puppet avatar used in the domination of male enemies. Alternatively, since outlets for sociopathy are all the rage, if there are any other females depicted they must be objectified lesbian sex objects or enemy ice-queens/dragon-ladies to be murdered in defiance of the status quo.

    (For a Japanese audience s/white/Japanese/ and s/lesbian/school girl/.)

  • 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.

  • Re:Random question (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:56AM (#28906649)

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

    I uh. I don't know many white guys with eyes 1/2 the size of their head with bright blue hair and mouths that go from ridiculously tiny to insanely huge.

    I don't know any race like that really.

  • by init100 ( 915886 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:34AM (#28906873)

    CJ's stuck in a stereotype.

    As with everything else in GTA.

  • by CronoCloud ( 590650 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <noruaduolconorc>> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:43AM (#28906903)

    I think the person you responded to was annoyed that you automatically assumed that anyone posting on slashdot is a "dude" We all know the stereotypes of slashdotters: living in their parents basement, surviving on a diet of cheetos and jolt, not being good at social interaction, running Linux, and of course, being male.

    In fact I've seen people who say that they're female in comments be accused of not being so (mostly jokingly) or being assumed to be transgendered.

    I've even been guilty of that myself, I'm no saint, but the thing is, we shouldn't do that. We shouldn't start a reply with "Dude", unless we're pretty darn sure that the person we're responding to is/or identifies as male.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:44AM (#28907159)

    Generally agree that you write what you know. But it is a little concerning that American developers dont experience the diversity in the USA. Cause you know, only about half of Americans are white. Speaks a lot about the self segregation in our current society. And i'll admit I'm a part of it too, I'm a dev with mostly white friends, though I'm asian.

  • by lemmywrap ( 1605025 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:48AM (#28907167)
    Except that the typical american settings is not all-white....and the research was not about japanese games vs american and global ethnic diversity. (we'd need a lot more Indians in games then, i see no mention of that)

    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.'

    This suggests to me that they did specifically compare games with a US setting to the actual ethnic distribution in the US, and found that some ethnic groups where underrepresented. If it truely is a case of "write what you know" then the developers/designers should get out more often. Honestly though, i think ignorance does play a part, but that it's probably also marketing related. If say 50% of your target audience is a white male, and the remaining 50% is everything else, then it's no surprice that 90% of games focus on that 50% of the target audience, it's the easiest, largest group to target.

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @07:43AM (#28907753)

    ^^^^^^^^^^^ This.

    Also, nothing prevents these whiny politically correct (dare I say "pinko") sociologists from making a slew of their own games where the mail character is a mixed black/Puerto Rican lesbian crossdresser who also has no life and thus comes up with obvious, but completely pointless studies into video game demographics. Just don't let Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson read this or before you know it, we'll have video game affirmative action.

  • Half Life indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:46AM (#28908681) Journal

    Two episodes now have revolved around a mixed-race female with realistic body proportions and sensible clothes, while the plot has been driven entirely by elderly people, one of whom is both black and disabled.

    They've been critically acclaimed and sold gazillions of copies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:21AM (#28908905)

    Yeah, in general, all of GTA protagonists are thugs. Hardly representative of actual diversity of all human beings.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:26AM (#28908947)

    Are you truly that stupid?

    Enlighten me, of the instance when discrimination was valuable.

    Would you read a study wherein they asked a random sampling of the entire world population about what it feels like to be a Cuban immigrant in Florida?

    Discrimination in your behavior is how you (and everybody else) deal with the world. You might get all high-and-mighty when somebody brings up the subject, but you wouldn't walk into an alley with a bunch of guys who were holding malt liquor bottles and making vague leering statements in some slang you don't quite recognize. You're discriminating in choosing an avoidance behavior because you believe that they fit enough of the criteria to be pigeonholed into the cultural group "violent criminal."

    You discriminate against weeds because they destroy the plants you find to be pleasing.

    Playing dumb and making a guy with a good point out to be the bad guy just because he used a dirty word (discrimination) is not going to make you look any more intelligent or morally superior.

  • by Rambling Paladin ( 1404347 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:57PM (#28910387)

    Did "awesome" suddenly become synonymous with "fundamentally wrong in every possible way"? Since Mr. Feynman isn't here to answer and you seem to agree so strongly with him, I'll simply address this to you instead of him. Full disclosure: I am a social scientist, which is why I'm so curious.

    Do you honestly think that social scientists just sit at a typewriter (computer nowadays) and make shit up? That there's no theorizing, no testing, no data? And then nobody else ever cross-checks this, never tries to replicate results? Have you ever sat down and read a social science publication? Any journals? Any books published for the academic market?

    I ask these questions because otherwise I cannot even fathom how you can draw these conclusions. I don't assume you have any advanced studies in sociology or the like, so why do you assume that you know what they're doing and that they're making things up?

    Let's try the example given in that rant: that organic food is better for you than non-organic food. A basic problem with his argument: who's researching that? Which social science deals with questions of nutrition? I don't mean the social effects of organic farming, I mean who is going to see if organic food is more nutritious than the alternative? I don't think any of them do, at all. Economists might ask about the economic effects of organic farming, or political scientists about the political effects of malnutrition, but neither of them are going to look at whether it's better for people in a biological way. They'll go across campus and ask somebody in the food science department, because those are the people who actually would research this sort of thing. (Or the nutrition department, or the health department, or whatever physical science actually looks at issues of organic nutrition.) Social scientists might use these findings in a study to look at the social effects of organic farming, but that's a different question entirely.

    Some people on /. seem to have a desire to pit the physical sciences and social sciences against each other, but I say that's silly. They look at different phenomena, but each contributes valuable knowledge to the world. Not like those jerks in the fine arts departments. (I'm kidding, please put those instruments down!)

  • by Dr. Impossible ( 1580675 ) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:57PM (#28911305)

    Gosh, a thug gangster in a video game series where you always play as a criminal. This is an outrage!

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein