Tea Talk: Representation

I brewed some tea

I really cannot fathom what does having representation in a game’s cast have to do with anything. The reason why I raised this up is because I have seen many people asking for more representation in games. Whether it be representation for females, LGBTminorities, or any demographic that isn’t a straight white guy, their reason is always: “Those people should be represented in video games.” If the game’s lore implies that the cast should feature characters that aren’t straight white guys, then sure, they should be there. If not, then there is no reason for that to be the case.

As for reasons, I normally saw it being followed by “because I’m from that demographic”, “people from that demographic would want that representation”, “that other game has characters from that demographic” and “that demographic isn’t represented enough”. Nowhere in those reasons do I ever see anyone raise a point about how it’ll add value to a game. It’s almost as if those people care more about pushing their own private agendas rather than having genuine concern for games sometimes.

Really, unless the game calls for it, representation is meaningless at best, and harmful at worst. If a game does require a multicultural cast, like Overwatch, Agents of Mayhem and games with a metropolitan setting like the Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row series, then sure. If the story is about homosexuality, not having a gay character is suicidally dumb. If the game character is based on someone of a particular race, there better be a real good reason to cast the character in a different race or you’ll deserve every bit of criticism coming your way, whether it is about alleged whitewashing or not being loyal to the source material. Not having representation when it’s required is just negligence at best, and insulting and marginalizing at worst. And if the game character is supposed to be a true-to-life representation of the player, there better be all those options, Nintendo you daft stick-in-the-mud with your lack of gay relationships in a real life simulator. Even then, there is nothing to applaud for here. It’s basic consistency that is meant to be expected. If you won’t applaud Call of Duty for having guns in their game, I don’t see why you would applaud Overwatch to have a multicultural team either.

But in games that don’t really need them? Why? If characters are made to be a particular gender, sexual orientation, race or any underrepresented demographic solely to draw in the crowds that cries for diversity and representation, what message are you trying to send here? That these traits that are deeply personal to some can be simply used as tokens to buy goodwill? That a developer can just apply a thin veneer of representation on a blank soulless mannequin and can now be applauded for being “brave”, “with the times”, and “enlightened”? That a publisher can bank on having a diverse cast to get praise and sales? This just turns the wonderful spectrum of humanity into a series of tokens, to be collected by soulless hive minds that’ll string them together and parade around with it and showing it off. It’s creepy. it’s dehumanizing. And it’s rather disgusting. To reduce unique traits of people into masks for puppets just to sell a game.

And really, what is wrong with white straight males as protagonists? They are the perfect blank slate! Most of the time, they are just placeholders because there is no reason to spend extra time and effort to make them into anything else. Their race, gender, sexual orientation or whatsoever has absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. So why is there a need to have them be from a particular demographic? To be honest, I consider it more insulting to be a default whose characteristics mean nothing.

It’s fascinating to see games telling the stories of others. With games being the only interactive entertainment medium out there aside from reenactments and role-plays, being able to experience, think, and act as someone you aren’t is perhaps one of the most bizarre and wonderful things in the world. The gaming medium is undoubtedly the best medium in the world to broaden people’s horizons, allowing to see more, feel more, and learn more. There is a place for representation in games. But when “representation” amounts to a few cosmetic changes and some dialogue options, then there’s a problem. At that point, it is just a cynical addition to generate positivity and nothing else. There is no value in representation in that case.

That is why I’m against the call for more diversity in video games in general. It is just so likely that it’ll be poorly implemented as they are being used to fulfill a quota. If there is a good reason for a game to have diversity story-wise, then sure. Please do. And you better do it.

If not, why bother.

I may be overly sensitive to think that those cries are meant to be for video games in general. I may be too cynical to think that publishers and developers may exploit representation to drive sales. But then, it’s almost always said as a blanket statement when I heard it, so that’s what I am taking it as. And I can’t help my cynicism when I saw what some companies had pulled just to make an extra buck.

I finished my tea

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