Making connections: diversity in media

Diversity has a long way to go in film, media, and gaming, but companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of building it into both staffing and end product. Some more successfully than others.

Tech Woman

Last week I attended the Dublin Web Summit.  Made some good connections in the Irish film community.  Saw some great talks, too.  Sadly, only 15% of the speakers were female.

Recently spoke to a friend at Blizzard, creators of the extremely popular Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises, as well as the upcoming Overwatch game. He pointed me to Anthony Burch, who works at Gearbox creating games, among other endeavours. He said that Mr. Burch makes an effort not to over sexualise female characters. In part it’s just because he’s aware of the problems it creates, in part it’s because of his sister – with whom he produces a web series – and in part it’s because he recognizes that female gamers are a large portion of the gaming audience. Bravo, Mr. Burch! 

Anthony Burch’s website that tracks people who refuse to speak on panels that are not diverse:

Twitter profile, with links to some of his other projects: @reverendanthony

My friend also pointed me to the GDC (Game Developers Conference) and a talk given by Manveer Heir titled, “Misogyny, Racism and Homophobia: Where Do Video Games Stand?” Have it queued up for later viewing.

We chatted a bit about how I’ve recently discovered the Dragon Age franchise from BioWare. Electronic Arts, BioWare’s parent company, recently gave away Dragon Age: Origins for free, presumably as part of a marketing build up for the pending release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third game in the franchise.  As a long time player of World of Warcraft, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how important personal relationship interactions are to the storyline. Treating people with kindness and respect, besides being more realistic than forever trying to steal, rape, maim, and kill, tends to net more rewards than behaving cruelly (though, to be fair, there’s still a lot of stealing and killing).

There are also many options for in-game romance. What’s amazing to me, after years of getting figuratively smacked in the face by the straight boy gamer privilege community in World of Warcraft, is that there is a huge amount of equality built in to the game play. It’s not perfect, but it’s obvious that much consideration went into the development of characters and storylines that could easily have skewed off the equality path and into tired, sexist tropes. Admittedly, it’s easier to make all character models have equal abilities than it is to spend extra programming hours just to include bigotry, but BioWare has gone further than that. They included the option of straight, bisexual, and homosexual relationships with many of the characters.

It’s easy to get attached to Alistair.

Origins was released in 2009, so this is not new to many gamers. As a latecomer to the party, however, I am absolutely delighted to make the discovery.  (Also, I’m now hooked on the franchise.  Well played, EA. Well played.)  A couple of years ago, BioWare had some choice words for a self-defined “straight male gamer”, who was complaining about the presence of LGBQ (no T yet, I think) characters, all the while waving his privilege about as if he’d forgotten to zip up his fly.  In no uncertain terms he was told that BioWare would continue to include diversity in the romance department:

The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.

 Applause, cheers, and confetti! Thank you, BioWare. (Read more here.)

I’m already in love with the game (though duly braced, thanks to many forum posts, for disappointment with DA2), but the company’s culture of inclusivity is making me swoon in a different way.  For example, another great piece on BioWare’s progressive stance in gender equality, “You Can Thank Women For Dragon Age 3’s Lack Of Creepy Sex Plot“.  Yes, having a diverse team makes your end product more diverse, your audience larger, and your fan base more loyal. It pays to be diverse, people. Simple as that.

With this MA, and later PhD, I’m excited to be working on some of my favourite things in the world: filmmaking, diversity, and gaming.  I’ve really enjoyed my work as a social media manager (getting paid to play on Facebook all day – who wouldn’t love that?), but am really excited about the future.  Doing good work for the betterment of humanity, all tied into subjects and processes that make me giddy: I love both making and watching movies; I love learning; I love playing video games. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

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