Diversity and Inclusion in Video Games

S2 EP3 – Diversity and Inclusion in Video Games

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Episode Transcription

LARA: Hi, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Open World season 2. Today I’m going to be the host, I’m going to be the one making the questions. How is everyone doing today?

ALEX: Very good, very good! Excited about the topic today.

LARA: Today’s topic is diversity and inclusion. And as a woman playing video games, I strive to see more diversity and inclusion both in video games and in the video game industry too, right? So my first question for you guys today is, what is diversity and inclusion for you?

MELISA: Well, for me, I mean, this is a very, very important topic, and I think what I like the most about video games is that it just means different things to everyone, and I would like to see a place where everyone feels represented, they feel comfortable playing, they feel welcome. And, you know, we’ve seen that it’s not always the case, so we definitely need to do better at this.

LARA: I agree with you 100%. Ale, what about you?

ALEX: I agree, of course. I think that diversity and inclusion need to sum up places both in the companies and in what is represented in video games for everyone…

LARA: Absolutely.

ALEX: No matter who you are.

LARA: Absolutely, yeah. I think, um… In terms of diversity and inclusion, it should be easy by now, you know? It should be easier, it should be smoother right now.

ALEX: It shouldn’t be a topic.

LARA: It shouldn’t be a topic! But yeah, we have some cases where some companies or some video games try to be inclusive and diverse and it seems sometimes a little bit too off or too forced, and that’s not good either, you know? Just like, yeah, we’re working together, I think we’re striving together. So we understand that there’s like a B2B side of diversity and inclusion, and a B2C side of diversity and inclusion. What do I mean by this? I mean we have the business side, the companies encouraging their employees and their politics to be more diverse and inclusive, and we also have the video games that strive to be more inclusive too, right? I think the demographics show that more than 46% of people that play video games are women. Do you believe this is showing in the video games that you’re currently playing right now?

MELISA: Yeah, this is… I mean, it just seems that a lot of companies still think their target is, like, a 14-year-old guy, which is, you know, it’s no longer the case. There’s like grandmas playing video games, and they’re gamers too. You know, just to have more… And it’s kind of a cycle for me, that’s how I see it. We have not a very diverse industry, I mean, you know, developers and in general, especially in leadership roles. And we’re gonna talk about the numbers later. But, you know, that feeds into that also, games that are showing societies which are not diverse.

LARA: What about you, Ale? Do you see this reflected in any video games that you have played?

ALEX: Well, yeah, I mean… It’s getting there.

LARA: It’s getting there, right?

ALEX: It’s getting there. I mean, I think that the tricky part is when it doesn’t matter what type of character you’re playing, for instance, in a video game, right? What we experience on the other side of the joystick, as I like to say. If it doesn’t matter what type of character, what type of representation your character is because it’s unrelated.

MELISA: Yeah, it’s about the story, about the backgrounds, the character, how much you can do as a character.

ALEX: Like, it doesn’t matter. It could be an Asian teenager or, I don’t know, a black male of 57, whatever. Whatever the spectrum is, when that doesn’t matter, most companies usually just go for the…

LARA: Basic white dude. Yeah.

MELISA: Straight.

LARA: Straight. Yeah.

ALEX: I think that it’s getting there. There are games that have done it properly with the customization of the characters or…

LARA: Yeah, I think… Yeah, they’re missing out, I believe, in a huge part of the story, in a huge part of maybe making the game more relatable to the one that is playing it. So it’s just like, why don’t you make the jump? Why don’t you make your game more relatable to the community, right?

MELISA: Absolutely. Yes.

LARA: I personally love Overwatch because I believe Overwatch has this same amount of female and male players, and we also have non-binary characters too. So it’s just like, we have this diversity and inclusion in the game and it runs smoothly, and it’s like, nobody cares.


ALEX: It’s not forced.

LARA: It’s not forced. Absolutely.

ALEX: You have representation of how life is. You go around your life and you get to know different people. Apex is another game that does it beautifully.

LARA: Absolutely.

ALEX: You have a wide spectrum of characters, they’re all different, they all have their own stories. And even though it doesn’t matter the stories of the characters for the game it feels natural.

LARA: It feels natural. I know that Harvestella is one of Square Enix’s new games that you can actually make your own character and you can actually choose to be non-binary, so I think that’s amazing. Another game that I’m currently playing is Tiny Tina’s Wonderland, where we’re introduced to a non-binary character and they’re addressed with their pronouns as “they,” and it’s just amazing, it runs smoothly, it’s great. I mean, I enjoy that kind of content because you get different perspectives, and nowadays, I think, that’s the most beautiful thing to see in a video game.

MELISA: Exactly. Like it doesn’t matter, you know… It’s not that you necessarily want to see someone that looks exactly like you, but it’s just that that magic of video games that you get to see, like, the world, whatever the world is, in someone else’s eyes, and then, you know, when that character has a very interesting and a very different background than your own, then you get a whole different perspective. And that’s just like… That just makes you grow.

LARA: I think it makes… Yeah, it makes you grow as a person. And, I don’t know, when you see and you can relate maybe to this non-binary character, for example, and then you see in real life, I don’t know, imagine I’m a 12-year-old boy that doesn’t know what a non-binary person is.

MELISA: Yeah, and then you play The Last of Us 2 or games like these.

LARA: Oh, my God, yeah! And then you find a non-binary person in real life, I think it gets easier. It’s just a matter of making things easier for everyone. Meli, I know you have the numbers about all of these diversity and inclusion topics.

MELISA: Yeah, we did some research about it just so, you know…

LARA: You did your homework.

MELISA: You think like, “I think there’s like more girls playing,” but then you see the numbers, like, almost half of the people who are playing video games are women. And then, you know, then you have it. One of the studies we saw was Newzoo, this is the one that published that 46% are women. And another number that we were very shocked was they showed that 1 in 3 gamers have not felt welcome in gaming communities. And that really, like, just made us sad because… You know, we’re gonna talk more about this later, but we, of course, strive to, you know, just not toxic communities where everyone can feel appreciated and, you know, comfortable and can connect with other people who, you know, think alike and…

ALEX: It’s a reality, it happens.

LARA: Yeah, I mean, and the fact that 1 of 3 gamers have not felt welcome into the gaming community… I have experienced this. Have you experienced this? It’s just like…

ALEX: Yeah. I mean, we all have our own whys, you know? Different reasons why we felt, at some point, I don’t know, off or not welcome. I’ve had… I don’t know. I don’t want to dwell too into this, but for being Latino, for being from South America, “No, you have poor internet, I don’t wanna play with you because we’re gonna lag.” – Yeah. I mean… “Okay, sure, whatever.” I’ve also had situations where…

LARA: Yeah, with the being Latino thing, I think that’s huge, because sometimes they don’t know what gender I am, that I’m playing. And the other day I was playing, and this dude just realized that I was from Latin America somehow… I think it was for the ping because I was having too much lag, and he realized that I was from Latin America. And on the chat he started saying, “Arepa, arepa, taco, arepa.” I was like, I don’t even… We don’t even have that in Argentina. But you were just being rude for, like, no reason at all.

MELISA: And also when you, sometimes, of course, you see, you know, someone else, like, people are being hard on someone else, and, you know, you feel uncomfortable for the other person, you feel like, “Hey, guys, this is not okay.” Like, just stop playing. You know?

ALEX: One of the other things… Sorry, guys, but I just remembered, I’ve had people bashing on me because I was a dad. Like I’m playing something, usually, I don’t know, PVP on Bloodborne or whatever, and my kid was crying or something, he was quite… He was an infant, like 1 and a half year old, something like that, and they were like, “Why don’t you go be a dad? What are you doing playing video games?” It’s like, “Dude, come on.”

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: What’s your problem? What’s the deal? I mean…

LARA: There’s nothing wrong with that, yeah.

ALEX: Right?

MELISA: I think it’s all part of just realizing that, like, everyone please, be nice. And it’s just like, you know, open up a bit more, in the exchange, you know, so everyone can feel…

LARA: Yeah. Meli, have you experienced this?

MELISA: I mean, yeah, I’ve been… Like I said on our first episode, I haven’t been playing for a while, so not as many experiences as you had, Lari, but, you know, but even in the amount of time I’ve been playing online, especially, like in teams, I’ve met some wonderful people, I met some really nice gamer friends, and now I play with them always, but of course I also met some other people who aren’t as nice, and they just like, you know, either make comments or just… One person just assumed I was bi just because I’m a woman. He was like, you know, he just made a comment, and I was like, “You haven’t even… I mean, I am bi, but you haven’t even played with me.”

ALEX: “It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’m a woman.”

MELISA: Exactly. So I got so pissed that I just left the party. I just have no time for that. I have no time for you. You know, I play to entertain myself, to have fun, and that’s the whole point. Like, what’s the point if you’re gonna just not have a great experience?

LARA: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, sometimes I have PTSD from some video games. I cannot go into certain video games again because they have said so many awful things to me that I cannot go back in. It’s just like, every time I wanna go back, I get this anxiety attack, and it’s just like… I can’t. They ruined the game for me. It’s so low, you know? It doesn’t feel right… Why? I mean, just because I’m a woman. Just because sometimes I kill you, sometimes I’m better than you. Just, like, it doesn’t make any sense. Please.

MELISA: Deal with it.

LARA: I’m better than you, and yeah, I’m a girl. What you gonna do about it?

ALEX: I’m not a hacker.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: I’m not hacking.

MELISA: Cheating.

ALEX: I’m not cheating. You suck.

LARA: And listen, Ale, I know that you’ve been researching a little bit about this, but I know that Riot and Ubisoft are getting somewhere with this.

ALEX: Yeah. Two of the biggest companies, I mean… Unrelated to this episode, guys, but I’m an Ubisoft guy.

LARA: Yeah, we can tell.

ALEX: I love their games. Yeah, I mean, they’re working on something that they are calling Zero Harm in Comms, that they are using new technology to track the communications among players to avoid things like we’ve been talking about happen to people. Now the interesting part about the technology that they’re using is that, up until now, most if not all technologies were dictionary-based technologies, you know? Where they, like, I don’t know, pre-install some concepts or whatever, and that’s how they flagged it. But now they are trying to come up with something that takes into account the context and the actual things they are saying. But the interesting part of it is that, once they figure it out completely, they’re gonna share what they’ve learned with others so that more companies can implement it.

LARA: That’s great.

ALEX: So, we’re getting there. Thank you, Riot and Ubisoft.

MELISA: Yeah, it makes us hopeful for, you know, just that in the future, we don’t have to experience these types of things.

LARA: Yeah. We know that representation is important, right? Do you think it is important also to see, not only in video games, but in the video game industry too?

MELISA: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think like… I mentioned something related to this before, but it’s kind of a circle in that way. And we also have some numbers about that. The International Game Developers Association shows that 22% of game developers are women. And it’s even, I mean, worse in the leadership roles, there’s only, like, 4% of game directors who are women. And, you know, when you see the demographics of, you know, the gamers and then, you know, who are the people who are developing those games, and… Like Ale said before, you know, it doesn’t mean… You know, it just brings different perspectives when you have a more diverse work environment. It brings a different perspective and you just make a better story in general, though it doesn’t mean, like, it has to be a story about, you know… Even if it’s, you know, set in ancient Japan, whatever, it’s gonna still bring a new perspective to your game.

ALEX: Yeah, I mean, diverse work teams… are crucial to bring different perspectives and different points of view into a video game story like you said, regardless of the games that you’re making.

LARA: And regardless of the character, because I could be a woman programming and not necessarily be working on a female character, you know? But it’s just the perspective, and not only the programmers, the writers, I think we should be getting more diverse experiences, we should be getting like more consultancy agencies, maybe, to get these types of…

MELISA: Yeah, exactly, that’s…

ALEX: Yeah.

MELISA: That’s something that’s been shown in those games that you said, you know, when they seem forced. They just don’t approach it in the right way, and you can get like backlash from, you know, your game community being like, “This is not…”

ALEX: There are companies that do consultancy for video game companies that maybe want to do it right but they don’t know how.

LARA: And it’s okay not knowing how.

ALEX: It’s okay not knowing how.

LARA: But yeah, open the book, I mean, let’s go for it, look for it, learn from it. I think that’s what makes the difference. And yeah, having a diverse team will teach you that, too, so it’s just like, you can make it like easier. You don’t even have to go to a consultancy thing if you have a diverse work team working with you in this specific video game, right? So it’s just like, no… Not only you can go get the help that you need, but you can also incorporate that…

MELISA: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. And I think we can also see, like, the type of stories… I mean, we’ve seen some amazing games coming. In the last years, the video games are, you know, they just look insane and the types of stories, they’re amazing. But, you know, they’re still missing that, and this is… I’m gonna keep talking numbers… You know, it’s just a fact. It’s not only how I feel about it, it’s just a fact. This study done by DiamondLobby where they took the main games, like the games that were played more in the last five years, and then they, you know, eliminated the ones that had customizable characters, so it’s only the games that have…

ALEX: The characters by default?

MELISA: Exactly. And there’s a list of 100 games, and those, like, 100 games, the biggest 100 games of the last five years. And they showed that 80% of the protagonists are male, 20% are female, and 8% of the main characters in games are females of non-white ethnicities, and 61% of all the characters in games are white. So, you know, not only main characters, but also like… yeah.

ALEX: It’s very square. It’s a box.

LARA: I think that’s why representation is so important, because, as I told you guys on one of the first episodes, I started playing video games with Lara Croft. Why? Because she was a girl. You know? And that was the only thing that took me into the video game world. Just because she was a girl. We need more of that.

MELISA: Yeah, absolutely.

LARA: And not only with a girl, with non-binary persons. Just, like, we need more.

ALEX: I mean, from my point of view, I love to play in a video game with a character that’s different than me.

LARA: Absolutely.

ALEX: I like that. I like the fact that I can go into someone else’s shoes, you know, and experience different things. I mean, take it… And not just like games that are based in current dates, you know? Even historical games like, again, Ubisoft, sorry, Assassin’s Creed, with Valhalla or Odyssey, that regardless of the gender that you pick for your character, the situations remain the same.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: Historically wise, romantically as well.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: I mean, that’s awesome. That’s an awesome thing to experience.

MELISA: Yeah. And I think it’s important to, like, acknowledge the social impact that games can have in general. You know, when you’re showing a society, it can be a completely, just like a fantasy world, where it’s just diverse and everyone feels welcome, and there’s like all these different characters with like really deep stories, and you connect with them and, you know, it just has a positive impact on everyone who’s playing the game. And just, you know, when you have a game and you’re missing that opportunity to, you know, make that social impact that just makes society better. Because when you’re portraying, you know, all the stereotypes we already have in our society and all the things that are wrong…

ALEX: You perpetuate that in video games.

LARA: I wanna bring something to the table because we’re linguists and we know the importance of language. What role do you think that language has in inclusivity and diversity? Because, for example, my mother tongue is Spanish, and Spanish is a gendered language. So every time that I sit to play a video game, the game just assumes that I’m a man, and I’m not. It’s just like, what do you think about this? How can we talk about this?

ALEX: It’s… It’s a different… Not different. It’s a difficult topic because, as you said, Spanish is gendered, but there are many other languages that are not.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely.

ALEX: So what I think… Some developers are doing it, they’re considering this from the get-go, from the start. I think that, if companies think of this as a part of the localization process as well, from the get-go, it’s gonna make every localization, every translation easier for all translators, you know? And for all gamers too. To receive something diverse, inclusive, properly done, in their own native language. Because, I mean, growing up, I remember… It doesn’t have anything to do with diversity and inclusion, but I remember playing video games in English or in Spanish from Spain.

LARA: Oh, my God, yeah.

ALEX: And it’s not my Spanish, you know?

LARA: It doesn’t help you feel related to the character, you know?

ALEX: Or even the immersive experience was broken. I mean, I remember playing God of War, and Kratos speaking like someone from Madrid. And it was like… this is off. It… It throws you off.

MELISA: Absolutely. And I think we’re seeing a bit more now that companies, you know, just find out how important localization is and, you know, how successful your game will be internationally. And we’re gonna talk a bit more about the history of localization of video games in another episode.

LARA: Yeah.

MELISA: Spoiler alert. But I think just, you know, having that… your game available in your own language, of course, it just helps you connect with the game. And then there’s also the fact about how language can go, you know, language is like a living, kind of like a living thing and it’s… You know, French or Spanish or Arabic, or other languages that are gendered, just finding maybe gender-neutral alternatives, that’s something that is happening now, and then you can choose, you know, from your game, do you wanna try to find gender-neutral alternatives? Or, you know, how you can use language to your advantage to promote diversity and inclusion.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely.

ALEX: To add to that… Sorry, Lali. I mean, language is super important when you play video games, when you watch a movie or whatever, I mean, it’s how you see, or how you express what you experience in life, you know? And if you’re playing a game that you can relate to on that level as well, it goes to your heart. I mean, how could it not?

LARA: Yeah, absolutely. What do you think can be done to improve this? What do you think video game companies can do to make games more diverse, more inclusive? Just… I want to hear your opinions, how things can get better, because I wanna end up in a high note. Please… let me dream.

MELISA: I think it is, I mean, we’re seeing a trend, it is getting better. We’re seeing some amazing games, you know. We don’t wanna be, like, here assuming that all the games are… There’s some amazing games that are doing a great job, like we mentioned in this episode. So I think we are getting better. There’s still a lot to be done, of course, but, you know, having more diverse… like, on the business side, you know, the companies, of course that would help, and then just talking a bit more about it, sharing more how the gamers feel and, you know, giving that the importance it needs, because that’s your demographic now, you just have to realize that. If you want your game to be successful, you need to, you know, just keep getting better at it.

ALEX: Keep on keeping on. Yeah. Yes, I agree totally. And what I think is that companies need to continue to listen to their gamers, they need to continue building diverse teams. And if companies have success studies… have success cases, sorry, to share it, to open up how they were successful in making their games and their companies more diverse. Because, I mean, I don’t know if we talked about this, but if your company is not diverse, it’s gonna be quite difficult to make a diverse game.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: So, for me it’s keep on keeping on, trying to learn more every day. I know that I learn every day. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s also… it’s even better to acknowledge them.

LARA: And learn.

ALEX: Learn and move forward and be better.

LARA: Absolutely. Absolutely. As for me, where to start? I think Women in Games is amazing. I’m a Women in Games ambassador, I’m part of, also, Women in Localization. And there are a lot of organizations that do this, there’s a lot of people that want to get into the video game industry, you just have to go knocking on doors. There are, like, a lot of organizations… LatinXInGaming.

ALEX: LatinXInGaming. You can go to the IGDA. The IGDA has amazing resources for everyone. You have associations like GamerX.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEX: We’re gonna list some of the companies we love so that you can access and get in touch with them.

LARA: Absolutely.

MELISA: And the studies where we took all the numbers from, also, if you wanna take a look.

LARA: Yeah, we’re talking facts here. It’s just, like, there are no longer only men playing video games. We are here too.

ALEX: And it’s been like that for a while now.

LARA: And it’s been like that for a while, so I hope things get better. And yeah, thank you so much for joining us in this episode. And drop your comments down below because we’re going to be reading them. And join our Discord. You can find the link down below, too. Thank you so much.

ALEX: Thank you, everyone! See you next time!

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