Global Developers, Global Gamers: A Different Kind of Diversity
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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.
This 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.
There 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.”
Gamers 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
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