Creating Games With Authentic Representation

In the world of video games, players traverse fantastical worlds, slay dragons, build empires, and experience narratives limited only by imagination. Yet, amid this expansive virtual realm, a significant detail often gets overlooked: representation. For the gaming community, which spans all continents, cultures, genders and religions, seeing oneself reflected authentically in a game is more than just a detail—it’s a necessity.

The recent report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, renowned for its rigorous studies on representation, has cast light on this issue within games. Drawing from the insights presented in this report, here are some suggestions on how game studios can design with better representation in mind.

Recognise the Reality of Diverse Players:
The outdated notion that games cater mainly to a specific demographic has been debunked. The Geena Davis Institute report highlights the vast and diverse spectrum of gamers, from age to gender to ethnicity. Embracing this reality and reflecting it in game characters and narratives is not only fair but also a smart business move, tapping into wider audiences.

Lead with Authentic Storytelling:
Representation isn’t just about increasing numbers or quotas; it’s about authentic storytelling. Studios should strive to create nuanced characters that defy stereotypes, showcasing depth, vulnerabilities, strengths, and arcs that resonate with players. Collaborating with writers and creators from diverse backgrounds can aid in crafting genuine narratives.

The Importance of Research:
While the intention to represent may be there, doing so without adequate research can result in harmful misrepresentations. It’s essential to invest time in understanding the cultures, histories, and nuances of the groups you’re representing. This not only ensures authenticity but also fosters respect and appreciation among players.

Intersectionality Matters:
Representation is multi-dimensional. The Geena Davis Institute report points out the importance of considering intersectional identities. For instance, a character can be a woman, of Asian descent, and part of the LGBTQ+ community. Embracing these layered identities enriches the narrative and broadens the scope of representation.

Encourage Feedback and Be Ready to Adapt:
Engaging with players and soliciting feedback can offer invaluable insights. If a particular representation is not received well or is found problematic, studios should be open to making amendments. This iterative approach shows commitment to representation and fosters trust within the gaming community.

Representation Behind the Scenes:
For true representation in games, diversity needs to be present not just in-game but also behind the scenes. Hiring practices that encourage diversity in development teams, writers, designers, and leadership roles ensure varied perspectives and richer content.

Challenge and Change Traditional Archetypes:
For too long, games have relied on clichéd archetypes. The damsel in distress, the macho hero, or the exotic sidekick—these roles have been reiterated ad nauseam. Drawing inspiration from the Geena Davis Institute’s findings, studios have a golden opportunity to redefine and reconstruct these archetypes, making them more reflective of today’s diverse world.

As the Geena Davis Institute’s report underlines, representation influences perception. For many players, seeing a character that looks, speaks, or feels like them can be empowering. It offers validation and a sense of belonging. For others, it’s a window into diverse worlds, fostering empathy and understanding.

Find out more about the Geena Davis Institute’s report ‘Changing the Narrative: Why Representation in Video Games Matters’ here.

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Fiona Housiaux

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