#GamesSoWhite – Are they really? Why?

ACLiberation-Aveline_CoverArtI have a crashing headache so now may not be the best time to get into this, a lot of it is also going to be repetition of old points, but still, I think it’s worth weighing in.

This hashtag, and topic, is bait – not intended to create or sustain any intelligent discussion about the issue but rather to stir people up. The writer, Tauriq Moosa, associated with the tag (and The Guardian) appears profoundly ignorant of the actual diversity in games or the reasons why it’s not even more diverse.

So let’s actually look at some of the surrounding issues about diversity in games and try to look at why things are the way they are and how they might be changed – if they even need to be.

Why are Games Predominantly White?

Jared Diamond attributes western dominance, very simply put, to ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’. In terms of games you can attribute this to ‘Demography, Technology & Money’.

First world nations are predominantly white (Japan and Korea being two notable exceptions). First world nations have the technological infrastructure, money and access to personal technology on an affordable basis to support a gaming industry.

DIR_PurnaMany European nations are also much more racially homogeneous than the United States is, even the UK – pretty cosmopolitan – is around 90% white while the USA is around 75% white and Poland – focus of recent ire – is almost entirely white with white minorities rather than ‘persons of colour’ in its population, the Romani people not necessarily being treated very well across Eastern Europe.

So, aside from the obvious exception of the first-world Pacific nations, most games are produced by western, predominantly white nations by a process of simple demography. As such they stem from the ‘white point of view’, if such a thing can even be described. Remember, ‘whiteness’ is many different cultures. Just as it would be racist and ignorant to assume ‘Africa’ to be one single culture it would be racist to assume that the life experience or culture of a Scottish Islander has any real similarities to that of a Romanian Tatar.

Diversity is more than colour.

So, we have majority white populations. They’re going to produce more programmers, artists, designers – and consumers – by simple virtue of weight of numbers. Western, white-majority nations also have greater access to the technology, both to produce things, provide infrastructure and to make the necessarily technology available. The last factor is money, which ties into technology but which is worth looking at by itself.

Money exacerbates the problem in a number of additional ways. Minority communities are often poorer, which means they have less access to education and technology even in otherwise advanced nations. While social advancement is easier for people from poor backgrounds in Europe than it is in the US (democratic socialism) it’s still not as good as it could be. This combines with the white demographic dominance to make even less opportunities for people from minority communities.

This is a problem, but it’s not one really soluble by games companies.

Sheva-Official-Render-Rear-View-sheva-alomar-20099937-570-1100Why isn’t there more Diversity?

I say ‘more’, because there actually is a lot of diversity. This is why gamers get annoyed and upset when they’re told that their hobby is racist or sexist. They can give you a huge litany of diverse race and gender representations in games, but you have to be into games to know how ignorant it is to assume and presume that they are not diverse. This is not helped by ‘white saviour’ hipster kids playing up the supposed problem to – seemingly – profit from it.

So not ‘why aren’t games diverse?’ but ‘why aren’t games more diverse?’

In the previous section I covered a huge part of that – simple demography. Minority populations are called minorities for a reason, so simply by population weighting you would expect less designers and artists. Minorities also tend to be poorer, further reducing opportunity.

This we all know, if we’re honest, and we know it’s not really something that’s the responsibility of companies to address.

There are other social and financial pressures at work as well, and paradoxically the ‘hipster saviours’ may well be making things worse, not better.

There’s a catch 22 when it comes to minority representation. If you present a minority in your game you’ll be accused of stereotyping, doing it wrong, even cultural appropriation. If you don’t present a minority in your game, you’ll be accused of racism. If you do include a minority (or female) representation everything that character says, does or has happen to it will be placed under intense scrutiny. The (tempting) way to minimise this is to go for a standard white-male protagonist, since nobody much cares what happens to them and the racism accusations probably have the least bite or traction (or at least get more evenly distributed).
Alyx_Vance_2_by_SG_KatanAAdvertising/PR consultants and ‘social justice warriors’ have a belief in common which, seemingly according to research – gamers don’t share. Both PR people and SJWs both believe that representation matters. Gamers don’t seem to care as much (according to DiGRA research) about what their character is, they’re focussed on completing the game. PR and SJW however both think it matters a great deal. If firms could accept the fact representation doesn’t matter that much to their audience we’d probably see more diversity. So long as PR think it does matter, there’ll be pressure to pander to the majority audience, which for the big, showy titles remains stubbornly white and male. SJWs only make this worse by insisting that representation matters, enforcing the idea that catering to one is excluding another. If there’s millions of dollars at stake, why would you risk turning off your majority audience? That’s not good business sense.

Fixing the ‘Problem’

I’m not convinced there is a problem here. People who really know about games can point to countless examples of representation and the audience doesn’t much seem to care. I’d like to get some hard data on the racial breakdown of video-game buyers (USA stats would probably be the most useful) so if anyone has a link to any that would help. We do have stats on gender which is placed at 50/50, suggesting there’s no real problem there at all.

tumblr_me98p9Ost01rm9fh5o1_500Let’s assume there is a problem, or at least that we want to socially invest in minority communities because regardless of anything else we want to help people out – simply because it’s the right thing to do.

The only way to really make a difference here is to deal with the problem root and branch. Fund coding classes or after-school game design courses in public schools. Create scholarships. Continue the democratisation of gaming via the indie scenes. We don’t need blue-haired white hipsters banging on about diversity, we need to support the diverse creators that are out there.

We also need to change the way we go about things. Praise games and companies that are inclusive, rather than attacking the games and companies that we think are not. People will only dig in and resist to protect their creative freedom – as they should – and gamers will only react angrily to people ignorantly calling them racist. American diversity campaigners also need to learn a little more about European history and geography, before they open their mouths and fling insults.

Let’s also not forget that diversity doesn’t make a game good.

At the end of it all everyone needs to retain their free expression. Box-ticking on diversity quotas doesn’t make a better game. Allowing the artist to pursue their vision is much more likely to. If we are to do anything we need to create situations in which more diverse artists have the opportunity to express themselves, and we need to be a lot less judgemental of people creating games outside their own culture.

The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed – to quote Gibson.

On a personal note there are many mythologies and subjects I would like to delve into, such as Indian mythology or alternative history around America’s history of slavery, but even I find myself self-censoring because I know the kinds of negative reactions I would get – despite the fact these settings would increase diversity.

I’m sure there’s others like me.

Mature conversation welcome in the comments!

Pax.

Appendix:

I did some back-of-an-envelope figures on the racial demography of the top selling (UK) games of 2014 as reported in Metro UK.

From the top selling (UK) games of 2014
35% race wasn’t applicable – either due to being sports/team games, non-human protaganists or unknown protaganists (cars).
65% had human/humanoid protagonists where race was applicable.

Of that 65%
50.77%% had white protaganists.
18.46% had PoC protaganists.
32.31% had customisable/choice of protaganists including PoC

As previously mentioned, the UK is around 90% white, so as far as representation of population goes this isn’t so bad,at all (though Japanese people may be highly overrepresented!).

What we do seem to be seeing is a continuing trend towards customisable protagonists which includes just about anyone.

I should note that in assigning this I stuck to single-player campaigns. Many games have online multiplayer with racially customisable characters but that isn’t reflected here.

Behind the Curtain of Net Storms

I thought this might be useful to some people as a way of gauging how important (or not) these internet storms and controversies are. We seem to have a new one every day over TV, cinema, games, art, RPGs… you name it, someone’s getting upset about it.

I’ve not really had access to good analytic data on this before but thanks to WP and Google Analytics and ‘thanks’ to being at the centre of a storm myself I can now offer some data that others might find useful.

Things to keep in mind

This arose on my writing blog, which has much less exposure and interest than my company/roleplaying site which you’re on now.

Obviously my perception of aspects of this are subjective and coloured by my own experience and personal investment. I have striven to be as neutral as possible but you will have to keep this in mind.

I am using approximate figures, rounding here and there, because I’m trying to be more general about how things are rather than precise about a single, specific case. This is, however, still only a single data point so take everything with a pinch of salt.

1. The Controversy Lasted a total of Five Days

From the day the article posted to the day site hits returned to normal was a total of five days. Of those only three days were truly the heart of the ‘storm’ with site hits outstripped ‘business as usual.

2. The Number of Hits

For those three peak days there were around 800 non-unique hits on each day for a total of around 2500 non-unique hits (as compared with around 50 per day normal hits to the site).

Analytics show that on the first day a high proportion of these were unique (approximately 80%) while on the second and third this dropped (approximately 35% and then approximately 25%).

A lot of subsequent hits were return hits. People coming back to check on their comments, to see how things were progressing, etc.

3. Hardly Anyone Follows the Links

The articles involved in the storm had links to each other and to back-up data and sources.

Only around 0.5% of visitors followed any links from the articles.

4. Reactions Aren’t As Negative as You Think

Of the reactions to the article around half were positive (and seemed to grasp the point of the article) and the remaining half was approximately equally divided between neutral/discursive commentors and negative commentors.

Most commentators left only a single comment. Multiple comments were concentrated in the neutral/discursive and negative sections, mostly the negative commentators.

5. It’s the Same People

I am reasonably certain (90%) based on the same phrasing and attitudes being expressed that the most vitriolic hatred and attempts to coerce/shut down/damage were limited to the same three people across Youtube, SomethingAwful, RPGnet and 4Chan. (Update: One of those three then tried to comment on this blog and seemed to think I thought only three people disliked me. Apparently they don’t have the word ‘most’ in Trolltown as they thought I meant only three people disliked me.)

Some of these people have been following and hating on anything I’ve done for years, at any opportunity they have. These were existing ‘anti-fans’ rather than anyone new.

6. This Isn’t a Good Marketing Tool

While the site, and youtube, got a lot of hits this didn’t translate into sales or new followers which have continued along at the same rate as they were beforehand.

Given the evidence from Tentacle Bento and Tropes Vs Women however, net-storms can mobilise people if there’s something directly related to it but that was not the case in this instance. (In both those cases, trolling/etc ended up simply giving a higher profile and greater success).

7. People Aren’t Interested in What’s True

I suspect that the articles creating the ‘storm’ were far more popular and got a lot more hits than the actual article itself. People don’t follow the links and when they do they’re coming coloured by what they’ve been told you said, rather than what you actually said. When challenged and corrected many people do fade away and the persistent attackers/trolls are a vanishingly small number.

Lessons to be Learned

If you’re the centre of the storm:
1. There aren’t that many haters.
2. Give your support appropriate weight (people who support you are less likely to comment and less likely to comment often. Weight it appropriately).
3. It doesn’t last long. If you’re sure you’re right, hold your course. The outraged will be on to the next thing in, perhaps, a week.
4. Controversy isn’t a good marketing/publicity tool, unless you have something directly involved, a ‘dog in the fight’, being controversial (justifiably or not) doesn’t really make a difference.

If you find something you hate:
1. Making a fuss gives something attention (in this case six times more attention than it would otherwise have).
2. Investigate what you’re pointed at. People may not be being honest when they criticise and hardly anyone fact-checks. Go to the original source and see where it’s drawing from.
3. Starving something of attention is far more effective on the internet than drawing people’s attention to it. ‘Don’t feed the troll’ has universal applicability.
4. You’re probably better off commenting directly at the site of the offence. While you may get blocked/deleted the person involved is going to see the message and you’re not going to contribute to giving them attention.

I hope you’ll find this useful and it will help you to understand how small and insignificant many of these internet riots are.

The Advent of Physical ‘Piracy’

It’s a WWI Mark IV. Don’t claim ‘unique’ and ‘distinctive’.

I’ve already made a few comments about this story on Twitter, Facebook and G+ but I think it’s really worthy of a full on blog post. The short version, if you don’t want to follow the link, is that some people are already using fabbers to make copies of physical objects or to produce models similar to those produced by certain companies.

 

Yet again, as with ebooks, gamers seem to be a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new tech, but companies it seems are still lagging behind.

We’ve been through this before with MP3, we’re going through it with ebooks and movies and the same mistakes are being made over and over again. It sickens me to see companies refusing to learn from history and getting into the same, pointless, expensive, litigious, good-will burning cycle over and again.

The music companies did the absolute wrong thing in going after music ‘pirates’, suing little girls and trying to shore up a broken business model. Until the apple store came along anyway. Even now they’re still trying to stop the various streaming and radio-alike services and yet again, all it’s doing is making people resent them.

We’re still seeing it with films, but the better solution – Lovefilm, Netflix, on demand movies, that’s coming around slowly though companies still seem too keen on doing staggered releases which only feeds piracy as people get frustrated waiting for their favourite shows or films to come out.

Ebooks? We’ve still not quite gotten to the iTunes or Netflix stage there, though it’s coming. Book publishers still seem intent on over-charging for ebooks and, again, doing the frustrating, staggered release model that, again, feeds piracy. Wizards removing their old PDFs from the market is a prime example of a ‘Wrong Move’ in this arena.

Now we see GW making the same mistake only with physical objects. What you have here is not a threat, but an opportunity. GW has had some… questionable business practices over the last twenty years or so (since 1990) and has a bad rep. Here’s an opportunity to fix a lot of that damage and steal a march on competitors like Fantasy Flight or Privateer Press who have been gobbling a chunk of GWs business.

Engage with your fans. Put your patterns up FOR SALE at a reasonable price. Go through your back catalogue of designs, all the way back, scan your old figures. 3D printing doesn’t wear out moulds. You have decades of great designs and games and you could make a bundle off the patterns for playing pieces from all the old greats. Gamers would go nuts for it and you’d get a huge amount of good will and be able to create a trusted space in which hobbyists could share their own conversions, modifications and figures.

If you don’t, somebody will. A company less hidebound, more forward thinking, agile enough to innovate and take a risk with a view to the long term.

Not that anybody ever listens to me…