I initially wrote this post for the Games and Culture class blog taught by Dr. Zach Whalen at the University of Mary Washington. I wanted to archive it on my own blog as well, partially because this topic is so dear to my heart and partially because I want to revisit this piece soon, perhaps with some new conclusions.
A fellow classmate already tackled this topic, albeit in regards to race. I highly encourage you to read that post, and, depending on how angry you want to be today, the discussion that followed.
At the end of the day, there’s no arguing that the bulk of the gaming industry, just like any other industry, must be profitable in order to survive. That truism has been used for years to justify the narrow demographics represented within video games: video games have traditionally had excellent sales among straight white young cisgender men, so the majority of characters represented in games should, accordingly, be straight white young cisgender men. As anybody who isn’t actively living under a rock can tell you, the audience for video games as a medium is rapidly expanding (and was never all that narrow in the first place), but the demographics and kinds of stories represented within video games themselves are still lagging way behind.
While it would make some sense to assume that gaming companies might not want to produce a game with, say, a female protagonist out of fear that doing so might damage their earnings, it stands to reason that making more games appealing to a wider audience brings in more profits. I’m not suggesting that game companies should start marking to every categorical niche in existence, but when every conversation about diversity in games seems to conclude with “everybody’s playing something,” investing in more diverse video game casts seems like a rock-solid business decision. At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Microsoft narrative designer Tom Abernathy structured an entire talk around that point:
Abernathy also pointed to a study which said 56 percent of the US urban population plays games, compared to 47 percent of the rural population. Abernathy said with more rural areas of the country tending to be less diverse, the numbers would seem to shift the gamer audience even further away from the idea of an average gamer being a straight white male.
“Our industry, our art, and our business stand to gain in every sense simply by holding a mirror up to our audience and reflecting their diversity in what we produce,” Abernathy said.