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A different state of play

Nathan Sheldon-Anderson on diversity in gaming

In preparation for the release of the latest Star Wars film, I loaded up my decade-old game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. After scrolling through my old saved games I noticed a recurrent pattern. Eleven-year-old Nathan had played the game four times over and always with a black protagonist. Curious, I then checked my other Role Playing Games. I had chosen every protagonist to be black.

I always loved Bishop – an Indigenous anti-hero from the X-Men comics. Bishop is an Aboriginal man who fled to America following a nuclear attack. Following his story of discovery had always touched me as an Indigenous person.

There has also been a push for diversity in game development teams and the games they produce.

I recently attended the first ever Australian RTX Gaming and Internet Convention. It turned the Convention Centre at Sydney Technological Park into a bazaar of online gaming, cosplay and all things nerdy. There were sideshows and stages dedicated to gaming, as well as appearances from gaming franchise personalities of RoosterTeeth Gaming fame. Thousands of enthusiasts cued outside in the heat to experience the American born event. A centrepiece was a panel discussion on the homogeneous nature of the industry.

An increase in diversity allows for a wider array of narratives and perspectives that gamers would never otherwise experience. These narratives are also more compelling. Stories of a gutsy-badass-white-cis-hetero-male are a dime-a-dozen.

In fact, games have moved towards guaranteeing that their narratives are complex and different. A game like RUST facilitates diversity by limiting the availability of white players. From last year ethnicity and gender were not chosen by the user but randomly determined and permanently linked to your Steam account. The only way to change character is to start a new account and buy the game again. Unsurprisingly, people cared more about their bank account than their preference to have a white protagonist.

Panels and discussions about diversity in gaming are absolutely crucial. While women and people of colour are represented stereotypically in the current gaming market, development teams consisting of these people can guarantee a nuanced gaming experience.

It would reflect sections of the audiences that are not consistently represented. Seeing someone who looks like you, feels like you or has similar experiences creates a sense of inclusion. Vicariously following and directing a player as they fight through a game is even better. It is exciting to see a community like Rooster Teeth embracing diversity and making online gaming a better space.