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E3 Trailers: White guys rule

During the major press events on Monday, I noticed a trend and reported on it — there were more severed heads than woman presenters in Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony’s press conferences.

We already wrote about that. But what about women, people of color — really, any characters representing anything other than white men — in the trailers themselves?

I counted. Let me be clear: I'm speaking here about prominent characters — people with large speaking roles, or that appeared to be the focus of the action in the trailer. Not random guards, quest givers with throwaway lines or bystanders.

I'm also only counting characters that appeared to be more or less human — no animals or avatars or aliens. I didn't count athletes in sports games unless they were truly front and center — like Bruce Lee in EA Sports UFC.

For characters that appeared to be white men, I counted 32. For everyone else — women, people of color, etc. I counted 18.

So what does that mean?

It means that E3 is still a place where images of white men dominate.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that these trailers are the product of painstaking thought, and the messages that they send — implicit or otherwise — are very powerful. Even if a game itself has diverse content, the trailer for it might downplay those elements, or focus instead on a perceived "safe" image — a white dude. And the proliferation of that image — and the idea of white male as a default hero — is pervasive.

There are several examples of this in this year’s crop of E3 trailers. You can play as a female fighter in EA Sports UFC — but that wasn't shown in the trailer EA showed at their press event. There is a diverse array of possible protagonists — including men and women of color — in Dead Island 2, but the trailer mainly featured a white bro that looked like a Ken doll.

And the ways in which women and people of color are portrayed in these materials matters as well. In Rainbow Six Siege, the prominent woman is a classic damsel in distress — she's a hostage to be rescued, not a powerful person with agency.

As I stated in the earlier piece, diversity is hugely important in our industry, and we are seeing some small steps forward. But the disparity is still tremendous — and the outcry over the news about Assassin's Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 further prove that E3 — and the industry as a whole have a long, long way to go.

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