By far, the Tumblr ask below was most polite message we received in the days following Sheva’s recent article, “How a Lack of Racial Diversity Inhibits ‘Life Is Strange’.” Initially, her impressions of Life Is Strange were very well-received, and then, as with all discussions pertaining to inequality, the conversation was diverted rather sharply in another direction.
Let’s get this part out of the way: I’m not here to tell you how to feel about Life Is Strange. This post should only serve as a reminder that it’s okay to like something problematic—hell, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be a fan of something that isn’t perfect. We’re all in process of learning and maturing as human beings, and part of that is taking responsibility for screwing up when it happens. As a white woman? I know that feeling all too well, but the sticking point here is that I need to be ready and willing to be called out when I misstep in my attempts to be inclusive.
To outright dismiss an argument and refuse to further engage in the discussion is not only inhibiting the growth of the gaming industry as a viable medium, but also inhibiting our growth as individuals. That’s why I curated this required reading list: to provide a quick, introductory jumping off point for education. Because shutting down the conversation about diversity before it’s even well and truly begun? Not cool, friends. In the same vein, Sheva clarified this knee-jerk reaction to criticism of a fave in the comments section, which I think is absolutely imperative to read:
“We can’t be willing to settle for “not great” just because other people are doing things worse. If anything, I think we’re obligated to hold the people trying to do good in the industry to a higher standard of competence and awareness. They’re already doing some things right—it’s our job to examine their process to help them do even better.”
So. You’ve gotten this far, have you? That means you’re looking for a comprehensive list of resources in your quest to better understand—or even educate someone else—when it comes to discussing diversity in the games we play. I’m super glad for your willingness to seek out our guide! That’s half the battle, honestly. And if you have any similar links to provide that may help the FemHype community, don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments.
By Sheva, FemHype
“The second problem with background representation is that it relegates characters of color to secondary roles as sidekicks and bystanders. It suggests that the stories of characters of color are somehow less than those of white characters; less interesting, less evocative, less powerful, and less poignant.
Life Is Strange’s characters of color don’t get the stage time or stage presence of their white counterparts. Most of them appear only once or twice, and none of them ever independently interact with Max the way Victoria or Chloe or Nathan do. They appear in the background as garnishment—fun little extras that Max can choose to interact with or not—and that’s where they stay. With the sole exception of Principal Wells, none of them really participate in or even add meaningfully to the plot. This is representation at its laziest and least committal, and the fact that thus far I’ve seen no one mention it is … strange. For lack of a better word.”
By Sheva, FemHype
“But there’s another, more insidious problem with the idea that video games belong to only one group of people: it’s the idea that diversifying video games would make them cease to belong to this group. It’s the idea that diversity is all-or-nothing—that diversifying video games would mean eradicating the games and gaming culture that currently exists.
I see people (mostly these aforementioned EOPs) talking about diversity as if it’s reductive. And that’s … literally the opposite of what diversity is. Diversifying games doesn’t involve taking away from game content; it involves adding to it, creating new characters and new storylines and new franchises that better represent the diversity of the audience, and of the world we live in.“
By Ashe, FemHype
“Daisy Fitzroy fascinated me. Luisa captured my attention every time she was on screen. Aveline de Grandpré is easily one of my favorite characters in any video game (let it be known, I will cosplay her someday). At the same time, it doesn’t escape my notice what delicate tune many developers sing: reach the bare minimum, then fall right back into that comfort zone. It’s not good enough to write a realistic woman or girl of color only to kill them off. Or push them to the side. Or have them play cheerleader to a character who is white or a man (or both).
This pattern is still more common than the alternative. Hell, it’s the nigh-constant static that fills the background of anyone who’s unlucky enough to lack access to whiteness or the patriarchy. We do not exist with conditions. This is just not good enough.”
By Heather O, FemHype
“So, if there is plenty of data to show that history isn’t what a lot of people think it is, where do a lot of people come up with these ideas? A lot of that can be laid at the feet of popular media. When you have movies, TV, and books including fantasy literature that fails to provide the existing variability, then you have people who start to think that movies, et al, are the truth. It is a form of ignorance to believe that the entertainment industry cares about accuracy in all things, but it is a common problem. It is more rare to see accuracy in such media than for early video games to have logic in the storyline.
What seems to occur is that a developer fails to accurately represent history, then these flaws in representation stack on top of each other until casual viewers believe the created narrative rather than the facts. Control of the story allows you to control what people know and don’t know. All repressive regimes know this fact.
By Tanya D, Offworld
“I hope the tropes that govern characters like Vivienne de Fer or Mother Giselle are the last we see of these types of things. I hope these missteps simply happen because there aren’t many people of color working in the games industry. It’s not that anyone on the Dragon Age team is willfully racist or malicious to players; it’s simply that someone who doesn’t have the lived experience of dealing with racism as a person of color would simply not think about these things.
I want these things to end; I want more people of color working in the games industry. I want more people on the team who can go, “whoa, wait, this isn’t okay.” I want more people sitting in the room who can bring things like these up when scripts are being written—or better yet, while characters are still being conceived. These painful jabs hurt people like me as we traverse the fantasy worlds that are supposed to represent the ultimate escape from the real.”
By Tauriq Moosa, Polygon
“You’ll often hear “based on mythology” as well as “historically accurate” in the same breath, even though it can’t be both. If it’s based on mythology, then it’s fiction. If it’s historically accurate, then we must talk about our ancestors’ legendary fights with sirens on the shores of Arg Skellige.
It is incredibly unwelcoming to be shown the door by the same people who open it for fantasy creatures. Gamer culture needs to improve its diversity—not of magical beings, but of the people who are part of its culture. That is, if it wishes to be a safe, open, tolerant space for everyone—regardless of race.”
By Sidney Fussell, Offworld
“A bit of white history: In the United States, literacy tests were tests administered to prospective voters, usually African Americans and poor whites. These tests feigned measuring “literacy” but had the true purpose of disenfranchising Blacks and poor whites by preventing them from voting. They were filtering mechanisms created to prevent representation.
In games and other media, “historical accuracy” allows opponents of diversified period fantasy to maintain an edifice of neutrality (“that’s just the way it was”) and ignore the fact that all representation is political. It uses the veneer of objectivity to mask its true function of filtering out non-white participants. In effect, “historical accuracy” is the literacy test of fiction.”