Global Developers, Global Gamers: A Different Kind of Diversity

Scrumpmonkey begins a series where he looks at the Global Gaming and Development scene, and lays bear the reductive reasoning made by some progressives.

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Visit 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 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

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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