Photo: Video Games Lacking Hispanic and African American Characters
Though recent studies have shown that blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of gamers in the U.S., both in players and game purchasers, the majority of game characters are white males.
A 2009 study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication, “The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games. New Media Society,” found that only 3 percent of all videos game characters were Hispanic, with none of them being “playable characters.”
Nearly all other identifiable groups except white men were under-represented as well; one exception, African-American men, appeared in proportion to their presence in the population but were confined to a narrow range of game genres such as sports titles and games tied to celebrities such as 50 Cent. An additional study found that African-American characters were more likely to be represented as villains and were often given particularly frightening characteristics, resulting in a negative portrayal of that ethnic group, often by way of stereotypes.
The USC study concluded that “the world of game characters is highly unrepresentative of the actual population and even of game players. For developers, this is a missed opportunity. For players, it is a potential source of identity-based problems.”
Unfortunately, it seems as though video game industry professionals fail to see the issue, as the “status quo” appears to be serving them well, as the games continue to sell as they are.
Another issue was uncovered at last year’s DICE summit (a video game conference in Las Vegas) in which industry insiders and Dmitri Williams of the USC study had a panel discussion over diversity in games.
Williams asked, “What population do [the video game characters] reflect?”
He revealed that according to those in his study, game makers create characters that look like themselves. “So it’s really just a reflection of the industry.”
In the end, it appears that game characters are set to remain the same until those creating the games feel the need or have the “want” to create more ethnically diverse characters, since there really is no way to force their creation upon developers and game artists.