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Report: Video Games Do Not Accurately Represent Minorities

Report: Video Games Do Not Accurately Represent Minorities

July 29, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

July 29, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
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According to online reports, USC's Annenberg School for Communication has completed a study that compares game protagonists to their audiences and to American society -- and finds that the racial makeup of characters does not reflect either.

The study, as passed on by Science Daily, encompassed "the top 150 games in a year across nine platforms and all rating levels". The games were also weighted "by each title's popularity".

Dmitri Williams, social psychologist and assistant professor at USC, lead the study. While Williams says that "Latino children play more video games than white children," the report states that no games featured characters that were both playable and "recognizably Hispanic". (However, the existence of the Gears Of War series' Dominic Santiago appears to contradict this statement.)

Nonetheless, Williams contrasts the paucity of Hispanic leads with gains made on television. Says Williams, "They're really not able to play themselves. For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve."

He added: "Ironically, they may even be less likely to become game makers themselves, helping to perpetuate the cycle. Many have suggested that games function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math."

According to the study, adults, whites, and males were overrepresented while women and other minorities, excepting African-Americans, were underrepresented. However, most African-American characters appeared in sports games or in titles that reinforce stereotypes -- the only title called out in the Science Daily report is, in fact, 50 Cent: Bulletproof.

Overall, the survey notes that 10 percent of playable characters surveyed were female, though women now make up 40 percent of video game players, also commenting that fewer than 3 percent of all video game characters were recognizably Hispanic. However, the report does note that first-person shooters and games with non-human characters were excluded.

"The characters the developers put in the games do not match the real world... These are highly underserved groups. It's a missed sales opportunity," says Williams. The full study, which is printed in the New Media Society academic journal, is available in PDF form via Dmitri Williams' website.

[UPDATE: Link to free version of paper on Dmitri Williams' own website added.]


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