‘Games should be the battleground for diversity’

A panel held at the first BFI Video Games Day has called on the games industry to foster more diversity in the sector, or risk being overrun by hostility.

Discussing diversity, culture and representation,Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris, developer at The Tiniest Shark;Shahid Ahmad, strategic content, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and video game writer and narrative designer Rhianna Pratchett highlighted now as the time for a broader range of in-game characters and developers to be encouraged into the games industry.

"Games are the most exciting and the most expressive medium," statedKhandaker-Kokoris.

"Games should be the battleground for diversity."

Pratchett commented that while gender diversity issues often highlight a lack of female characters, men were also losing out to a cookie-cutter approach to character creation.

"It’s not just women that have a limited representation in games," she explained.

"There’s a lot more men in games, but men also still have a limited representation. We’re only just beginning to see father stories, and only just moving away from the ‘white straight male with brown hair’ standard."

She also warned that an increasing discussion of diversity, without outlining a clear way to move forwards, may hinder, rather than aid, those working in the industry.

"Female representation is such a hot button topic for developers at the moment, and a lot are scared," she explained."There’s a lot of confusion about what’s okay and what’s not."

Shahid Ahmad, strategic content, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, warned against the danger posed by the increasingly hostile nature of the internet, warning games firms to stamp out hostility before it smothers the industry’s ability to evolve, develop and diversify.

"It’s the function of the hyper-connected era that we’re in that hate mobs get together at frightening speed and attack others," he said.

"Hate mobs that pounce on things early are part of the world that we live in today. This is the world that we live in, so we have to get our house in order. If we don’t get our house in order, someone else will."

Ahmad also criticised triple-A titles for establishing an exclusive culture, driven by a preference for commerical success over the progression of games as a medium.

"The problem with mainstream video games is that, because they’re business-driven, that’s what they’re going to continue doing what sells," he said.

"But that lands you in an arms race that blocks you off from doing anything else, in the fear that it will lead you away from profit."

He added that the rise of smaller indie games that do include a wider range of diverse characters and situations would eventually lead the way forward instead, stating: "One of these games is going to take off, and that’s going to change the industry."

Chief among the ways to foster more diversity in the games sector was encouraging budding game developers to push boundaries early on, and ultimately redefine shortsighted perspectives in the industry.

"We must get young children being creative with games," Ahmad stated.

Pratchett agreed: "It’s about getting them young. There’s such a lot of misunderstanding about what a game developer might be like among both boys and girls. It’s male, old, kind of balding, poor hygiene – all the clichs come into it. They think it’s all hard maths and science. They don’t realise that there’s design and art and music and production and writing. They never think how these roles intersect.

"We owe it to the next generation to be out there and to not be so hesitant about touching issues of gender and difference, as long as the work is talked about."

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