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Gaming is becom­ing more diverse than ever and this diver­si­ty is com­ing from coun­tries that pre­vi­ous­ly didn’t have a large pres­ence in the games mar­ket  and who are final­ly mak­ing their voic­es heard. Gamers in the­se parts of the world are find­ing big-budget games with ele­ments of their cul­ture, his­to­ry and mythol­o­gy they can iden­ti­fy with for the first time. And it’s being brand­ed as “sex­ist” and “racist” from those who lack any cul­tur­al under­stand­ing besides their own and by those who are blind­ed by polit­i­cal moti­va­tions.

6d263ea71c424ba1c3634b40fc18c3c562749d95This is a sub­ject I have want­ed to tack­le ever since I wrote a Twitlonger about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which touched on this sub­ject. The fact is, when the con­ver­sa­tion about diver­si­ty is had, no one wants to talk about it in a tru­ly glob­al sense. Diversity of nation­al­i­ty is active­ly qui­et­ed in favour of a very nar­row­ly approved form of diver­si­ty: the gam­ing press and the indie dar­lings want to talk exclu­sive­ly about wom­en, sex­u­al­i­ty, and a very American form of racial the­o­ry. Everything else is either ignored or shout­ed down and the com­plex fac­tors which make up the cul­tur­al her­itage and iden­ti­ty of a game are passed over. There is a great irony here that those who want to talk about the cul­tur­al aspects of games and who cham­pi­on the diver­si­ty of char­ac­ters are com­plete­ly miss­ing the point when those games come from “white” nations.  We live in a world where “cul­tur­al crit­ics” don’t seem to real­ize that nations like Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine have their own unique, dis­tinct and rich cul­tures.

Whist I’ve was for­mu­lat­ing this series, some­thing amaz­ing hap­pened: devel­op­ers and gamers them­selves have begun to speak out on this issue. Already the dis­course is mov­ing towards a more bal­anced debate and I feel more and more con­fi­dent that I am not alone in the­se ideas. The insan­i­ty of the “white male priv­i­lege” debate is begin­ning to unrav­el and in the wake of ludi­crous events like “Games so White” and the attacks by Polygon and oth­ers on the devel­op­ers of The Witcher series CD Projekt RED. The ludi­crous nature of an American wom­an accus­ing Japanese devel­op­ers of mak­ing gam­ing more “white” by using designs inspired by their folk-lore and broad cul­tur­al ref­er­ence points shows just how absurd some of the­se claims are. The prob­lem is per­spec­tive: games need to be judged based on the cul­ture they were cre­at­ed in and by pro­ject­ing your own bias­es and cul­ture onto them.

f0930a30f376fa2786730956753afa2412fbb828There is a con­tin­ued polar­iza­tion of atti­tudes when it comes to what is “racist” and “sex­ist” in gam­ing, the words are being applied to every­thing gam­ing out­lets and out­spo­ken devel­op­ers sim­ply dis­like or mis­un­der­stand. We see it count­less times with Japanese games and European games. They don’t care about “diver­si­ty,” they care about pol­i­tics. They care about their own nar­row lit­tle world view and then apply it to gam­ing. Worst of all, they use it as a stick to beat oth­er game devel­op­ers with. It’s a form of xeno­pho­bia towards a rapid­ly glob­al­iz­ing game mar­ket. There is also an effort to seek out things to be offend­ed by and then attack as it brings a lev­el of atten­tion and per­ceived moral supe­ri­or­i­ty. It’s what they con­sid­er “punch­ing up,” but the­se are just igno­rant crit­i­cisms. They lack per­spec­tives out­side of their small bub­ble of peo­ple who want to declare all things uni­lat­er­al­ly “big­ot­ed” with­out try­ing to real­ize their own nar­row, U.S. cen­tric world­view. There is a com­plete lack of intro­spec­tion and self-awareness from those mak­ing the­se claims that gam­ing and gamers are “anti-diversity.”

Let me be blunt with you: if you’re an American wom­an who can afford to live in the cen­ter of a major city and sup­port them­selves mak­ing very lit­tle in the way of out­put then you are far more ‘priv­i­leged’ than a man scrap­ing by in Eastern Europe. You live in a more devel­oped nation that was nev­er rav­aged by the harsh­ness of the Soviet sys­tem well into the 1990s. Yet all we hear about is “wom­en in gam­ing” used as an excuse to tear down the fruits of emerg­ing developer’s labour. I will talk in more detail about the stri­dent gains coun­tries like Poland have made in the glob­al games mar­ket lat­er on in this series and how they real­ly are the sign of a tru­ly diverse gam­ing mar­ket.

More and more “indie dev” means American, painful­ly mid­dle class, coastal hip­sters. It makes geo­graph­ic sense I sup­pose; many media and tech com­pa­nies are based in San Francisco, L.A. and New York. Awards are held there and so are con­fer­ences. It’s a mat­ter of geo­graph­ic con­ve­nience to have a sta­ble of devel­op­ers that you both cul­tur­al­ly relate with and are geo­graph­i­cal­ly close to. That’s what we call a “scene.” But we need to get away from the pix­el art and the thick-rimmed glass­es. These places already have a tra­di­tion of mak­ing video games and all the bright­ly coloured hair in the world will not make you “diverse” when you rep­re­sent the same small sec­tion of peo­ple who have been hav­ing suc­cess and acco­lades thrown their way for bet­ter part of the last decade.

All of those try­ing to push down down this new wave of glob­al stu­dios are pro­tec­tion­ists afraid of a mar­ket they can no longer con­trol and scared of peo­ple who don’t share the same cul­tur­al val­ues as them. If you are in a posi­tion to use your plat­form to attack a small stu­dio in a dif­fer­ent nation then may­be you should “check your priv­i­lege.”

3eb335404b5b8cae808b86c4aa04f75c287ea76dGamers too are being told games from their nations are some­how mer­chants of “racism” and “anti-diversity,” when real­ly they are mere­ly reflect­ing demo­graph­ics and ideas that are not famil­iar to an American mind­set. Gamers are more diverse and spread across more nations than ever before. So why is there a strong nar­ra­tive about an exclu­sion­ary cri­sis in gam­ing? The prob­lem the self-styled gate­keep­ers have is this: set­ting them­selves up to solve this cri­sis is prof­itable and gives them a degree of con­trol and pow­er. If they admit that the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty is mov­ing in the right direc­tion then they would have to admit they are not as need­ed as they made them­selves out to be. They are try­ing to solve a prob­lem that does not exist with meth­ods that do not take into account we live in a glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of gamers. Problems make for good click­bait, though. If things are okay and the gam­ing world is get­ting bet­ter, that’s hard to get an emo­tion­al respon­se from.

People seem tired of the “gen­der” non-debate so those same voic­es have moved onto a “race” non-debate. All “white­ness” is treat­ed as being iden­ti­cal. The idea there is a uni­form “white­ness” in the world is absurd and eras­es the strug­gles and per­se­cu­tion the Eastern European peo­ples most of all. Gaming broad­cast­er Total Biscuit made an excel­lent point when he said this:


He’s right. Those peo­ple in The Witcher are Poles. Yet all the gam­ing press saw were “white” peo­ple. Seeing English speak­ing Anglo-Saxons and Slavic speak­ing Slavs as cul­tur­al­ly and racial­ly iden­ti­cal is as stu­pid and narrow-minded as think­ing all “brown peo­ple” come from Africa, or think­ing Africa is a sin­gle nation. The dis­course that lumps all peo­ple into “peo­ple of colour” and “whites” is insane and at odds with real­i­ty. Reductive rea­son­ing and ugly racial the­o­ry have no place as a way to try and shame game devel­op­ers into chang­ing their games and are espe­cial­ly nasty when used again­st emerg­ing economies.

This mere­ly serves as an overview and intro­duc­tion to the­se ideas. This com­plex sub­ject and how it has been mis­han­dled will not fit into a sin­gle coher­ent piece. There are too many voic­es final­ly speak­ing out and too many angles from which it can be seen. The idea I want you to think about is this: gam­ing is diverse. Gaming is glob­al. Gamers are diverse. National iden­ti­ty is not some­thing that can pure­ly be put down to the nar­row def­i­n­i­tions of “race.” We are mov­ing nat­u­ral­ly into a world where games, devel­op­ers, and gamers them­selves come from a wide range of cul­tur­al back­grounds. And the tra­di­tion­al voic­es who dom­i­nat­ed the “diver­si­ty” debate seem hor­ri­fied by this.

Visit the “Global Devlopers” Hub

Or Read the Next Part: Five Developers off the Beaten Track SweeneyEditorialGlobal Devs,Global GamersVisit the “Global Devlopers” Hub Gaming is becom­ing more diverse than ever and this diver­si­ty is com­ing from coun­tries that pre­vi­ous­ly didn’t have a large pres­ence in the games mar­ket  and who are final­ly mak­ing their voic­es heard. Gamers in the­se parts of the world are find­ing big-budget games with ele­ments…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.