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Moving Forward On Race In Games: Manveer Heir Speaks
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Moving Forward On Race In Games: Manveer Heir Speaks

August 5, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Have you ever seen any market research that has studied this? I don't actually know if anyone has studied whether a protagonist's race changes player perception or player interest.

MH: No, I've never seen that market research, and I've never even heard from anyone in marketing directly say, "You can't have that race character. It's not a good idea." I have heard from other people in the industry where they try to pitch a game with a protagonist that was not white, and it was slightly encouraged that they rethink that. So, no. To my knowledge, I don't know of any research like that.

My guess is -- this is purely conjecture -- that it doesn't necessarily exist. It's a gut feeling that marketers have. It's the same in the TV industry, where you're still not seeing that huge a diversity with characters, right? You still have entire TV shows where the entire population is all white, or an all-black show, or something like that. They market themselves that way.

But there's people who want to both. Look at what The Cosby Show did, I think that was an amazing show, for being effectively a middle to upper-class white family, but they happened to be black, right? Everybody loves the Cosby Show, so clearly people are willing to accept it.

It feels like more Indian people, or people who are on a show identified as Indian, are making it onto TV now, which is kind of interesting. The shows that they're on tend to have them better integrated now.

MH: Well, first, my people are just a better people than all the others. [laughs]

But seriously, yeah, I've actually found that really interesting and cool, just being an Indian person. "That's really cool." I don't know why it happened. There's just been a growth of Indian comics, like Aziz Ansari, Russell Peters, and guys like that that, who have made it big. And movies like Slumdog Millionaire probably helped, you know?

Maybe it's just like, it's more, I don't know, trendy to have an Indian character on your show? Obviously there's a whole show Outsourced that's even filmed in India -- though I'm not 100 percent sure on that. I've only watched a couple episodes, but it seems funny. People seem to watch it. I think it's really cool, that there's this growth, especially in a community that's pretty small. I don't know what the actual numbers are. Like, when I grew up, I didn't really have Indian friends. I had like one or two.

I feel like there are a lot of Caucasian writers in the game industry. And Caucasian writers are often afraid of putting characters of other ethnicities into their games because they don't want to get judged for it by the ethnic groups that they're putting in. How do we step people down from that? With the last game I was working on, I was trying to put in a bunch of different types of characters, but I was nervous about it, I'll admit.

MH: So, how do we get writers to basically feel comfortable writing characters that aren't themselves?

Yes. And also there's the question of how do we get more writers of different ethnicities into the industry? That's a totally different, larger problem than we can solve right here, I think.

MH: Right. Well, I mean, you look at like TV or film, right? Aaron Sorkin is obviously a very famous writer. People have lauded him multiple times for being able to write the female perspective in an interesting and well-thought-out way, as well as his overall writing style. Obviously, he's not a woman, so I think he's probably considered a good writer in part because he is able to capture a viewpoint that is not necessarily his own. So, I think that's just the base staple of a good writer versus a writer -- somebody who can capture that viewpoint.

So, next comes the courage, or the ability to be able to stand up and say, "I'm going to try this. And, no, I'm not going to worry about what other people think about if I've written for a different race or a homosexual character or a female character, and if it feels out of tone."

I think we just need to have more writers in the industry in terms of more mature writers. This is not everyone in the industry. I do not want to diminish writers. There are a lot of amazing writers. I've worked with a lot of really amazing writers. But I've also come across bad writers unfortunately, like you would everywhere.

And the bad writers were just doing it for a check and not really trying, and those people are hurting us, just the same way that bad designers are hurting us and bad programmers are hurting us.

So, if we make sure that we try to promote and push with our good writers... we give them the backing that they need, the support so that they don't feel like they're left on an island. And that we also challenge them. We challenge each other as an industry.

The reason I speak up on this all the time isn't because I want to be the only guy doing it. It's because I feel the need to challenge the rest of the industry, including myself, to try to think about these things and do better. And I think if we start challenging each other, we're going to improve as a medium.


The lack of racial diversity in games is sort of symptomatic to a greater lack of diversity in game universes, where we don't have as many positive or realistic female characters, or non heterosexual characters, or transgender characters, or things like that. People don't necessarily think about this stuff. Maybe they don't want to put it in because it's not even something they feel is necessary or they consider in their lives at all. It seems like to move forward, we would want to be able to have all subjects open to us.

MH: Right. And I think part of it comes down to most games, I feel like can still be drawn down to the male power fantasy of saving the world effectively. When you do that, there are only certain types of characters that make sense for that, right. You're not going to have an elderly woman save the world. If you did, and you pulled it off and it's awesome, you're amazing.

So, I think when we don't try to do things that are out of our comfort zone, we fall back into comfortable patterns. And like you said, the lack of diversity just in the general industry, at least in North America... I think how to solve that is a much harder and bigger question. I think it's having more minority people in video games recognized.

I don't mean necessarily calling them out because they're a minority. Rather that in general, game creators are not recognized. Besides a handful, people don't really know them. And I only know of a couple that I can think of that aren't usually white males.

There's Amy Hennig at Naughty Dog, and Jade Raymond at Ubi. Those are like the two who I think of when I think of like the non-standard creative director, executive producer-type. I hope that down the road we start promoting our talent more so that someone's coming up to a school, and they can say, "Look, oh, this person has the same kind of interesting ideas that I do. I'd really like to follow that person's path" the same way you do with directors in a film.

I know games are not the same authorial control as a director -- you know, games are made by teams, not individuals. It's not exactly the same. But I think we can promote our talent, not just at the top level, but at the lower levels as well. That gives more visibility to the talent, as well as it gives visibility to people from the outside, on who is making these games.

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