E3 Press Conferences Show (Some) Diversity in Gaming (Sort Of)

It’s E3 week! The Electronic Entertainment Expo–or E3 for short–is one of the biggest events on the gaming calendar, with developers and publishers showing their latest and greatest upcoming releases. As a huge gaming nerd, I’ve been following it pretty closely, so I’m going to share my thoughts with you.

Obviously there’s a lot of gaming content, and I’m not going have time to go into all of the games that were announced. That said, there have been a couple of common threads:

  • As games move more to a “games as a service” (rather than single release games), a lot of game titles are trying to reflect that they’ll be around for all posterity, leading to such title names as Halo Unlimited, Doom Eternal, Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, and Super Meat Boy Forever. Because if anything survives the impending apocalypse, it’ll be video games.
  • So many games are coming to Nintendo Switch! Super Smash Bros., Fortnite Battle Royale, Super Mario Party, Overcooked 2, and Fallout Shelter were announced on that platform, for example, and some of those are playable right now. If there’s one thing to take away from E3 so far, it’s to go buy a Switch. I’m surprised at how many non-Nintendo games got announced as being ported over, but the future of gaming is there for when you want to play on the go.
  • While a lot of the big titles involved shooting things (aliens, zombies, other combatants) in the face, I thought that the offerings from smaller, indie studios offered a bigger range of types of gameplay, such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, We Happy Few, and Unravel Two. I have to say that I am super excited about Unravel Two; it’s so wholesome that it basically brought me to tears when I watched it at the EA conference.

More generally, there has been recent moves to improve diversity and representation in games and the games industry, and I was also looking out for ways that that was demonstrated at E3. While I felt like there was increased representation in the games that were shown, the overwhelming majority of presenters at the conferences were still white men.

So, I rewatched all the press conferences and tracked some data. Here’s a breakdown of the major press conferences, by demographic:

Note: for the purposes of gathering this data, I included Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Elijah Wood in the Ubisoft presentation, and did not include the two translators for the Nintendo treehouse presentation (both were men).

Of the 77 presenters, there were a total of zero women of color. Everyone also presented as able-bodied.

What this tells me is that–where the presenters are ostensibly representative of a particular game’s leadership–the leaders of the largest game publishers, gaming consoles, and game titles are still overwhelming white and male. Of course, for each title there are only a very limited number of presenters that have to represent the studio, but those are commonly the studio or project leaders. I also don’t believe that any presenter or company was doing this intentionally or maliciously. But (to quote a recent speaker at a disability and gaming bootcamp), if you do not intentionally, deliberately, proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude. I think that’s what happened here. Despite its recent moves for diversity and inclusion, the people who determine the future and direction in which the industry moves are still homogenous. 

Having said that, the games themselves seemed to show a openness to including players from underrepresented groups, with much clearer steps towards diversity and inclusion. I’m still trying to stick to my resolution to play games that do not have a grizzled white male protagonist (which makes me relieved that I can pick the gender of my character for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed game), and the offerings announced gave me some pretty decent options for the rest of 2018 and beyond.

For female representation, I felt that there were several games that stepped up to the (very low) bar of having a female protagonist. For example, Gears of War 5’s main character is female, and the Tomb Raider franchise continues having a female playable character. Battlefield V recently stirred up a small controversy for merely putting a woman on the cover of a game about World War II. (Spoiler alert: there were numerous women who participated in the war.) Wolfenstein Youngblood offered us not one, but two, female protagonists.

I was excited enough when it was announced that in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that you could finally pick the gender of your assassin and romance anyone in the game, but then The Last of Us 2 one-upped that for even greater LGBT representation:

That said, all of the female characters mentioned here (except for Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) are white women. Apart from games with character creation (such as Fallout 76, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Anthem), representation for women of color was maddeningly scarce. I mean, there were more attempts at putting a female skin on previously male characters, such as Super Smash Bros offering a female version of pikachu and Cuphead having a playable female drinking vessel(?), than there were actual playable characters that were actually women of color.

So, I can appreciate that the games industry is trying to be more inclusive and there are going to be baby steps–a LOT of them. But even though this handful of games I’ve mentioned here are trying to broaden representation, the real test of what counts as progress for me will be how these games evolve their communities to make them more accommodating and inclusive. Making people of color and women feel represented will likely get new players into fanbases, but the gaming communities and how they are included will be what makes them stay. We’ll have to see how that plays out, but I want to hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction. I want us to live in a world where people can play what they love without judgement. We deserve as much.

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JC Lau
“Rock On!”

JC Lau

Previously disguised as a college professor and family lawyer, JC Lau is an Australian video game journalist and writer living in Seattle.

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