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E3 2014: pandering to the straight white male gamer

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) has been and gone for 2014. E3, for those who don’t know is the largest annual convention for the video game industry, serving as an opportunity to showcase and announce upcoming technology and games. For those of us who like to game it’s an exciting time and a great opportunity for us to roughly estimate just how much money we’ll soon be pouring into our favourite hobby.

It was really nice to see the companies branching out this year in terms of protagonists, bringing some real diversity in gender, race and sexuality. Just kidding. As YouTube user Rebellious Pixels shows us, E3 2014 has brought yet another plethora of indistinguishable white, male (and presumably straight) protagonists. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is giving us four!

Ubisoft (the company behind Assassin’s Creed) made some unfortunate comments regarding the lack of equal gender representation in Unity, saying that the addition of ‘[a] female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things’. Ignoring the fact that they have done it before, it’s very depressing to hear that the addition of a woman character is apparently a pointless waste of time and resources. Particularly since it is set in the French Revolution in which women played many significant roles. Not to mention one of the most famous assassinations at the time was carried out by a woman named Charlotte Corday, posthumously titled the Angel of Assassination.

Ubisoft have since released a statement pointing to protagonists in previous titles that have been more diverse and explaining that there will be ‘some…strong female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity’. Just not ones that you can play as, apparently. Critics (including people who have worked on previous Assassin’s Creed titles) aren’t entirely convinced. It was a similar line for Far Cry 4 team (also a Ubisoft title) who were apparently ‘inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy when you invite someone in…[a]nd it was purely a workload issue.’ So, playable women can be cut without consequence if there are budget or time constraints? Yet they have a 1:1 scale in-game version of Notre Dame Cathedral in Unity? I don’t mean to only point at Ubisoft, though it’s a shame that the company that so recently gave us this (yes, that is a black woman assassin) has taken a step backwards on the diversity front. This isn’t a problem with them specifically, but with the industry as a whole.

I mean it’s not all depressing news, Mirror’s Edge 2 will bring back parkour extraordinaire (and Asian woman) Faith, a couple of new Tomb Raider games will (of course) star the action hero/archaeologist Lara Croft. Bayonetta has been scooped up by Nintendo and will be appearing on the Wii-U in Bayonetta 2. Princess Zelda is kicking butt in Hyrule Warriors. And Bioware has used both a man and woman version of their new protagonist, the Inquisitor in their promotional materials for the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition.

These little victories are just that though; little. And though they’re great, it shouldn’t be so exciting to see a woman character being represented in promotional materials. Women represent 48% of gamers. African American and Hispanic youth spend more time gaming than white youth.  So why are minorities still being majorly underrepresented in the big blockbuster titles? Because stories about straight, white and male characters are still seen as universal.

Straight white and male is viewed as “normal”; it’s the average, the standard by which everything else is still being measured. The minorities who are included in games are often heavily stereotyped and (in the case of women characters) sexualised. Media representation is important. It’s a real shame that in 2014 the inclusion of women, ethnic minorities and queer characters is still seen as taking a risk, often an unacceptable one. Apparently trying to appeal to us isn’t worth the chance of alienating a few straight, white male gamers.

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