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In-Depth: We Make Characters That Look Like Us?
In-Depth: We Make Characters That Look Like Us?
February 26, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

February 26, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield
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    26 comments
More: Console/PC



Racial diversity, both within the industry and inside games themselves, is an issue not very often addressed. At DICE, a panel that spanned disciplines and experiences tackled the issue, moderated by Kill Screen Magazine’s Jamin Brophy-Warren.

He was joined by by Manveer Heir, lead designer at Raven, Dmitri Williams, professor at USC, and Navid Khonsari, founder of iNK Stories and former director of production for Rockstar Games.

Diversity Study

By way of introduction to the topic, Dmitri Williams discussed his research into how people look in games versus how the players look in reality. The motivation was to learn about stereotypes. “Stereotypes are a natural, logical, and intelligent process,” he said. “It’s taking a small group of data and spreading it over a wider group. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a dangerous thing.”

For the project, Williams and his researchers took all the bestselling games from 2006-2007, new at the time of the study. They allowed for weighting in terms of what people played more often, so Madden counts more than Beyblade for DS.

There was a sample of 150 games, at least 15 per platform. They recorded a half hour of gameplay from each game, and did a simple count of the characters in the game, finding 8,500 human characters. They then compared this with the U.S. census.

What they found was that white characters were overrepresented by 7%, Asians by 26%, while black characters were underrepresented by 13%, Hispanics by 78%, Native Americans by 90%, and biracial characters by 42%.

So if this doesn’t represent the U.S. population, what does it match? In the end, it seemed to match the IGDA survey of game developers in the industry, almost to the exact percentages. You make games that look like you, Williams concluded.

The Panel

So how do you get people to write about what they’re not? When Navid Khonsari was at Rockstar, they agreed that “You can’t have an Englishman and a Scot writing a story about what happens in LA,” so they did a lot of research into the culture by actually spending time there, with the types of people upon which they were basing the game.

“You need to embrace a story that’s not just going to be based on a white male,” he said, “and if you’re going to go out there and talk about other ethnicities, you need to reach out to those communities and get input.”

“In Prey, you have the Spirit Walking mechanic,” added Manveer Heir. The developers skinned it with Native American themes. “We have to find mechanics in our games that can support the kinds of characters we’re creating, so their backgrounds actually matter. Where do they come from? It could be racial, gender, or being homosexual.”

Why is it that we don’t make more adventurous characters? There’s a “giant shortage of female characters in games,” said Williams, noting that there is an 85/15 split in terms of male to female characters in games, whereas in the real world it’s about even. “How do you get people who make games about themselves to be different? Until you get those people into the industry, they’re not going to make games about themselves.”

“We can move past it,” postulated Heir, “we just have to start thinking about it. We don’t even bother throwing out new ideas for characters. We’re not thinking about what the rest of the market potentially wants. We have to encourage everyone to start thinking about it, and in the long term plans, we have to encourage more minorities to get into this industry.”

But why bother from the business side? “Part of it is there are potentially untapped markets,” said Heir. “You could certainly grow – there are a lot of black kids and Hispanic kids playing these games, and we’re probably losing them as they get older.”

“It’s really important to remember that there’s an industry beyond these borders,” said Khonsari. “There’s a potential for a lot of markets that could start consuming these games. We should recognize that there is money there, and we can’t appeal to people by putting them as victims in these games.”

Khonsari posed that developers should hire people of color to write for non-white characters, but Heir disagreed. Heir figured that if you have a good writer, they should be able to write any character. If you ask the business folks to not only take a risk on a potentially racially divisive character, and then ask for more money to hire someone new, that’s not going to fly.

Personal Thoughts

Obviously the issue is a large one, and there will be a separate GDC talk on the same issue, but in the audience myself, I couldn’t help but have some opinions. Not discussed were character creators, in which a player could potentially be any race. I spoke with Heir after the conference, and he said they only go so far – sure you can be any race, but if the content doesn’t address it, it’s not very powerful.

Still, we agreed that perhaps having a character be a certain race and not have that called out may be more progressive than focusing on it directly.

My own thoughts led to a more potent reason why we don’t have more racially diverse characters in games. If the majority of our developers are White and Asian, White people especially are trained to feel racially bland, and as though they cannot discuss racial issues without offending someone.

Thus, attempting to write a character that’s not of your race opens you up to some potential harsh criticism, and people would simply rather not take the risk, because the risk versus reward potential is very high there.

I would submit that writers should be able write characters of other races, and be confident in their work. We are much more comfortable dealing with racial issues when there’s a layer of fantasy, as is done in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

In my personal opinion, we should see more games like Fallout 3, in which many races are represented, but the race of the character is far outweighed by how they interact with you. We don't need to deal with all of society's problems in games, but having demographics represented even just visually seems worthwhile.


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Comments


sarah myers
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great review :) goo topic for my essay writing service project site.

Tom Newman
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I don't think diversity is an issue in game charachters. Sure, most humans in games are white, but there is no lack of protagonist aliens, dwarfs, elves; etc. Other industries can learn from the game industry that looks beyond color and offers a diverse amount of species to play as, real or not. That's REAL diversity.

Maurício Gomes
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I am SEEMLY a white young male. (seemly, because actually more than half of my family is black, and some portion native american... but I ended looking a lot like my european ancestors, so I have a white skin.) Also, my culture is the one of a white young male, mainly because the black themselves dislike black culture (my grandpa told me that the family got really worried when my aunt, that is black, decied to marry another black person, they wanted, even if they don't realized themselves, "whitefy" the family). So they let the few whites do all the education..



I said that, to say: I make games about white people and asian people, mostly because these are the only ones that I can do whatever I want without being accused of being racist or whatever. One of the most stupid things that I ever saw is our racism laws (like: discrimination, like insulting someone for their race) AND racist laws (like, university quota...) and the government behavior of wanting to protect minorities is something that is in fact backfiring.



I remember that when I was a child, I (looking white and with a native american hair, meaning that it was nowhere near curly...) played with black children normally, I did not realized that maybe they would be diffrent for whatever reason. And so it was the relantionship of the adults around me, my father, a white guy coming from a rich farmer family, was there in the neighbor of my great-grandpa, a black (really black, he was not mixed) construction worker, talkign fine with all people there, the palce in fact looked more like a slum than anything else, but we don't cared.



Now I and my school friends remember that we did not get into a public university because the law of black people quota passed on the year that was our attempt. I know people that lost their job, because when someone is fired, the whites are fired, because if you fire a black person they complain of racism.



When I see all this, I feel sad. The racism-phobia in our society is creating more racism than fixing it. Like I said, because of all that, I don't put black people on my game, for the plain reason that if someone black complains of racism in my game, I will CERTAINLY get fined (and maybe arrested).







Final tale: Here a news piece shocked the population: A group of 18 black girls nearly killed with kicks a blonde white girl in the school where they all studied.



Yet, all newspapers claimed that the reason was envy or stuff like that, because the few that dared to claim that it was racism, got black people accused them of being racists for saying that blacks are racists. (if that is too convoluted to follow, it is this way: Black people beat white people. White complain of racism. Black claims that white is racist, because white is blaming the reason for the beating being the authors being black, instead of whatever else it would be).

Blaire Brown
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@Tom: That makes little sense. Yes, there is a certain diversity in games not found in other media, but what does it say about the medium (and people in general) when *mythical races and species* are an even more comfortable subject and prevalent than real people who aren't white? "Sorry, we didn't put anybody you could relate to visually or culturally in any of our games, but you can still play as this thing that's *not even human*!"



As I think about it more, I find it sort of disturbing that when I play most games (I tend to play fantasy, sci-fi, and rpg games), I find myself sympathizing less and less with the ever-prevalent, almost-always-protagonist humans, and more and more with whatever alien, monster, or intelligent *beast* happens to be sharing the screen with them. These Other characters end up gaining a mix of (or even a blatantly direct) real-world culture that I am familiar and comfortable with, or are more 'colorful' and fleshed out than the humans. Then when talking about the game, I get strange looks (and less than friendly responses) about liking such and such character or race because they are either supposed to be a sort of sidekick supplement or have been designed that visually they are *unattractive* (never mind the work and story put behind them).



That's just real helpful and comforting there. :/



@Mauricio: None of that had a *shred* of anything to do with the article. At all.

Jarryd Huntley
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As an American/Jamaican game developer I find this a good topic to openly discuss in the industry. Regardless of what changes occur I think there are great arguments from all sides of the story.

Jeffrey Fleming
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I have no idea what the racial make up of Valve is but the characters they created for Left 4 Dead 2 are some of the most compelling that I've encountered in quite a long time. Clearly there are real creative gains to be had by taking a more inclusive approach to character design (and writing). I think a key lesson to take from Valve's success is to create characters that are grounded in reality rather than power fantasies. I see the characters in Left 4 Dead 2 every week when I'm standing in line at the supermarket and as a result I'm much more connected to them in the game.

Jason Withrow
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Now I certainly don't have any issue with the survey, but I'm not sure if "you make games that look like you" is really a conclusion you can draw from a list that includes licensed sports games (as is implied by mentioning Madden, but that might be hyperbole). After all, the developers don't have any control of the appearance of characters that are each based on real-life people. Naturally the conclusion wasn't the goal of the survey, but I think the hundreds of professional athletes that would have been put in no matter who was in the dev team are confusing things nevertheless.

Joshua Sterns
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Playing RPGs I attempt to make the main character look like me (unless I go female, but that's another topic). Exception: It's nice when the character fits the setting. I wasn't upset when I couldn't make a blond/blue eye Chinese person in Jade Empire. Any other genre the main character's race doesn't matter to me.



I agree that good writers should be able to research just about anything. I also think it's a good idea to get other cultures into game development. This, among other things, will spur new IP's based on something besides Western European/North American and East Asia.



"Still, we agreed that perhaps having a character be a certain race and not have that called out may be more progressive than focusing on it directly." Bingo Bango! History should not be forgotten, but to move forward as one, petty differences must cease to be different. Not that we should all become one bland culture. More like patches on a quilt with each square being unique yet contributing to the whole. I still find it odd that I have to check White on government forms. I can trace family back to many European countries, but my family has also been in the States for six generations. When do I become plain ole American?



Last final rant/comment. Setting: LA mid 1990s middle school. Learning about WWII and the Nazi concentration camp. The class played a game to see who would have been arrested and killed. Everyone stood up, and the teacher read out various descriptions of the unfortunate victims. If you matched the description you sat down. Out of about 35 students I was the only one standing. Talk about awkward.

Terence Daniels
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Like any industry the writers are forced to write about characters who are black or other(:}) because of moral reasons. Otherwise you might naturally see these characters appear in main or support roles by default. The alternative fix has been to cast the character in the main role simply to exploit the difference in ethnicity; when in fact, the majority of the citizenry(at least in the US) considers themselves what you call "white".



Nonetheless, kids take their cues from this "blackness" trend, perhaps all the way into adulthood. If there must be black and white, at least give a better definition of what is "black" so that tolerance can evolve into something less "racist". The author fails to discuss the drawpoint of his own article, and seems only concerned with the "visual diversity" problem and making the "good games". As most people quoted here and in the industry, regardless of any un-addressed systematic inequality. If I wanted visual diversity I would play Spore...

Jerome Russ
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I would have to say I agree with Maurício Gomes' points about race.



My question is... if the developers need to be more diverse in the games they create, couldn't you say that the communities under-represented should be happy that they get to be introduced to races besides their own? Or, are gamers allowed to be closed off to just their own cultures, where as the game creators must adapt?



I think you become a game developer because you love games. If cultural identity is what makes you want to play games (as I feel the reason for this study is suggesting), of course you will make game based on the culture you know!



In closing, I feel race will always be an issue, until we stop doing study after study about it. If you are frustrated with not having your culture in games, why not become a game creator yourself and take care of that issue? It appears the market is ripe for it! It might even benefit the development studio if the pitch is to some firm looking to solidify their PC status.

Eric Rosloff
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I think this is a very interesting subject, and just another arm of the larger discussion of race in our society.



I, a straight, white male, have been consciously choosing to play non-white characters (whenever I have the chance) in video games for the last few years, just to mix it up a bit.

John Trauger
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In the 80's comics writer Chris Cleremont (I think it was Cleremont) reportedly asked, when shown a new character design, "Is there a reason why this character can't be a woman?". We can expand this to other minorities.



When watching the video funeral for Richard Biggs, Babylon 5's doctor, one thing that stuck in my mind was how much he loved playing Dr. Franklin *because* it wasn't a "black" part.

Brandon Sheffield
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Jeffrey, talking about things is how progress happens. I personally think that it's important for games to represent a wide swath of society, not in each game, but when taken as a whole, not just about racial diversity, but also in terms of subject matter and play type. You're welcome to disagree, but it is not a non-issue. If people talk about it and think about it it is an issue regardless of whether you'd like for it to be.

Bryson Whiteman
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I'm pretty sure Master Chief is black. That like balances everything out.

John Petersen
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Made by gamers for gamers, that all that matters to me.

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Tawna Evans
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I find the research results presented in this article fascinating.

Dave Endresak
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I am covering some of the elements in this article in a presentation for one of my doctoral courses on March 08 and 15. However, it would seem that I am covering it from a much more informed and academic view than the people quoted in this article.



Let's assume that the intentions behind this study and discussion are positive and well-meant. That being said, there are severe problems with the methodology employed, and I doubt that it would be accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Then again, it might, because I have seen published studies of many kinds that have serious failings in methodology or other elements.



Let me offer one example: best selling games... where? According to what stats? There is no accurate, global measure for best selling games, of course, despite the fact that the actual market is global, not local. Any chart of best sellers is biased and incomplete as far as the actual market and what people are playing. It has been stated many times that the industry doesn't even have a way of tracking products such as free to play games or downloaded games, at least as far as accurate global sales. Top selling games in Japan, for example, are often quite different than top selling games in North America. The same observation is true about claims of underrepresentation of female characters. This is not at all true from a global perspective, especially in Japanese or East Asian gaming where strong, competent female characters and the game they are in are actually a genre unto themselves (bishoujo games... just as bishounen games are also a genre unto themselves, but in a different way).



Another example: biracial... like most (all, really) of the population who is actually multiracial? I don't know of anyone who is only one "race," and that's been the state of our species for many thousands of years. We are one species, and everything in existence, organic based or otherwise, is interconnected and interdependent on everything else. "Caucasian" people are actually multiracial, and even societies that feel that they are homogenous such as Japan or others are actually multiracial. The study is talking about judging people (or characters) based on superficial factors, not real elements of who the people (and characters) actually are. This is called "lookism" and is something to avoid.



Let me offer one of the very best essays about this topic in media. The essay is called "The Face of the Other" and was written by Dr. Matt Thorn, Associate Professor of manga studies at Kyoto Seika University and a man who did his Ph.D dissertation on shoujo (girls') manga in Japanese culture. Here is a direct link to the essay:



http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html



Although Dr. Thorn is talking about Japanese manga visual aesthetics, his observations actually apply to any and all forms of visual art, as well as actual people or other forms of interaction (sound, for example, and especially sound such as music or speech). Notice that his point is that characters in Japanese stories, including Japanese games, indicate elements such as ethnicity by context, not by explicit markers such as are used in Western products. You can see this in works such as Gunslinger Girl where the setting is European but the art style is no different from the same artist's work if the story were set in Japan, America, or elsewhere. This is even more obvious if you consider the various fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or other "nreal" settings of many stories.



When you see a game such as Tales of Vesperia or Star Ocean: The Last Hope showcasing a group of people with very diverse backgrounds and talents all working together towards a common goal, the message that we should embrace diversity is very clear, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the appearance of the characters.



In fact, the truth is that many, many players, myself included, hate the Western focus on "realism" because we do not wish to play "someone who looks like us." We want to play "someone (or something) who looks, acts, and believes as we do" and that may be radically different from how we are forced to present ourselves due to social norms and expectations, as well as the many pressures that enforce such roles on us in our daily lives.



Games and simulations offer us freedom from norms and stereotypes, yet the claims in this article would have us believe that we should adopt (or are adopting) the same restrictions in game aesthetics and content that we tend to demonstrate in the physical world. In other words, the participants in this article are claiming an approach that actually undermines the power of games and simulations by reducing or eliminating the freedom that actually exists and that has been demonstrated throughout the history of the medium.



Of course, perhaps I am misreading the intentions and general tone of the article and the quoted statements. If so, I stand corrected. However, the various replies posted here seem to indicate that I am not alone in my understanding of the statements and the many failings in such a "study."



I have said in the past that Bethesda's approach in Fallout 3 is a huge mistake and step backwards regardless of other positive elements of their work. Why? Because the FaceGen Modeller uses superficial traits to replicate "real life" appearances, but superficial appearance has absolutely nothing to do with who a person is. Bethesda even states this clearly in the game with the oft-stated slogan, "Ghouls are people, too!" So, on one hand, they offer a character creation system that clearly focuses on attempting to mimic "real" appearance which has nothing whatsoever to do with a person's actual identity, and on the other hand state clearly that making assumptions based on outward appearance is something we should avoid doing. If they are serious, then they and other Western companies must allow the player (myself and others) to create any type of outward appearance we desire as a reflection of WHO WE SEE OURSELVES AS. If this is a hyper cute anime/manga/manwa type of character, so be it. If it is a hugely overendowed, overmuscled bruiser, so be it. If it is an intersexed character, so be it.



We have the technology and some of the things it can do are pretty amazing, but are we simply going to reproduce our prior mistakes in virtual worlds rather than actually evolving as a species? The technology doesn't have the restrictions unless we force them onto people by restricting what people can do with the technology. I am hoping for the latter, but see too much of the former (as in this article and the associated "study" and statements).

Dave Endresak
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I want to add one point in reply to Jeffery Parsons, as well as Brandon.



@ Jeff:



You seem to have a decent idea, but at the same time, real life doesn't work as you seem to imagine. For example, there are plenty of barriers to someone enjoying games that they personally enjoy, not the least of which is that they do not wish to actually create the product, but simply study it, play it, watch it, listen to it, etc. Most people do not have an interest, or even skill, in creating works, but they may have tons of ability to analyze and study the final product after it is created. That's why we have entire scholarly fields of studies in literature, classic Greek plays, film, and many other types of media, including game studies and even general media studies. George Lucas was mentored by one of the foremost scholars of the twentieth century, Joseph Campbell, so if you want to know why studying media and storytelling is extremely important, please read or watch Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.



Let me relate a personal, professional experience to everyone. One of my past professional experiences in the industry was working for a very small startup Japanese company (one of many attempts at this goal) who tried to open the English market for Japanese adult adventure games that are so common in Japan and elsewhere. It didn't matter how we packaged the product, it didn't matter that we followed strict ESRB guidelines, it didn't matter how much care we took with the product itself... we were blocked from offering it in any widespread, financially feasible way at every turn due to the rampant censorship that exists in America regarding any media content that is sexually explicit. Of course, such censorship exists for other content in other locales in one way or another (violence in Germany or Australia, for example, is much more restricted than in America).



The point is that it is certainly not true that you can enjoy whatever you want to enjoy in a game in any market, anywhere in the world, even if you make it yourself, let alone help to localize it for that market after it is created elsewhere. It's tempting to claim that my experience was just due to my location and the sexual content, but that would ignore other nonsexual examples that have not had great reception from one market to another such as various romance simulations from Japan that are not adult (the topic of the current Game Design Challenge, in fact).



Note that the university I attend, Eastern Michigan University, has an interesting connection to this genre of gaming because the woman who did the voice of the main heroine of Konami's Tokimeki Memorial, Mami Kingetsu, was actually attending graduate school there when her career exploded in Japan due to landing this role. She went on to become a very accomplished voice actress and singer. Tokimeki Memorial continues to be a successful franchise for Konami in Japan, but the English market continues to wallow in unappealing characters with unsympathetic dialogue and personality traits in our games. Meanwhile, TokiMemo and other franchises such as Princess Maker (the original raising simulation) have seen their genres expand to offer content and products that appeal to a broad variety of gamers in their native market. That's evolution, not stagnation as we have in our market.



Then again, there are many women in the gaming industry in Japan, as well as other related industries such as manga and anime, particularly on the artistic and illustrative side of the creation process. They help create the characters and settings, as well as the events and situations. For example, Bayonetta is not unusual in having been designed by a woman, not a male designer.

Jamie Mann
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There may be an element of game developers producing characters in their own image, but I think there's a simpler reason:



We make characters that look like our target demographic. In the west, that's white, male, 18-35. In Japan, it's asian, male, 15-19 (which parallels the setting for most anime/manga - e.g Bleach).



I'm happy to admit that this is a hugely gross over-simplification - and there's been a fair number of games which have broken this rule - GTA:SA, 50-Cent, Tomb Raider, Shadowman and prove there is a market for games which feature a minority lead. However, this introduces additional risk: the proven demographics may not find the cultural context appealing and the minority demographic may not be interested in the gameplay....

Dave Endresak
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@Jamie:



Again, please read the essay by Dr. Matt Thorn regarding ethnocentric perceptions, intentional or not, regarding Japanese and other East Asian artistic aesthetics. In addition, you may want to remember that the Japanese market for entertainment is vastly dominated by females, not males, and that many characters, male and female, are created by female artists. The target market for entertainment in Japan is certainly not "asian, male, 15-19" at all, as has been reported by many studies of manga, anime, and games in the native Japanese marketplace. That's merely one fraction of what is offered, and not a very large fraction, at that. For example, reports from the organizers of Comiket, Japan's biannual exhibition for fan-created and consumed works (including manga but also games and animated works, CG art, etc) place attendance at well over 500,000 people with an estimated 70%-90% dominance by females over males, depending on what report you read. In contrast, America's largest similar convention is San Diego Comic Con and has an attendance of about 125,000 with a total national popular over twice as large. It's a totally different cultural and social marketplace for many reasons, and tends to be very female-dominated on the creative side for various reasons.

Heliora Prime
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Shadowman is awesome!

I can only look at this from a personal angle. I'm from Brazil and like playing a variety of game characters. When I get the choice it's always female, I don't care about race. I loved playing Darci Stern, Kuranai, Lara, Julie Fakk2, Rachel with her implants, and the girls from Brute Force (and they also act female unlike Lara). Love Ruby, but also she acts like a guy most of the time.

I also love playing aliens, zombies, vampires etc. Especially Raziel and Kain, but that's also because the games have great stories and mysteries.



About race, I really don't care what they look like, it's more how they act.



What I notice is that games are to one character driven. You only have a few levels with Rachel in Ninja Gaiden Sigma. I'd love to play as an asian chick in Tranglehold, Yun Chow Fat is cool and all but still.



I like the concept of Gordon Freeman and that suitcharacter from deadspace. That the character is blank, an empty space the player can fill. However wouldn't it be more exiting to be able to choose at least between male and female? Like the first Star Trek Voyager Elite Force, I mean most of the time there isn't much difference except for the voice and the 3d model.



I think leave it to the game developers, it'll all work out. And racism will practically disappear when we make first contact and can all hate Aliens!



Yes, xenophobia is shared by almost every man, woman and child in the 41 millennium.

Jamie Mann
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@Dave: I did say it was a gross oversimplification :) I'm also not disputing that there is a large market out there for stuff which doesn't feature male teens with spiky hair (e.g. Ranma 1 1/2, Chobits) - and a sizable female presence when it comes to creating the media (e.g. Clamp).



However, that's generally not what comes out in games. Scanning through Wikipedia's best-selling games list for "human avatar" based games from Japan throws up the following:



Pokemon features a silent teenage boy as the protagonist.

Zelda features Link, a teenage boy

Dragon Quest features... a male lead

Final Fantasy... teen, male lead

Monster Hunter... teen, male lead



Admittedly, this trend is starting to die down, as games offer more flexible character creation tools and online multiplayer features become more entrenched. However, the male userbase in games like WoW appears to be roughly 85%, which is significantly unbalanced as compared to the real world.



It's possible to argue this one around and around: developers create games which they think are worth playing, so there's always going to be an element of self-identification in the gameplay and presentation. Equally however, there's a need to manage risk: producing a game which doesn't conform to the "norms" runs the risk of alienating the existing userbase without attracting significant attention from the new userbase. This is a gamble in any industry, especially one like the games industry where the failure of a single game can doom a publisher or development house. As a result, what we generally get is... more of the same.

Dave Endresak
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@Jamie:



Wikipedia is not a reliable academic source. Nor is it a source that reflects the reality of the Japanese market in any way. You may want to check How to Draw Anime and Games Characters Vol. 5: Bishoujo Game Characters by Tadashi Ozawa and read what he has to say about his experiences actually working in the industry. You may also want to do some searching and reading from scholars such as Dr. Thorn who have tried to offer scholarly analysis of the true state of the market in Japan versus popular misperceptions about the market.



There are girls who play males and males who only play females, and everything in between, including intersexed and transgendered types of characters. Otome games in Japan have placed in Amazon's top ten sales lists consistently. The Japanese have a selection for any and every audience, pretty much, and just about any and every taste in content, too. They've never had a predominance towards adolescent males in entertainment media because they always realized that the female market was there and very lucrative, so there was no reason to avoid it or ignore it. Shoujo manga goes back to WW I and earlier, for example. Games go back to at least the mid 1990s with Koei's Angelique. Anime goes back to the 1960s with Mahoutsukai Sally. Etc.



Consider the current list of top sellers at Amazon as of the time I am posting this reply:



PC Game Bestsellers:

http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/bestsellers/software/689132/ref=pd_ts_
zgc_sw_689132_more?pf_rd_p=465926196&pf_rd_s=right-6&pf_rd_t=101&
pf_rd_i=689132&pf_rd_m=AN1VRQENFRJN5&pf_rd_r=035R5E6N8SPDFMW4CHSB



Note the otome games on the list. QuinRose has been particularly successful with their otome games and is often on Amazon's best seller list.



For platforms, the current list is:

http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/bestsellers/videogames/ref=pd_ts_zgc_v
g__more?pf_rd_p=95606706&pf_rd_s=right-5&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_i=6373
94&pf_rd_m=AN1VRQENFRJN5&pf_rd_r=17MC6REX0SNPE342QJ07



I see a shift towards Western style games compared to a year or two ago, but that may just be the current state. A couple years ago, Konami's Tokimeki Memorial: Girls' Side Second Season was in the top ten during the holidays, for example, as was QuinRose's new release at that time, Crimson Empire. Both are otome games. Regardless, note that #14 is a rerelease of Leaf/Aquaplus' romance visual novel from the late 1990s, White Album. Targeted for males, but many of these games are enjoyed by females, too, due to their nature of being focused on story and character development. Not to mention that the illustrators/character designers are often women for such games, so the female characters often have a great appeal for both male and female audiences. The yaoi and shounen ai products are created by women for female audiences, though, so there is little if any male input.



Tokimeki Memorial by Konami was intended for a male audience but many females played it and enjoyed it. Koei created Angelique for girl gamers but many guys enjoy it, too. Ragnarok Online continues to be in the top ten lists in Japan month after month and has a very strong female player base. Etc. The titles you list just happen to have male lead characters, but that's like listing titles that happen to have female lead characters. Japan offers a very balanced product line for any age, gender, class, etc. Their market has matured, and many artists have commented on this compared to other markets such as America. That's why you have games and other media for adults in Japan with events and settings for adult audiences. Some artists such as Toshio Maeda and Rusher Ikeda have stated that they expect the next trend to be entertainment for "silver age" audiences due to Japan's aging population, and in fact we already see this happening with various entertainment that appeals to older people, including Nintendo's products such as Brain Age series.



It isn't that there is any trend that games have lead males. That has not been true in Japan for many years, not at least since Phantasy Star first came out in the 1980s as well as other products of that time such as the Valis franchise. However, the point is that there are and have been for many decades female dominance in the creative side as well as consumer side of Japanese mass media entertainment. There are cultural reasons for this, too, but the article and various responses were misleading about the facts of creation and consumption, so I was correcting some misimpressions as much as I could. This is why you have the entire genres of yaoi, shounen ai, and otome games in Japan, for example, as well as bishoujo games. The big difference is that many of the characters, male or female, are created by women regardless of the intended target market.



Whatever WoW's player base may be at any moment is pretty irrelevant as it is simply one title of many, and not the most popular MMO title globally speaking by any means. Even the ESA states that the split between male and female for online gaming is much closer to 60/40, and that's only via official numbers in North America but does not include free to play, Asian markets, etc.



As a final point, it's critical to get out of the mindset that people are dichotomous, male/female in sexual identity or gender identity because that is not reality. Reality is an infinitely diverse spectrum for sexual identity (the biological state) and gender identity (the psychological state).



Like Dr. Thorn, I will say no more on the subject on this posting.

Jamie Mallin
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this is an important issue, as it can affect on a players enjoyment of a game, depemding on his own racial background, if a African-American is playing a game with only caucasian characters, then he isn't going to feel truly immersed in the game, character personalization is a big step in this respect.


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