Audiences & Experiences Week #11

(Note: I thought I posted this on Friday but turns out it didn’t update, so apologies for the late date.)

This week explored creating content for minority audiences including LGBT. The viewings were as follows:

  • “10 ways to make your game more diverse” GDC talk by Meg Jayanth (2016)
  • An article of my choice from “Queerness and Video Games” by Game Studies: “When (and What) Queerness Counts: Homonationalism and Militarism in the Mass Effect Series” by Jordan Youngblood (2018)
  • Chapter 11: Playing To Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games by Bonnie Ruberg from “Gaming Representation : Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games” (2017)
  • “Introduction: Reimagining the Medium of Video Games” Chapter from The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games (Bonnie Ruberg, 2020)
  • Game(s) of choice: Bioware — Dragon Age series (Origins, 2 & Inquisition)

This was a video of a talk given by Meg Jayanth at GDC in 2016 and covered the topic of diversifying video games. The main points made are as follows:

  1. Diversity starts with the workforce — it’s important to include a wide range of people within your team.

2. It is fundamental to do your research!! You can employ experts for specific information for representation in order to check sources and to check bias and provenance.

3. “Authenticity” trap – doesn’t make you exempt from broadcasting issues from the past even if it’s true e.g. no racial slurs in 80 days even though it would have been historically accurate.

4. Check your biases – some modes of thinking have been engrained in media for generations e.g. plays, films, literature and games

5. Counting — it’s not about making the number of minorities equal to cis white people or vice versa.

6. Normalisation vs visibility

7. Avoid the single narrative – one large story covering the mass obscures the small stories.

Other interesting points made included the importance of good, accurate sound design as this plays an important role in shaping your narrative and environment. She also discusses the problem of designing generic content such as originally they had planned to generate the gameplay procedurally within 80 days but encountered problems centered around stereotyping and racisim by doing so.

In addition, I found the points raised about not every story being for you or your player particularly powerful as it highlights the fact that not everyone wishes for their story to be shared, nor is a game the right medium to tell every kind of story. Meg also stated that “The strong female character is just as bad as the damsel in distress” which I agree with as it’s just another stereotype now being employed within games.

This article discusses the use of gender and sexuality throughout Bioware’s Mass Effect series and in relation to its counterpart, Dragon Age.

I found the comparison made to Dragon Age Inquisition quite interesting as the author argues that Krem is used as a pawn in the fight for power and is only potentially included within the narrative is to serve as “a bargaining chip between within the larger effort to consolidate military power”; boo!

Also for another comparison, after the release of Mass Effect 2 they were heavily questioned as to why their selection of bisexual characters was so light in relation to Dragon Age Origins. The series producer, Casey Hudson claimed that “[w]e still view it as… if you’re picturing a PG-13 action movie. That’s how we’re trying to design it. So that’s why the love interest is relatively light”. This provides the notion that including non-heteronormative relationships would require a higher age classification!

However, this shifted again within 3 after players demanded more openly and exclusively gay and lesbian relationships. Despite the backlash and negative reviews received as a result of including and diversifying the content with queer characters, it was worth being included.

I personally didn’t agree with the tone of this chapter as, to summarize, the author, Ruberg, essentially stated that queer people do not enjoy games within the genres of fighting and racing with one example being Burnout.

The overall context of this chapter is discussing how some games are not designed specifically with queer people in mind; queer failure. However, I thoroughly disagree with this idea. I personally feel that this is another type of stereotyping in itself, although not negative, in that it provides the notion that queer people do not enjoy racing or fighting games with the example given being “Burnout”.

This directly implicates that a person’s sexuality is tied directly to their interests which is not explicitly true. For example, if a young boy likes playing with “girl” toys such as barbies, people automatically assume that he’ll have queer tendencies which may not always be true; he just likes the toys! Likewise, if a female child prefers participating in “male” sports, they are not always a tomboy, they just prefer those activities.

This was an interesting read, especially as it was written by the author of the previous extract, Bonnie Ruberg.

I was glad to read this piece following the previous chapter as it provided a more positive, uplifting outlook upon the queer gaming community.

Within the introduction chapter of the book, the author directs their attention towards the growing LGBTQ community within the gaming industry with the focus on their content creation.

Ruberg brands the queer indie community as the “queer games avant-garde” often associated with symbolising a big, powerful art movement. Although this is a bold statement, they’re not wrong to highlight the strong impact and growth of LGBTQ games over the years, the effect on modern day culture and their future within the industry. I found it particularly interesting that it also brought up the topic of video games being a form of art due to the terminology used.

Bioware have had a long term history which including diverse characters within their game worlds such as from including just two bi romancable characters within Dragon Age Origins to 4 within Dragon Age 2 (6 if you include the DLC content) (shown within the screenshot).However the number within Inquisition goes back down, although the inclusion of the first openly trans character, Krem, speaks louder I believe.

However, I feel that the romance-able character options are more limited as opposed to its fantasy counterpart with only a handful of bi characters within 1, 3 within Mass Effect 2 and 4 within the third instalment.

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