DICE 2010: "Games of Color" Presentation

Posted: February 19, 2010
DICE 2010: "Games of Color" Presentation
Why are most characters in video games white? To answer this question, DICE employed USC assistant professor Dmitri Williams, who points out that "You make games that look like you," and most developers are, you guessed it white.

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  • BlkWmnAnimator

    I think that 9.9 times out of 10, the person who says that "it doesn't matter" or that "I don't choose a game based on race" or "it's irrelevant to the game" are the people that are represented fully. You don't notice race because everyone always looks like you. The reason minorities are always bringing these things up is because when no one looks like you, you notice. (I'm using this example because I am here) If you came to Korea where everyone is Korean, you would definitely notice that you are the only foreigner you see and you would be begging to see another foreigner anywhere you can.

    Also, if it's so irrelevant what the background of the main character is, then why aren't there more diverse characters?

    I think that I agree that if there is no one of that ethnic background in the room to throw a suggestion out there, then it's most likely not going to be implemented. Even if you have an idea to put a certain character in the game, if you can't "sell" you're idea, you're not going to succeed. And I think the best way to "sell" an idea is to have a lot of knowledge about it. And I think, like they said in the video, it's always best to try and be authentic, and the way to be authentic is to go to an "expert".

    During my freshman year as an animation major, I saw some horrible models of 3D black characters by my white counterparts. One character's hair looked like taco meat and he had red lips. Another character had whitish pink lips. So I think that, you don't always have to be of the same certain ethnic background to get things right, but it will probably make things more accurate and authentic.

    All in all, I liked the presentation and I think they took the discussion in a different direction that wasn't stale and "same ol same ol" discussion-like.

    Posted: March 18, 2010 5:59 AM
  • Booyaah

    Wow! As an African American i have to say that was a great discusion! And its very true! If we want to se more diversity as far as content, we need to work in the industry. Me, myself and I, just started a game comapany and ive been told that what i was doing was crazy, Id never make any money, or i needed a ton of money to be taken seriously! Well gang, I have a game coming out within the next two months! Not a video game mind you (because im using my savings to make things happen) but a party game that i belive will turn some heads! Hopefully the bigger companies that told me NO will take notice and say "Hmmmm...maybe this guy is on to something" We will see! Remember my tag name guys! You will be hearing from me!

    Posted: March 4, 2010 5:39 PM
  • drangel_jam

    @ stinger0112

    I agree with you only 50%. Games have evolved, and the narratives became just as in depth, toughtful, interesting and relevant as the gameplay.

    So when you say that gamers are all about gameplay and no story it's not true at all: RPGs alone disprove that, also more especifically, games like MGS, Bioshock, Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, GoW, Halo, Mass Effect, etc... all have great stories. And once you think about story you think about not so obvious elements that enrich the soul of the game.

    As long as games evolve, more stuff is going to matter.

    Posted: February 28, 2010 10:40 AM
  • Stinger9112

    I think there are a lot of problems with the premise of this entire discussion which have not been addressed.

    First off, when the panel discusses the issue of race, they are speaking only in terms of narrative-driven, character-centric games

    In many games, race is a complete non-issue. Pac-Man has no race, nor do to the starships in Galaga. In rhythm games like Guitar Hero, YOU are the main character, and in certain FPS games, your character has no discernible race at all, such as in Halo or Crysis.

    This is a very important distinction and one that wasn't mentioned during the panel discussion. The video games that truly matter, that are truly good and move the industry forward often times do not feature humans or ethnicities at all. Some of the greatest games of all time have little to no story and focus strictly on play mechanics.

    Second, I think video games are one medium in which racial politics have historically not been very important, and it disturbs me to see the issue being dredged up in a medium wherein race is hardly relevant.

    What I mean is that if I play Street Fighter II, for instance, I'm going to choose to play as a character based on my playstyle, not based on my race. My race is irrelevant, and games are one of the only entertainment mediums wherein race IS truly not a factor.

    There's a well-known Street Fighter 2 Turbo tournament player named David Sirlin. He's white and his favorite characters are E. Honda and M. Bison, both of whom are Asian.

    Conversely, there is a Street Fighter tournament player who is Asian and his favorite character is Balrog, who is black.

    The defining element of video games as a medium is interaction, and so you cannot look at the medium of video games in the same way that you look at passive mediums like television or movies. What makes a game FUN is not what race the characters are, but what the play mechanics are. To focus on the race of the characters is to focus attention onto something that plays no role in whether or not a game is fun.

    If I'm playing Donkey Kong, it makes not one difference if Mario is white, black, Asian, Latino, or whatever. The mechanics remain the same, and the mechanics are what make games fun.

    This entire discussion seems like an attempt to politicize video games, and when games start to become politicized, mark my words, that's when they will stop being fun.

    This entire notion that story is important to games has only become popular over the past decade or so whenever the casual gamers began to really make a footprint in the industry (notwithstanding RPGs).

    In my opinion, storytelling is NOT an inherent or essential function of a video game, and I am perfectly fine with the idea that games do not impart powerful emotions or "move" me or anything else. The thing is, people watch movies for a variety of reasons. ONE of those reasons might be to have fun, such as in an action thriller. But people don't watch Schindler's List to have fun. They do it for the dramatic experience.

    Games as a medium MUST be fun. Can you really make a Schindler's List video game FUN without ruining essential thematic elements of its story?

    In my opinion, NO. You can't. To make a fun video game about the Haulocaust is to disrespect the gravity of the actual event.

    This is why, in my opinion, games will ALWAYS be second-rate when it comes to narrative. Movies and TV are simply better suited to conveying narrative.

    And if a game isn't fun, then it is no longer a game, and in my opinion, an "interactive experience" that offers no fun is not commercially viable, and nor should it be.

    Point being, politics and video games don't mix, and that includes race politics.

    Fun is apolitical and blind to race.

    To waltz into a video game convention and indict developers on the grounds that there aren't enough minority characters in their games is to shine the spotlight onto an area that couldn't be more IRRELEVANT to making a fun or compelling game.

    If people say that there aren't enough minority characters in TV or movies, they might have a case, because narrative is essential to those mediums, and the characters in those mediums are simply vehicles of narrative. People spend money on TV and movies because of the narrative those mediums offer.

    But in videogames, characters are vehicles of play mechanics, and if there's narrative within the game, great, but people don't buy video games for narrative, they buy games for compelling play mechanics.

    Posted: February 27, 2010 1:04 PM
  • drangel_jam

    best panel ever

    Posted: February 22, 2010 12:52 PM
  • Lucifer6972


    But is very different, our cultures compare to others. Collectivist cultures like Japan are more group oriented and Individualistic cultures like ours is in fact diverse and you're right, is really up to the Dev and publichers to change the interface of a game.

    I say leave it the way it is, plus, the white man is the more superior in all races, is no secret. Plus, you can control them, so think if it as you playing God than anything else. But I don't agree, I don't think Alan Wake should be a Latino or African-American, I don't think so. If there's one game I could think of that made that transition is Resident Evil 3, Nemesis. With Carlos who was a cop and you could make that stereotype, many ethnic Latinos are in fact cops than ever before so that makes sense. Is all about making sure the stereotype fits your description of self-defition, you're nice, nice for saying ethnic groups are out there but the reality is T.V, the news, etc make up of all the streotypes. Especially in the news, the news is more diverse than 15+ years ago.

    Posted: February 22, 2010 10:00 AM
  • Blackronin357

    I've had many discussions and debates thru forums and comment sections like this one on this subject. The presentation was fantastic and realistic in what they where trying to get across! I've always understood the reasons why other genders, cultures, or ethnicities couldn't get as much shine as our caucasian counterparts. Alot of my people are brainwashed into doing dumbass stereotypical buffoonery to fit in during those crucial years of enlightenment to adulthood! But also the barriers of entry are higher than they are for caucasians and japanese. Things like parenting, education/eduacation environment, living environment, income and so forth play a role also.

    I know alot of young bulls that don't see a real future for themselves past working at Mcdonalds because they think that attaining a certain degree of intelligence is wrong in the cliques they hang in.

    As far as the dev community goes I do expect in this day and age for more diverese charaters whether they be lead or npc! what's wrong w/ making Alan Wake black or latino or female! Why can't the black panther get his own game! Why can't storm? The people that say they don't care about race or culture in games only say that since they are fairly represented. Marketshare would decrease slightly, but that would be all the racist bigots not buying the game! Good for them, miss out!

    Posted: February 21, 2010 8:29 PM
  • gill066

    I wish I could see the graphs they're talking through.

    Posted: February 21, 2010 5:53 PM
  • Xholic

    In games when race / sex is not part of the story, why cant the player design the character they want to be. I feel that if you can make some changes to the character you play, you can make a more connection with the game

    Posted: February 21, 2010 4:25 PM
  • KDollaz

    Great Discussion with well thought out Q and A's. I think what game writers and designers should do as far as writing and designing for male characters, they should atleast write the story out as they normally would and change the skin color when the game goes through the design process. Perfect example Soap from MW2 could've easily have been black.

    Posted: February 21, 2010 1:03 PM
  • Manveer Heir

    Quick note: The person they note as being Navid is actually me, and they put Navid's name up when I was on camera. So I think the person quoting me above is actually talking about something Navid said.

    Posted: February 21, 2010 2:30 AM
  • Juicelee

    while I havent watched this video in its entirety I will say this: there are a few reasons why minorities arent in abundance as main characters in videogames:

    1.it never turns out to be as marketable
    as bad as it sounds, the consumer be it in japan, america or europe finds a caucasian character more appealing than a minority character, why that is has its roots in TV and movies which have been around loong before video games

    2.to say there are no black/latino developers is partly true but not entirely.. while Ive not heard of any minority owned development companies busting out on the scene I'm sure there are minorities that are programmers and game designers but even if there were those minority companies, at what point do they say "we need to make money" and go back to point number 1

    3.as far as japan goes, despite its 2010 they dont really understand how to present minorities why? because
    a.) less than 1% of japans population is black, or latino so they cant exactly rely on nearby refrences
    b.)the only imagery they see of minorities is what america generally presents and that is the stereotype, which is the urban latino or urban black person and thats mostly americas fault

    in short, I would like to see diversity in gaming characters but lets not just stick to race what about the class of character, the shape? I'd love to see an ugly or unique non-bishonen looking character on the cover of a final fantasy game. wouldnt it be interesting to have some weird game where the main character was a chubby girl who cracked a bunch of jokes about her weight and skinny bimbo game girls while she took out the bad guys? or a guy who wasnt incredibly buff that still got the job done and thought of himself as a badass but nobody else in the game takes him seriously?

    Posted: February 20, 2010 7:49 AM
  • OneEyedJohnny

    If YOU want more diverse characters in video games then go create them. It is up to you as a community to go out there and represent yourselves in video games, tv and books. Do you think the world is against you? This is like complaining that there are little to no black athletes in the Winter Olympics. Last time I checked there aren't white supremacist armies sitting outside skating rinks or at ski lifts keeping black people out. The same thing applies to video games.These game developers worked hard to get where they are at. Why shouldn't they create games that they want. Nobody is stopping you all from doing the same but yourselves.

    Posted: February 20, 2010 6:13 AM
  • A-Bittersweet-Life

    I loved this presentation! The thought of making my own little game has been in my mind for a while now and after watching this it had certainly made a big influence. The one thing that resonated to me in this presentation is that fact that "its not about color, its about culture and that culture is becoming one" (Manveer Heir). Nearly all of the game I've played the protagonists have been Caucasian and as an Asian, that has never bothered me at all, not even one bit. I cared more about the character's personality, their relationship with others, the setting, and most of all, the story.

    Going back to what Manveer Heir said, I think culture is much more important than ethnicity. We relate more to culture more than we do with the color of one's skin, its what binds us together. Developers can do so much more if they present different cultures in the real world in their games than versus just the characters' race. In doing so, young generations of gamers that are inspired will make games that are also diverse.

    Posted: February 20, 2010 2:09 AM
  • mxdestro

    Being half black, I always wonder why people of color in videogames are usually relegated to a supporting character position (The worst I can remember is Cole from GOW). Obviously this isn't because devs are racist, but the problem is that most devs are white therefore they make white characters which is understandable. Perhaps in the future some devs can be a little more conscious of their decisions in the future...

    Posted: February 19, 2010 11:48 PM
  • Bass.EXE

    I think the reasons they give is the same thing everything believed to be the reason. Kind of unnecessary...

    Posted: February 19, 2010 2:07 PM
  • RaddaRadda023

    Yeah I watched about 5 minutes then I was like.. "screw this".

    Posted: February 19, 2010 2:01 PM
  • Timcago

    It must have been painful to sit through this. I tried to watch it but I got bored. Discussing diversity in 2010 is like dragging a dead horse.

    Posted: February 19, 2010 12:28 PM