I wrote about representation in games before. It’s a complex problem that will take many small steps to solve, all of them partial and faulty. But we need to take those steps already, and that’s why I was happy to see one of my favorite bloggers tackle the problem again. In his article You Are the Hero, David Chart explains why representation is hard, and why you can’t always satisfy everyone.
And you know, Mr. Chart makes a couple of good points there. Like the fact that just having a “brown” character isn’t enough. Roma Gypsies may not feel represented by a Pakistani for example. But! I’ll argue that even having Roma characters isn’t specific enough — there are multiple sub-groups to consider, and going too specific may well have the opposite effect. Moreover, all too often the issue is that people from marginalized groups find nobody at all to identify with in a story: all the remotely important characters are rich straight white men. (Who solve all their problems through violence — that’s another good point Mr. Chart makes. It’s horribly unrealistic: most people hate violence, and for good reason, since in the real world it just begets more violence, and solves absolutely nothing.)
That said, I’m not at all convinced it’s so hard to write stories that appeal to a large number of social categories. I’ve read AND written books that feature rich and poor, old and young, women, people of color, sexual minorities and disabled people at the same time, with sufficient prominence, and it never once felt forced. It’s a lot easier than you think. Minorities… simply exist and are among us. You don’t need any special reason to feature them.
On second thought, the idea that it’s too hard to have a truly diverse cast might stem from seeing minorities as stereotypes. Writers think they’re supposed to have the Great White Men front and center, and then the Token Woman, Token Gay, Token Black… If you do it that way, of course you’ll end up with more “tokens” than is reasonable. But here’s the trick: people aren’t cardboard cutouts! Why can’t you have your hacker NPC just so happen to be a brown transgender woman in a wheelchair? Such people exist too, you know. Bam! Instant representation for many different audiences. Just don’t do it to tick checkboxes on a list. Do it because diversity is natural. And no, you don’t have to feature every single marginalized group in this world in every single story; that would be absurd. But it’s a lot easier to feature multiple such groups at once than Mr. Chart makes it sound. It doesn’t have to be all Gay Games, Chick Games and so on.
But there’s a nastier issue as well. At some point, Mr. Chart argues that we also need games that don’t offend the sensibilities of conservative Christians, so they don’t feel excluded. Wait. You mean… like the vast majority of stories out there? Most games, books and movies by far feature a straight white man in his mid-30s saving the day, getting the girl and patting the poor little savages on their ugly heads. They’re not the ones who need even more representation. And do I have to leave out gay characters to appease a bunch of bigots? Why? Why do I have to respect hatred and tacitly endorse oppression? (Are we making the victims responsible again?) Let the privileged tell their own stories like they always have. Nobody’s burning books here. (Seriously, don’t!) But that’s just it, isn’t it? We’re talking people who consider themselves “silenced” simply because diverse stories ALSO exist AT ALL. Somehow. The mind boggles.
Sorry… just no. Nope, nope, nope.
More about diversity and representation by Felix Pleşoianu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.