Tag Archives: diversity

The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

Under the Covers

I’ve been playing the remaster of Saints Row 4 on XBox One and thoroughly enjoying it. Besides engaging gameplay, zany antics, and ridiculously juvenile yet hilarious jokes, Saints Row boasts one of the best character creators I’ve seen in a game. When you create The Boss you have a ton of options. Aside from choosing your sex, you can choose your race and your skin colour. You can choose from multiple different voice actors with different accents to voice your character, and further customize the pitch of your voice. You can make your character appear young or old, and choose a body build that you like. Then there are a thousand different clothing options. And if you ever want to change things up, you can do so at any point in the game.

My character is what I’d like to look like in a video game. She has purple hair, some meat on her bones, and some major eyeliner and brow game. She’s voiced by the wonderful Laura Bailey who I wish I sounded like. But every time I load up the game, I’m greeted with this guy.

Saints Row 4 cover and loading screen art

Who the fuck is this guy?

He’s certainly not me. He’s not in my crew. I’ve never seen him in my game.

I love playing the game but every time I’m met with this image, which is also the art on the game box, there’s a moment of cognitive dissonance. The canon protagonist (at least in marketing materials) has nothing to do with my experience of playing the game. It seems so incongruous to offer up this great character creator that lets people create the kind of protagonist they want to play, but then show us a design that’s likely completely different anytime there’s a chance.

Saints Row is obviously not the only game that has done this.

Covers for Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, Sunset Overdrive all showing a white male main character

Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, and Sunset Overdrive also all portray the protagonist as a white male despite offering other options to the player.

The Mass Effect series boasts a decent character creator (though it’s not as robust as Saints Row’s), but all of the artwork around the first 2 games still features a default white male Shepard. Incidentally, he kind of looks like the guy from the Saints Row cover with a buzz cut.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 cover art

For Mass Effect 3 Bioware’s marketing department realized some people had recognized the superiority of Jennifer Hale’s Shepard (I refuse to use the term femShep, because she. is. Shepard.) In a puzzling move (or not so puzzling if you want to absolve yourself of all responsibility), Bioware put the decision on how she would look to a fan vote. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Caucasian Shepard won the popular vote in what could be boiled down to a beauty contest. Then there was a second vote to decide her hair colour. Yep, hard-ass, space Commander, first human Spectre Shepard had her skin colour, features, and hair style voted on by the public. Now that there was a canon design for both the male and female Shepard, Mass Effect 3 had a reversible box cover (of which maleShep was still the default).

Mass Effect 3 covers

I’m afraid that marketing departments just can’t win with me. Though I can (and have) flipped the cover of my Mass Effect 3 box for 360 to show the version of Shepard that’s closer to my own, it’s still not my Shepard. My Shepard is an N7 Marine and she sure as hell would never have a haircut that allowed bangs to obstruct her eyes. That’s really not safe for combat. While having an option for female box art is something, it still doesn’t take into account how people have created their own version of Shepard. Why does she have to be white? Why does she need to have delicate, conventionally attractive features? Why does she have a design that you can’t really even replicate in-game while box art maleShep and in-game maleShep can look pretty much identical? These are the great mysteries of the Mass Effect world.

I think the best way to market games that allow you to customize your character is to not show the protagonist in the artwork. It’s the only way to avoid that sense of dissonance and the feeling that if you’re not playing as scruffy white male #42, you’re not playing the character as it was designed. A number of games have done this, and I don’t think any have suffered from not putting a face on the box art.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

The box art for Dragon Age: Inquisition has an enticing design that shows something of the story, without committing to a specific character design. This should work for most characters. Unless you play a dwarf, then you’re out of luck.

Dragon Age Origins box cover

Dragon Age: Origins has artwork that doesn’t give any indication of a canon Warden, while still being quite effective.

Fallout 3 and New Vegas box art

The newer Fallout games both feature heavily armored figures which don’t give away sex, race, or appearance, but tell you a lot about the game world. Though I’m sad to admit I always assumed the figure on the cover of New Vegas was male just because of lack of sculpted boob plate. But when I force that stereotype out of my head, it could really be a man or a woman.

Why spend so much time and effort giving players robust character customization only to default to the standard scruffy white male protagonist in all the marketing materials?