Diversity in Games

The YouTube team ExtraCredits creates short, thought-provoking videos about the craft of game design, story creation, the philosophy and psychology of building and playing video games, and other cool stuff.

One of their videos discusses Rust by Facepunch Studios, a multi-player survival game. In Rust, the physical appearance of every player’s character is randomly generated: specifically their skin color. The format doesn’t allow for re-rolling, so whatever your character looks like is what you’re stuck with – what you’re “born with,” as it were.

According to ExtraCredits, this has no bearing all on the actual mechanics of gameplay – it’s all aesthetic. And yet, it’s made some players very angry, others very uncomfortable, and still others refuse to play the game.

You might wonder: what’s the big deal? If I can’t relate to a First-Person-Perspective game because the game character doesn’t look like me, I think the problem isn’t with the game.

ExtraCredits celebrates Facepunch Studios’ decision — after all, people from China to Israel to Belgium to Chile to Florida could buy your game, and will want to relate to it.

I just want us to get our motivations right. I don’t mind making games and game characters that resemble different people – gamers come from a broad spectrum, and game designers also come from a broad spectrum. What I object to is virtue-signalers shoving it down our throats.

And one of the biggest reasons I enjoy playing video games is that it lets me be someone else. In a game, I can be anyone:

a guy…

…an elite…

sword_ingame

Halo; Image credit: SuperGGBros.wordpress.com

…green…

halo_ce_game

Halo; Image credit: Bungie.net

…a robot…

portal2_robots_elbowing

Portal 2; Image credit: half-life.wikia.com

…a gnome…

World of Warcraft

…an MIT graduate theoretical physicist who’s unbelievably skilled with a crowbar…

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Half-Life 2; Image credit: vsbattles.wikia.com

Placing the audience in the perspective of the actual character is a unique and powerful tool of video games, and using that to encourage discussion about race and prejudice is just one example of how games can impact us for positive change.

I like where ExtraCredits ends their argument: it shouldn’t be about including quotas of different character models to show how “diverse” you are — it should be about using games to prompt discussion, without altering the structure of gameplay itself to make your own point.

Without having to preach, Rust has sparked discussion and thought, encouraging people to step outside themselves and see each other in a new light.

[Note: video included with the owners’ permission. Thanks!]


Kimia Wood has been writing stories since she was little, and watching her father play computer games for even longer. You can join the mailing list to get monthly updates on her latest posts and novel projects!

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