05 June 2014

Disturbing the Peace: Diversity in Fiction Part 2 - Video games

So last time we talked briefly about why diversity is important in fiction. The short answer is that the world is full of more than just Straight White Dudes, which means that there are a billion stories to tell in which a SWD doesn't have to be the main character. Video game creators don't seem to get that memo too often, but there are a few who do.

Bioware is one of the best for this. They get a lot of flack for stuff, deservedly, but they do manage to do a few things right. The relationship systems in both Dragon Age and Mass Effect are evidence of what they do right.

When Bioware released Mass Effect in 2007, they took a lot of criticism for featuring an alien character named Liara T'soni who can be romanced by both genders. Not only because she can be with MaleShep or FemShep but also because there is a love scene.

You slut, you.
All of Bioware's games, from Knights of the Old Republic to the most recent Mass Effect installment, feature same-sex relationships. Mass Effect 3 features the first strictly gay romances with Samantha Traynor and Steve Cortez. And those are actually my favorite romances out of the entire series. 


*Ahem* Sorry. So anyway, Bioware is awesome for that much at least. Although we still have yet to have a gay main character, but they seem to not care about having same-sex relationships.

They did pretty well in Dragon Age: Origins with giving the player different race options, which I discussed here. But primarily, except for Sten, all your companions are white.

So let's move on to a game that gets it right. I've espoused the awesomeness that is Telltale's The Walking Dead plenty of times, but I haven't quite gotten into quite how it corresponds with the diversity issue. The main character, Lee Everett, is amazing. He starts out as almost stereotypical, as he's on his way to prison at the game's start, but by the end of episode 5? He's one of the most well-rounded characters there is. He's at times ruthless, and at others incredibly compassionate. You can play him a number of different ways due to the game's choice system (similar to the conversation wheel in Dragon Age and Mass Effect), but regardless of what you choose, Lee isn't the same by the end of the game. And for that matter, neither is Clementine, who becomes the protagonist of the 2nd game (I REFUSE TO GIVE YOU SPOILERS). Both characters are African American. The game also features two other non-white characters who, depending on your choices, become Clem's caregivers. It's....pretty awesome.
Would the experience been the same had the characters been another race? Probably not. The game creators chose Lee, Clem, Christa, and Omid for a reason. 

For another fantastic and exciting development in gaming diversity, check out this piece from the Mary Sue about an upcoming and awesome-sounding game and the statement from the game's creators about what they're doing and why. Pretty uplifting stuff. Also, they've done a great piece on storytelling in video games in general.

Next time on Disturbing the Peace - Diversity in TV and movies.

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