Video game developers should aim to be as inclusive as possible when designing characters for their games because this allows them to explore fresh perspectives and stories, according to a panel of developers who spoke at a PAX panel in Seattle today.
During the panel, titled "Everything we know is sexist. Now what?", writers, community managers and narrative designers whose portfolios include games like Guild Wars 2, Murdered: Soul Suspect and Gears of War discussed the importance of character diversity and inclusiveness in the creative process. Speaking to a roomful of PAX attendees, the developers explained that when game-makers mindlessly use tropes and only feature straight, white male characters, they risk creating boring experiences for players.
"When people think about the lack of inclusiveness in games, there's the political and social consequences which are unfairness and lack of opportunity, but there are also creative consequences, which are boredom and a real lack of expansion of the imagination," said John Sutherland, a writer at VidGameStory.
"Picking a female protagonist or an LGBT protagonist opens a whole avenue for stories that have not been told..."
Matthew Moore, a game designer at ArenaNet echoed Sutherland's sentiments, saying that diversity is important to creativity because "we don't want to revisit the same things again and again and again.
"We want to experience the breadth of creative experiences, and that's not gonna happen if we just keep relying on tropes."
"If you choose a straight, white male protagonist, that's a story we've been trlling for several millenia," Anna Megill, narrative designer at Airtight Games added. "But picking a female protagonist or an LGBT protagonist opens a whole avenue for stories that have not been told. These are fresh perspectives completely unexplored by our industry.
"I just can't imagine that you, as a writer or producer or creative person, would not take advantage of that."
The developers pointed out that being inclusive is not about political correctness. Rather, it's about writing more interesting stories and experiences that have not been explored by the medium.
Cameron Harris, a freelance editor and story consultant who has worked for BioWare and ArenaNet said there can often be legitimate contexts where every character in a game is straight, white and male, and it's OK to use tropes — as long as it's not a result of laziness.
"Be mindful of what you're doing," Harris said. "Don't just fall into the habit of, 'Oh I'll just write this and think about it later...' Make sure you're interrogating yourself. Am I being inclusive of other points of view that aren't necessarily mine? Look over your work and ask, 'Does everyone have to be a man here? Does everybody have to be straight? Doesn't everybody have to be white?'"
The panel suggested that developers interrogate their own work by doing gender-flipping exercises and sharing it with people who have different backgrounds to their own.
"Read, watch and play other things by people who aren't like us," Harris said. "Question what you can gain from telling stories from another point of view."