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March 31, 2014 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Articulated Splines: For Great Justice

The myth that only straight male able white cisgendered people (to save my word count let’s call them SMAWCs) want to play and make games is bullshit.

The common refrain of the comment section is “[Group] aren’t the target audience; they don’t play games”. To paraphrase Megan Farokhmanesh’s Game Developers Conference speech, have you asked them? SMAWCs aren’t the only people out there, and when you stop to think about it, there are plenty of issues that stick out like sore thumbs.

Everyone with a laptop owns a console; everyone with a mobile phone is a gamer. Most of those people aren’t SMAWCs. Commercially and ethically, there’s more than enough justification to diversify both what we see on screen, and the people who make it happen.

Across the board, there’s an issue with representation of non-SMAWCs. Mass Effect gave us a spectrum of romantic choices, but heteronormativity pervades most games still. How many have even one queer character? Or one that doesn’t exist just to bang the player? What about race? How many have a default protagonist that’s not Caucasian or Japanese? I was glad to see that Orcs Must Die 2 included a playable female hero, right up until I saw the character’s outfits and buried my face so very deeply in my palm.

I have been blown away by the testimonials of folk who have used the crafting of their in-game avatars to represent a person that they can identify with, perhaps more than their physical bodies, but how often is anything other than a gender binary presented in game characters? See for example Jessica Janiuk’s “Gaming is my safe space” or Deirdra Kiai’s #1ReasonToBe speech.

Think, too, about voice chat on multiplayer services like Xbox Live, where homophobic and sexually abusive slurs rear their ugly heads. Female voices can meet abusive, skill-deriding and creepily propositioning comments, occasionally within the same breath. It’s definitely not everyone, and block and report functions have been somewhat effective, but the numerous blogs documenting the problem show that it’s hardly a non-issue.

This is all to say nothing about the practical issues faced by many differently abled gamers. Something as simple as colour blindness can put up an irritating barrier – and one that should be easy for developers to remove.

There are ways to fix these things, and we will get there. Part of the solution is no doubt putting more non-SMAWCs in the development studios and publishers.

But don’t just take my word for it, for I too am a SMAWC. Read some of the brilliant writing out there by LGBT folk, people of colour, women, and everyone else about gaming culture, its shortcomings and especially its potential.



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