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How writing better marginalized characters starts with including more

March 6, 2017 | By Alissa McAloon

March 6, 2017 | By Alissa McAloon
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More: Indie, Design, Video

The GDC X One Life Left podcast saw a host of different guests on a wide variety of different topics near and dear to the hearts of game developers. The second day of recording captured advice from game developer Shawn Alexander Allen on how better representation of marginalized people starts with including more diverse characters within a single game. 

It’s a topic that Allen discussed at great length in his talk about writing better characters through diversity at GDC this past week. He’s pitched that talk at past GDCs and has brought it through different configurations before presenting it this year as what he calls his take on black media studies.

“Put more than two people in a prominent role that are the people that you want, so that you’re not saddling one person with having to be the every person," he advised. "They’ve gotta be the person who doesn’t get offended at things, who’s also very nice but also sometimes puts you in your place.”

Allen went on to touch briefly on how The Walking Dead’s Lee Everett was one example of how a character’s personality can be stretched unnecessarily to cover multiple roles that could’ve been instead been occupied by other marginalized characters.

He says his own presence at GDC started as a push against a lack of diversity in the games industry itself. His first year was filled with uncomfortably aggressive networking, but now he says his attendance is about engaging with other developers of color and encouraging better representation in games through design. 

“A lot of what I do is I try to connect people,” said Allen. “I’m here primarily, I think, to uplift black and brown people in the games industry.“

The segment featuring Allen can be found above at around the 42 minute mark, and also includes conversations with Emily Short of Spirit AI and Soren Johnson of Mohawk Games about their experiences in conversational AI, the role of conflict in games, and more. And for more like this, be sure to take a look at the Gamasutra Twitch Channel and One Life Left podcast.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM America.

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