Until a couple of years ago, I have never worried about representation in video games. If I’m being completely honest with you all, it’s just never something that crossed my mind. Until recent years, it’s just not a topic I felt like I needed to bother myself with.
That’s because I’ve always been represented.
As a 30-something suburban white male, I’ve had the privilege of pretty much ALWAYS being represented in video games. Very rarely, if ever, have I had to play a main character as anyone that I don’t relate to. I’ve had the privilege not to worry about it and a much younger, less evolved version of myself would be scoffing at the concerns I have with representation in video games now.
Do you want to know what changed in me? It was subtle, sneaky, and it was highly effective… I had a daughter.
Yes, I became a “girl dad” and it’s something I am VERY proud of being, but as my daughter has continued to get older, it has pointed out a variety of deficiencies in my personal logic trees. Things I used to think and do as a 20-something now seem abhorrent and downright idiotic to me. My beliefs in representation in video games only being a microcosm of a much larger issue of latent, outdated male behavior.
But my daughter, who is 12 years old now, hit me with a ton of bricks just a couple of years ago when she started crying when she played Horizon Zero Dawn for the first time. It was her FIRST experience in gaming where the MAIN CHARACTER was a girl. It was the first main character in a game that she played where she really felt like she could imagine herself BEING Aloy. She was so happy about the experience that on more than one occasion it made her emotional because she really felt like this was a game that she had connected with on more than just an entertainment level.
That experience rocked my world and it made me start to think… like really, really think about how important of an issue diversity and representation in gaming is. Not just gender representation either, but LGBTQ and diverse racial representation as well. I’m also not talking about adding in a few side characters to meet social quotas, we’re talking about main protagonists in AAA titles. I’ve ONLY ever played characters that I can relate to. I am the white bread RPG player. I am milk toast. I only ever play white male human characters. Once in a while, I deviate, but really only if I’m forced to. I like RELATING to the characters I create in MMOs and solo RPGs. So how DARE I ever suggest that someone else in the world not get the same chance to relate to a video game hero in the same way I have.
I can’t imagine a world where I’ve NEVER been able to play a main character in a video game that I relate to on a fundamental and societal level.
That’s why when I saw videos of people like @P1SMx on Twitter when Spider-Man: Miles Morales launched, I finally started to understand just how spoiled I have been my entire life. If I’d had to go through the past 34 years of my life never having my heritage, my culture, and the soul of who I am as a person represented in the video games I love so much, I would be beside myself.
It’s easy for people like me to cry “foul” like babies when companies want to hire BIPOC, non-male, or LGBTQ actors for a superhero role or make sure those same people are represented in main characters of AAA video games. It’s easy for us because we’ve NEVER had to know what it’s like not to CONNECT with those characters. We’ve had the privilege of being represented our entire lives. There are large swaths of white men, young and old, who bare their teeth at even a HINT of their representation being diminished but don’t even think about those who have rarely, if ever, been represented in the first place.
Let me tell you my fellow quick-tempered white males: everything will be ok, I promise. It’s time for other groups of people to be represented as the main characters or the focus in the media that we love to consume. I want more female protagonists, I need more BIPOC heroes in my games, and please add more diverse sexual orientations to all of it.
Our media should be a representation or a snapshot of how the world is and it has never been that way in video games. The more diversity we add and the more willing those of us who’ve never had to be afraid whether or not we’re represented can put ourselves in the shoes of other people’s lives, the better off we’ll all be.
I never truly understood this until I had a daughter. My daughter, who is a piece of me, forever changed my worldview because I was able to see the world through her eyes.
With more diverse representation she, and millions of other people around the world, can finally start seeing all of the worlds we enjoy in video games, through their own eyes as well. Instead of them always being forced to see them through mine.