Trying on a New Skin

My greatest motivation for playing games is both simple and complex; I have a deep love of stories. It started with devouring books, later it became enveloping myself in the interactive worlds of games, I’m at my happiest when I’m exploring fictional worlds full to bursting with lore as a character of my own that fits in that world. I get very involved in the games I play, emotionally, mentally, socially and even physically, it’s probably also the reason that I enjoy pen and paper roleplaying as well, I love to put myself into another persons skin and run around in it for a while, experiencing things I never could in reality and I always miss the characters I’ve met along the way when it’s time to leave. This experience, while wonderful, can be lacking due to the fact that a large portion of single player games are portraying a limited pool of characters, pandering to either a Caucasian male power fantasy or buying into one of many cultural or social stereotypes.

While progress is being made there are still very few accurate representations of dark skinned cultures, be that American Indian, African, Islander, Aboriginal or otherwise. In his essay Evan Narcisse explains the lack of attention in games paid to what constitutes “natural” black person, natural being a metaphor for the lack of non-stereotyped or caricatured characters in games.

Lee Everett“In the Assassin’s Creed games, Aveline and Adewale’s motivations come in direct response to historical racial oppressions they lived under. Luther and Nilin represent another strategy of creating a black character for popular consumption, where race never gets explicitly addressed. They’re black but not centered by any definition of blackness. The strategy is more subtle in Lee Everett’s particular character construction in The Walking Dead.”

Narcisse highlights a few characters in recent gaming history that have created characters that are not simply a regurgitated stereotype, paying special attention to Lee Everett from Telltale’s The Walking Dead who seems to be the closest to being a “natural”, right down to his hairstyle, however it does seems there’s still a ways to go.

Similarly to the point Narcisse makes, I notice that there is also a significant lack of nuanced representation of sexual orientations outside of heterosexual and homosexual. Homosexual characters were initially very much based in stereotype but we are seeing less characters defined solely by this trait, we seem to be moving away from examples that do little more than say “This character is gay!” and closer to characters that are more well-rounded. There are significantly less representations of bisexual, asexual or pansexual characters, those that exist are often token or badly executed. Nico W’s article regarding her discovery of the asexual nature of Maya, one of four playable characters in Borderlands 2, notes that Borderlands 2 does a very good job of creating very human characters not that exhibit a range of traits.

“As is the case with the vast majority of the franchise’s instances of representation (yes, even the much-maligned Janey Springs whom I will fiercely defend to the death), I found these instances to have nothing to do with so-called ‘agenda pushing’ or ‘tokenism’, and instead considered them to add to the intricacies of Maya’s characterization.”

MayaThe trend does seem to be changing however, in his article in January, Alexx Aplin goes through some of the various games of 2014 that included characters of various LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) shades, highlighting Dragon Age: Inquisition as the best at representing some of these in a real and believable way, talking to these concepts without having them define the entire character. Aplin ends his article with a prediction about the future of games:

Iron Bull and Dorian“My prediction for the coming year is that we will see more homosexual, lesbian, and transgender characters. Developers will continue to push the envelope and surpass the film industry by showing that we as players want to see all sorts of people represented.”

I hope this is true, not just for LGBT characters, but for characters of all colours, genders, shapes and sizes, I look forward to getting into the skin of some compelling and amazingly crafted characters that can offer me a wealth of new experiences and perspectives that help me grow as a person.

Articles Referenced:

Aplin, A 2015, ‘Video Gaming and the LGBT Community: A Growing Relationship’, ModVive, < http://www.modvive.com/2015/01/07/video-gaming-lgbt-community-growing-relationship/ >

Narcisse, E 2015 ‘The Natural: The trouble Portraying Blackness in Video Games’, Kotaku, < http://kotaku.com/the-natural-the-trouble-portraying-blackness-in-video-1736504384 >

Nico W, 2015, ‘Borderlands & Asexual Representation: How I Discovered my Sexuality While Playing a First-Person Shooter’, The Mary Sue, < http://www.themarysue.com/borderlands-and-asexual-representation/ >

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