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Feminist Frequency editor calls out gaming's straight male status quo at Games for Change

A discussion of what needs to change in gaming in "state of the union" address

It's time for the gaming industry to stop catering to straight white males, Feminist Frequency's managing editor Carolyn Petit said during a keynote at this year's Games for Change festival. Petit's talk was introduced as a state of the union address, and the former GameSpot editor and longtime gamer used her half hour to discuss the parts of the industry she thinks most need improvement, including becoming more inclusive.

"What is it about the games industry that has led some people to feel so strongly that it belongs to them at the exclusion of others?" Petit said, drawing on her past experience as a transwoman working at a prominent gaming news website to help form her answer.

Many of the most popular games, like military shooters and action franchises, star white male protagonists, and that has become status quo, she explained. These games are both the most popular and the most visible, to the point where they dominate coverage, and Petit said this comes at the possible expense of more inclusive, smaller titles.

"Who is worthy of being represented? Who is worthy of projecting ourselves onto?"

As a result, many gamers see white male leads as the default character, taking issue with those who subvert the norm — including Petit herself. She spoke of a recent example where she tweeted about producer Eiji Aonuma's comments on why the next Zelda game won't star a female Link, only to receive a deluge of mocking responses. "What's next?" people asked her. "A gay, black, Muslim woman starring in a game?"

"There's a real value judgment there of intrinsic humanity," Petit said. "Who is worthy of being represented? Who is worthy of projecting ourselves onto?"

She referenced two of the biggest "games du jour" to further highlight her point. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is yet another game to star a handsome white man, she said, showing off Nathan Drake amidst other familiar faces like Geralt from The Witcher series and Joel of The Last of Us. When Blizzard first introduced the cast of Overwatch, Petit found the female cast to sport typically slender, sexualized bodies, designed to appeal to men.

Games are relevant to the lives of more diverse people

Overwatch's final cast diversified to include different body types, however. "We're trying to right the boat really slowly," Petit said.

She ended her talk by encouraging developers, writers and marketers in the audience to continue to push against the norms.

"When games speak to more people and are relevant to the lives of more people, and are diverse, innovative and take more risks," she said, "the idea of them being predominantly the realm of straight males to the exclusion of others just doesn't have a leg to stand on anymore."

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