Darren of Common Sense Gamer has a thought-provoking post about the issue of representation in gaming, and rather unlike myself, I actually bothered to comment. I have several other thoughts about the subject, though, so I am posting the overflow here.
Darren, and others in his comments, seem to wonder how much representation is enough, for minorities of all shapes and sizes, or rather how much is too much – how can one game represent every type of person in existence, and more importantly, should it be expected to? Is that a responsibility of a game, a noted method of escape and fantasy, to represent every minority, every uncomfortable reality, every frailty of human existence?
I can understand the resistance – it seems excessive on the face of it – but with a little consideration I pointed out in my comment that the apparently Herculean task of representing anyone and everyone at all largely comes down to a robust character creator and then a very few additional options if one wants to go down the path of portraying a romance. Furthermore I realized that none of this should have an effect on the story the game is trying to tell at all; unless a character’s ability to reproduce with their partner is paramount to the plot, I’m not sure why Soldier McHet needs to be straight at all. The key word here is option; if you want to be Soldier McHet, I believe it should be possible. I do not believe that the presence of other options should affect any player’s opinion of the game or story at all.
Further on the subject of representation, I continue to struggle with my fantasy life versus my real life representations in each new game. On the one hand, I would like to create an idealized character I enjoy looking at while I play. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tall, leggy redheads running about the game world, so why bother, amirite? What I usually end up doing is attempting to create a character that looks more like an idealized me. The reason I usually end up doing so is because I figure, if I don’t, who will?
This also has the effect of highlighting the number of game worlds in which someone who looks even remotely like me does not exist. I am a visible minority in my place of residence, the USA. Many games ported from Asia, with their singular skin tones and three hairstyles, are guilty of rendering me non-existent. Sometimes I play them anyway. Sometimes I am just sad. Who wants to not exist? Why would I want to fantasize about an idealized world in which I do not exist?
In worlds in which diversity consists of aliens with different physiologies, or magical universes with talking Orcs, or the ability to blow yourself up with fire you summoned from your very own soul, please don’t ask someone to be pleased that they have been “cured away” by magic, by fantasy, by futuristic science and medicine. It’s really not that hard to imagine that we are there, if you try just a little. Trust me.
Edit: The Border House has thrown in its two cents.