Today’s guest post is by Heather Ware of Mega Cat Studios.
For a lot of people, the gaming community isn’t a welcoming and friendly environment like it should be. How is this possible? Video games have always been about having fun with those around you, so why do so many feel wholly unwelcome in gamer-exclusive spaces?
These are well-intentioned questions, but ultimately the wrong ones to ask. The real question is: When AAA companies continue to release game after game with the same brooding white male protagonist, how can anyone else possibly feel included in the community?
The good news is that while this ugly trend holds true for big-name releases, indie developers are able to break this confining mold. Through their efforts, they create the welcoming gaming community that has been envisioned since the dinosaurs first played Pong.
They say that life imitates art, and that’s precisely why representation in video games is so crucial. How can women, people of color and other marginalized groups feel comfortable in the gaming community if they never see characters that represent people like them?
Not only do AAA developers ignore the needs of these groups, but they’re often dismissive when called out on their negligence. Just look at Ubisoft: When people were (justifiably) upset that there would be no female assassins in their game, they simply responded that it would have been too costly to animate a woman for their game.
This of course assumes that women are some kind of last-minute add-on that can spice a game up but really aren’t that essential for a good game. For most women who prefer to think of themselves as slightly more important than a last-minute retexturing, this was just another reminder that video games weren’t really “for” them.
If you don’t think that the lack of representation is having a real effect on the gaming community, think again. Female gamers experience heaps of hate and harassment on a daily basis, because that’s the kind of community that AAA developers are willing to foster. If women were treated like people in video games, then maybe we could start seeing them treated the same way in real life.
Thankfully, video games become significantly more inclusive when created by indie developers. Look at the upcoming retro gaming title Viking Democracy—a couch co-op about Vikings duking it out ‘till death, and you can rest assured that there’s a female Viking who’s as badass and murderous as the rest of the playable characters.
Representation isn’t just about making make-believe characters feel included in your fantasy world. It’s about how harmful it is for a young girl of color to see racist and sexist jokes whenever she plays a video game, it’s about how she never sees a good character that looks or acts like her, and it’s about how she ends up never picking up a game again because she learned that video games weren’t for people like her.
Thankfully, indie video games seem more than happy to include the people that AAA releases continue to abandon.
Of course, there’s a world of difference between an inclusive gaming community and one that uses a handful of tokens to feign social progress. If you’re not sure of the difference, then consider the common practice in AAA releases of having one or two meaningful people of color as characters, only for those characters to end up perpetuating racist stereotypes.
Inclusion doesn’t stop at the surface level, and that’s something that indie developers have always known. For real inclusion, it needs to be deeply ingrained into a company’s culture. Look at Mega Cat Studios: They’ve made a pledge to combat racist and sexist stereotypes in their games, make their games accessible for people with disabilities and in general ensure that everyone feels welcome to enjoy their releases.
What about real-world women? It’s great if indie companies can reach out to gamers who may feel isolated, but what tangible effect can indie developers have for women in the gaming industry?
With big-name corporations, life can be tough for a female game developer. Video games rarely include women on the screen, but it’s even rarer to see a woman developing these games. If women aren’t welcomed into gaming spaces and they’re routinely disrespected by the gaming community, then why would any AAA developer “take a chance” by hiring a female game developer? They’ve already proven that their method works for them, and they don’t care if some people are left out of their model.
Because indie game companies are much less rooted in tradition, it’s much easier to avoid the “old boys club” when working for any indie company. Maybe that’s why so many women of color have experienced success working as indie game developers. When the company isn’t mired in exclusion and regressive policies, women prove to be as talented as any other game developer and can make exceptional contributions to their projects.
Freedom to Include
At the end of the day, indie developers will always have more creative freedom than their AAA counterparts. The good news is that indie developers use this power to include rather than exclude. By continuing to support the indie developers who are making a real difference in the gaming community, we can make video games fun and accessible for everyone who loves them.
Mega Cat Studios is an independent video game development studio with a global team. At our core, we are passionate game developers and artists who seek to create meaningful experiences through our games and services. We are all gamers, collectors, and enthusiasts first. In a world of cloud storage, download codes, and virtual licenses, we are excited and proud to create exclusive artisan collectibles that complement the effort that goes into indie and homebrew development. We love creating games. From retro cartridges to PC & current generation consoles, we want to get make games every gamer can access and enjoy.