Saturday, November 7, 2015

For the men

There is a lot of (totally justified) complaining out there that gaming is targetted far too much at men.  Gamergate has become a mainstream thing, and indeed is still a raging conflict in many places on the internet.  It would be easy to imagine that things are terrible and getting worse, but I think it is important to realize that although there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed there has been progress made.

Today I was looking through my first roleplaying manual, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.  The game has a careers system where players can be a Rat Catcher, Bawd, Judicial Champion, Wizard, or even a mighty Labourer.  Each career has a picture associated with it, and I noticed that there were an awful lot of pictures of men and not so many women, so I went through and counted to see just how lopsided it really was.

The results were depressing.  It wasn't that there were few women, it is that there were 108 portraits of careers and 108 men.  Now, a few of those pictures are not 100% clear, so we could charitably say 100 men, 8 not clear, and 0 women.  Here is the worst part though:  There was a woman portrayed in the careers section.  She was a slave, being sold by a male slaver.  Because you can be a slaver, you see, as part of your career progression.  Needless to say, everyone in the book is white.

Now that is a wretched state of affairs right there.

In Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, released recently, there was an explicit passage explaining that characters can have any gender, including nonbinary identities.  They were clear that you could make your character have any sexual orientation you desire.  Diversity in pictures and examples was a public goal, and as far as I understand it, it happened.  (I don't own all books, can't confirm.)

These books were both efforts by big publishers on large budgets with real quality control.  They both had established brand names to protect.  The difference is that one was published in 1986 and one was published in 2014.  The improvement over time is real.

Which isn't to say we should rest on our laurels.  Quite the contrary!  My point is this:  Trying to raise awareness of the extremes of sexism and racism in gaming over the years *is working*.  Things are indeed getting better, and they are getting better because people are putting pressure on companies that produce the games to keep these things in mind when designing.  They are improving because people continue to point out the unconscious and conscious biases people have in game design.

Games are being made to better reflect the world in which we live and that helps them become more accessible to people that aren't straight white men.  Let's all keep it up... there is yet more to do.

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