Debunking common responses to diversity

Those of us who speak often about diversity – particularly in gaming, but it’s an issue for all mediums – are often faced with similar responses. I want to reply to some.

Throat clearing

Let’s first be clear about what diversity support is: The call to have more games include people of colour, trans folk, etc., is about wanting more, not less.

We want not mere inclusion of, say, black characters, but ones who aren’t all gangsters (as in Watch Dogs); transgender folk who aren’t solely included as targets of transphobic jokes (as in Grand Theft Auto V); women who aren’t caricatures or replaceable with inanimate objects (too many to list).

Diversity is about the recognition that other people partake of a medium, are worth representing within those mediums as people, and who have certain issues particular to that group that are worth exploring in a respectable way.

The question about what to do with this recognition is where difficulty lies. But the responses to such a cause help no one.

Common, wrong responses

“Not every game has to cater to a minority!”

No one is saying every game has to. The call for more games to include and deal with issues that affect various kinds of people is not a call for every game to meet some magical quota. I don’t even know what such a measure looks like. I also don’t really know what “catering to a minority” means.

Diversity campaigning means “cater to all/more people – not just some”. Saying diversity is “every game must cater to a minority” is the exact opposite of the overarching goal of “more”.

We’re highlighting too many games already cater to one demographic (straight white men); in other words, games already cater to one group. We’re saying try make stories about more than one group of people; lots of cultures, nationalities, abilities, etc., exist. We’re all interested in games.

“Let artists create what they want!”

If you wish to make your game star another white man, that is entirely your choice. But it’s still a choice and we will and can criticise you for it. Just as you are totally free to make your lead character another boring white dude, we use that same freedom to criticise you.

Whatever your reason – publishers force you, “the market” decides, etc. – it’s still a choice to focus on the stories of white men. It’s a still a choice to disregard other voices or cultures or people. There is no law you’re adhering to.

Make whatever you want: that’s freedom.

The ability to criticise art and artistic choice: that’s the same freedom.

We either both have it or neither of us do.

“It’s bad for business.”

I’m not sure how you ignore examples where a diverse cast led to the biggest profits a franchise had. We’ll ignore women leads sell better – again and again. Since when is it smart business practice to ignore substantial potential audience base?

Do you really want to be fostering an audience that is outwardly repulsed by the idea you treat women respectably? That maybe people of colour don’t have to be terrorists or gangsters? Is that the type of audience you want supporting your work? If not, then you can include other kinds of people and know that the alleged original audience of straight white dudes will continue to support you, because you’re good, talented, creative.

The men who loved Half-Life, which starred a power fantasy version of many of them, didn’t abandon Valve when Portal starred a woman. How belittling of yourself, your audience and the rest of us, when you view your audience based on the most bigoted.

But here’s a black/women/etc. character! Why are you complaining?

Highlighting the existence of a minority individual doesn’t disprove the problem of majority. No one is claiming such stories or characters do not existence – we’re saying it’s too common, too predictable for stories to focus on the plight of straight white men.

For example, if Idris Elba was cast as James Bond, that doesn’t disprove or undermine that James Bond was/is always a white man. It highlights Elba is an exception and that very fact he’s an exception is the problem.

When you point out a game that focuses on a well-written black character – say Lee, from Telltale’s The Walking Dead (who is, unfortunately, a criminal) – you don’t disprove Arkham Asylum, City, Knight, Watch Dogs, Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed (AC) 2, AC: Black Flag & AC: Unity, Witcher 1, 2, 3, Far Cry 1, 3, Lords of the Fallen, Max Payne, Alan Wake, etc. etc. etc. etc. all star and focus on the stories of straight white men.

We already know about the few games that do people of colour well. We’re saying they shouldn’t be an exception, not they don’t exist.

Just be good: who cares if they’re black or white, man or woman?

It’s easy to not care about race or gender or sexuality when yours is the one that’s catered to by default. I am told constantly by white men that race isn’t an issue (which, makes me wonder: if it’s not an issue, why are they fighting me about it?); men constantly tell women to “calm down”, because, hey, Lara Croft exists. And so on.

The way this is framed is that it doesn’t matter if a character is a woman or person of colour or gay, just as long as they’re well written. This gives the impression that straight white men are inherently well-written and you need to make some kind of case for your person of colour lead.

The actual point is this: You need to make all characters, regardless of race, gender, good (or interesting or, at least, not boring/Aiden Pearce). We can all agree on that. But when you use that assertion when people are calling for diversity, you’re diverting the issue. We’re not talking about quality of characters, we’re talking about inclusion. If race doesn’t matter to you, then stop getting involved when people of colour mention inclusion. Why would we want a badly written person of colour in a game? That could be worse than their non-existence.

Your point is either pointless (of course they must be well written!) or diverting (focusing on characters’ quality rather than their inclusion).

Conclusion

Diversity matters to many of us: if it doesn’t matter to you, please rather just ignore our conversations. You don’t really prove you lack of caring when you try divert complex discussions about diversity. You also don’t help when you make the same talking points we’ve been dealing with for ages. Help yourself or help us, but please don’t be boring and distracting.

Why it matters that the internet’s made by men

The amazing Soraya Chemaly has a piece up about the internet being made of bros and why that matters.

Tech’s institutionalised male dominance, and the sex segregation and hierarchies of its workforce, have serious and harmful effects globally on women’s safety and free expression.

This is what Soraya documents throughout the piece. From revenge porn to the kinds of abuse women face, that segregates it from the kind men receive.

[Read more…]

I am made dead by Gamergate verbosity

I wrote an article about Gamerbro-types owning up to their own politics and social agendas – instead of making boring, obviously false assertions like “We just wanna play games”, “Keep politics out of games”, etc. Why am I comfortable enough to play and review games, and also talk about my own view of politics and social issues, but my “critics” are not?

Why is it OK to mention the number of pixels but not the low number of people of colour? It’s never been explained but we can all start having proper discussions when such folks own up to their views; just admit “I find race issues boring”, “It makes me uncomfortable to confront sexism”.

That’s so much more honest, so much more fruitful than trying to silence us with “make it about games” – when, for me, so much of diversity issues is seen in games. It is about games, for me: Telling me to keep quiet about race in games is telling me not to experience games. And if you don’t want to read about my experience of games, don’t read my reviews. These people are not babies, but for some reason this needs to be explained.

Regardless, a very boring commenter went on a verbose rampage, trying to drown us all in words – because, I guess, mortality isn’t an issue when you have an endless spawn option. I mean just look at this Niagra fall of words!

I’m working some things out, so here’s a fisk.

[Read more…]

An argument to reconsider words is not “thought policing”

How many people would use the k-word slur or a non-human animal species to describe persons of colour? Would any of you call me “camel-fucker”? Would you use “faggot” to describe a gay person? I imagine the answer to these is no – and it’s a “no” driven not by fear of police or lawyers, but some sense of morality.

Can you imagine anyone having to write an article today asking people not to use the k-word to describe black people? It seems ridiculous, because you probably don’t need to be convinced of that. If I had to blog about why you should not describe me as a “camel fucker” or “raghead” or “Paki”, I’d imagine you’d ask: Who the hell is this for? 

But let’s say there was someone, a white man,  who had never encountered these terms used in a bad way or himself used it as a term of endearment in an “ironic” way. Presumably such a person, who had never fully considered the impact on those it actually affects, would read my piece and reconsider his terms.

Whatever his conclusion, no one other than himself is preventing him from using those terms. I am not leaping out my blog to silence people who use “Paki”, I simply block them and conclude such people are not worth talking to. The entire Internet is available for Paki-bashers of the world to unite and use the term “ironically”.

That’s the end of it, really: Words on the internet ask you to reconsider using a term. Agree? Disagree? No one’s stopping you. Seems easy, no?

Well, judging from the way gamers responded to a similar suggestion about the term “Master Race”, maybe not. [Read more…]

Why we should love the “Terminator: Genisys” trailer

First if you really want the best experience of the upcoming Terminator film, don’t watch any trailer, read any article. I wish I was in your shoes.

However, if you can’t help yourself, at least watch the trailer without seeing icons, header images or descriptions. I’m not going to embed it but link to it so you can just watch it without, um, spoilers (yes, spoilers in a trailer… I know).

Watched it? Good.

So let’s go through it.

First, bros everywhere.  White men fighting back against overwhelming force – the plot of basically every Hollywood blockbuster. You’ve already got the hint that this is a “reboot”. Yay. Another one? So the first part of the trailer shows the same beats as the original film: scarred John Connor, time machine, soldier volunteers to save Mommy Connor.

Then we see the main evil time-travelling Terminator is a T-1000…. who is played by Korean actor, Lee Byung-hun.

OK, diversity. That’s… unexpected and fucking cool. And he’s amazing.

Then a truck comes jack-knifing through a wall, apparently in time to save our “main hero” soldier bro. The door flings open and at the wheel is a woman, who promptly shoots the T-1000. With the voice of some sort of queen – or, ahem, Mother of dragons – she splains to the dude that if he wishes to continue to not die, he ought to accompany her. Some of you might know the reference.

She then commands him as a soldier.

So, after the boring reboot introduction, we have a Terminator who is not white; we have the white male hero being saved by a woman, who is more badass than anything he’s so far demonstrated.

Then you find out the Governor of California raised Sarah Connor, because… time travel.

Yeah, there’s a lot here. And it’s amazing. I usually make a point of not watching trailers for film, due to spoiler territory and enjoying films more with ignorance. But I couldn’t help seeing this as a sign of progress; see, it’s not just being “PC” and ticking of boxes of – gasp – including people who aren’t white dudes. It’s that all this, almost by definition, seems to mean breaking the mould; it means we can have an interesting lead character, who, by the way, is a woman.

Nothing would be shocking if this was yet another major film which featured almost no one who wasn’t the lazily accepted “core demographic” of action films/video games/comics – instead they recognised that Sarah Connor is one of Hollywood’s best female roles, they recognised there’s no reason to cast yet another white male actor to play the role of a fucking liquid robot (however cool he is).

This little trailer should give us hope, like a small robot hand reaching out as it’s swalloed by boring paint-by-numbers summer blockbuster affairs.

PS: Yes, “Genisys” is a silly name.

Ubisoft, women and diversity in media

My latest for The Daily Beast is on Ubisoft’s (lack of) prioritising women in their upcoming games and the response, in general, from those wanting diversity in media. Specifically in the case of Assassin’s Creed: Unity I found this really disappointing, since this is a talented bunch of people – who not only themselves wanted women, but are great at encouraging diversity.

I’ve been sick and busy with work, so apologies for empty blog for awhile. I should be returning to at least my infrequent levels of blogging – I definitely have an upcoming fisk.

Less dude focus, more creativity

I argued that if you care about progress (in general, but specifically in traditionally male-dominated areas), then we need to treat toxic anti-women sentiment as a serious hindrance to progress.

Now many might say that it’s just basic human decency to not be sexist; of course, supporting diversity is not merely about combating the worst vitriolic comments women and other groups receive; it’s not merely encouraging women to go into environments where they might be targets of sexist or misogynistic slurs.

Here, I tried to make it a selfish claim for those who otherwise don’t care or intentionally make marginalised groups feel unwelcome: If you want more great films, more great novels, more great comics, more great games, etc., then you need more great creators. And creators demographic aren’t only one skin colour or sex or whatever. Therefore, we should want more than just white dudes creating beautiful things.

I’m not disparaging talented male creators, but again: the argument is broader than that. Nor is my selfish-focused argument meant to undermine that decency should trump selfishness (assuming this is just selfishness). But should doesn’t translate easily into “is”.