The gaming industry is one such mechanism that prides itself on constant product improvement based on customer feedback. However, their definition of a customer or a “typical gamer” often means a straight white cisgender male. And as a result, provides the content that would be preferred by this segment. Arguably, the majority of innovation, in gaming, revolves around technology and the medium of game delivery. Sure, the advancement to cloud gaming is great, but is the industry doing enough to encourage diversity and inclusion in the gaming world?
The inception of gaming can be traced all the way back to 1950s when a very rudimentary setup was used to showcase the ability to play a childhood favorite game of Tic-Tac-Toe. While the concept was well-received, it was only in the 1970s when the video game consoles truly started gaining popularity. And ever since then, the tech for the consoles, the game software and the graphical interface have continued to push the boundaries to keep the gamers engaged.
Gaming has always been considered a male-dominated activity. Due to this, the companies were mostly developing games for men, overlooking other genders or people with disabilities. In Newzoo’s Diversity & Inclusion study, which was conducted on over 4,000 gamers across U.K and U.S.A, around 45% of respondents claimed that they didn’t play certain games because they felt like they weren’t made for them.
Women characters form a big part of the storyline for almost all games now. However, it is only recently that we have seen them transition from typically NPC (Non-Playable Characters) to protagonists. Some companies have started understanding that the community has a significant number of female gamers as well. Now they have started to cater to this demographic by developing games that are more female-centric. Some of the most popular games, in recent years, with a female protagonist can be seen below.
A brief look at Asia
Asia accounted for 48% of total gaming revenue ($145 B) generated in 2019. According to the report “Play like a girl” published by Google, the profile of a typical gamer in Asia has been totally transformed. The region, boasting of over 1.33 B gamers in 2019, has 38% representation from females. The report projected the YoY growth for female gamers to be over 14.8% which was almost double the overall projected growth of 7.8% in 2020.
While gamers have a number of platforms to choose from, 95% of all female gamers play at least on mobile. Mobile gaming is comparatively less intimidating and has an on-the-go appeal which makes it a perfect entry point for females. Google’s report breaks down the genres women mostly played on their phones and correspondingly how many males played it.
Inclusion beyond females
Just like females, the industry is not putting in any efforts in marketing games to the LGBTQ community. Although the LGBTQ characters have continued to feature in games since 1980, they have always played the role of either comic relief or an antagonist – much like other forms of media content we consume. Gaming forms a very big part of pop-culture, and big companies should definitely be doing all they can in understanding and expanding to the LGBTQ gamers.
A survey conducted by Nielsen reported a very interesting fact about LGBTQ gamers. As seen above, they are more likely to play simulation games than non-LGBTQ gamers. Simulation games allow gamers to closely simulate real-world activities and experience interactions between different characters in the game. The Sims is one of the most popular simulation game and gives the players an option to create a world that is unique to them through their imagination.
True example of diversity & inclusion
The biggest gaming title ever to engage with the LGBTQ theme in a meaningful way is The Last of Us. Ellie plays the protagonist of this blockbuster horror game. The game’s storyline, in the first instalment, explores the theme of Ellie’s character who is gay and has feelings for another character Riley. The developers continued to fight against heteronormativity in the sequel, The Last of Us Part II, launched in 2020 as well.
The characters in the game are complex, just like in real-world. The game, while having Ellie to continue to explore her sexuality with another female character Dina, does not shy away from having her encountering homophobia from other characters. It is quite refreshing to see how Ellie deals with it and does not get deterred. The game definitely deserved to win the award of Game of the Year & Best Narrative at The Game Awards 2020.
Expanding the reach to a wider audience
Another way companies are improving diversity & inclusion in the gaming world is by increasing the accessibility for these games. This means adding features, technology or content delivered through software/hardware that allow people with various disabilities to enjoy the game. Companies like Microsoft have developed a special Adaptive Controller for people with limited mobility. And the game developers are increasingly adding more accessible designs that can be altered based on speech or vision limitations. The industry is definitely beginning to realize the importance of increased accessibility and it can be seen with a separate award category rewarding these games at The Games Awards this year.