Controversies In Geek Culture: Representation in Video Games

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Everyone enjoys a nice Top 10 list. What’s even better than that is a Top 50 list. I often find myself looking at ranked listings for the best video game characters of all time. While iconic characters such as Mario, Link, Kirby, Snake, and GLaDOS are almost always on there, there is one trend that I’ve noticed while looking at all of these games; almost every iconic, popular, or even minor video game character on the list is a white guy. This doesn’t just apply to popular character;most of the released games that I see when in a video game store all have white men on the cover. Bridget covered the topic of representation in comics a few days ago, and mentioned that white men were the most popular type of superheroes. This same problem is common with video games as well. While video game characters can be great as well as be a white guy, it’s important for the video game industry to expand its representation in terms of protagonists and other featured characters.

While looking at these ranked listings, I realized that 90% of the featured characters were white men. The other 10% were made of people of other races, genders, or nonhuman characters (and the nonhuman characters were more popular). Many people don’t realize why having the same physical appearance of a character in each game can be harmful. This is when the issue of representation comes in. I started playing video games when I was very young. I remember playing multiplayer games with my brother and being angry whenever a female character wasn’t an option. Whenever there was a female character, I would choose her regardless of her looks or abilities, simply because I was excited to have a character that looked even a little bit like me. I also remember almost every female character I chose to be highly sexualized, even though I didn’t know what that word meant back then. I remember seeing the skinny bodies with big breasts and butts and wondering why every woman had to look like that. Even today, I find myself always choosing the female character in any game where they are available. A great example of this is in “Borderlands”. Lillith, the Siren, is the only female option in the game out of four characters. Her character’s ability seems to be the worst out of all four; she can Phasewalk, which gives her a small amount of time to heal when afterwards releasing a minimally-damaging ring of fire. While I may be using her character all wrong, it still seems like she was downgraded. Her character model is quite sexualized as well. Regardless, I ended up choosing her as a character purely because she was the only female option. This is one problem with only having muscled, rugged, brooding,   white guys as playable characters or protagonists; women and girls like me are left wondering why women are almost never an option, and why they are always so sexualized and weak when they are. Of course, not every video game featuring a woman has this problem, but it is so prominent that it is a clear issue in terms of representation.

LastofUs_THUMBThe other clear problem in terms of representation is race. It is very rare for me to find a person of color as a protagonist in a video game, or even as a side character. While I happen to be white, I can imagine the feeling that people of other races have when playing video games at a young age. Just like I was left wondering where all of the women characters were, people of other races are still today left wondering where all of the people who look like them are. They are left wondering why every hero has to be white, and why there are no people of color to be seen. It may not seem like this is a problem, but it is. When people do not see themselves in the media that surrounds them, it makes them feel less important. It devalues their race, gender, or even sexuality. How often have there been LGBTQIA+ characters in a video game? I can only think of Bill and Ellie from “The Last Of Us”, and Ellie’s sexuality isn’t even revealed in the main game. I’m sure that there are others, but they are so rare that the issue of them being represented in video games is apparent. If people of other sexualities never see people like themselves in the media, they’ll feel more out casted than they already are. People of other races and sexualities are already seen as minorities. The video game industry should not be making it worse for them by excluding them from a large media source.

Once again, not every video game ever released has this problem of representation. Lee Everett of “The Walking Dead”, Faith from “Mirror’s Edge”, and Chell from “Portal 2” are great characters that break the norm for video game protagonists. We need more characters like them. We need to break the boundaries that the video game industry seems to have created. We need characters that aren’t rugged, white guys to be the only featured leads. What we need is reality, and diversity is reality.