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: therewerenumerouswomenwhoparticipatedinthewar.) 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:
Ubisoft: you can be a lesbian if you want, top that 😉
Sony: you ARE a lesbian, no questions asked, look at the girls kiss
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.
I love games, and I think that one of my favorite places at GeekGirlCon is on the Gaming Floor. It’s a big, open space and lends itself to all sorts of game-related content, be it board games to check out, a walk-up RPG area, console games, and more! Here are some of the cool things that will be happening in games over GeekGirlCon weekend:
I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve heard video gamers referred to as “lazy.” And I guess I get it–I’ve skipped class to play video games. I’ve found myself staring at a screen instead of taking care of responsibilities. It’s natural to be lazy when something is entertaining you.
But that’s the point: anything that entertains you can be a distraction. I reject the notion that all or even most gamers are couch potatoes that don’t get enough sun or can’t socially function. I reject the notion that gamers are less than athletes, artists, or whatever else one might do with their spare time. And I reject the notion that gamers can’t be athletes, artists, etc., as if one hobby has complete say over their total identity.
I have played video games since I was three years old, when my mother brought home an Apple IIe computer, and loaded up Pac-Man for me. From there, I went from playing a range of games like Tonk in the Land of Buddy-Bots and the Monkey Island series, to console titles such as Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed and Halo.
But here’s one thing I’ve noticed: my favorite games will, more often than not, have a protagonist that looks nothing like me. Where games have a single playable character, that playable character is likely to be a man. A white man. Maybe he has a beard, maybe not. He’s probably also straight–perhaps he also has a wife or child or someone close to him who’s died or been kidnapped at the start of the game as a plot device, and he’s probably armed with some sort of gun or melee weapon or both.
Editor’s note: With the announcement of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s DLC at the recent E3 conference last week, we’re hopeful that Aloy will continue to overthrow gender norms in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds. In this post, we are excited to feature Theresa Tyree’s examination of the strong female character in the original revolutionary release.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has everyone talking. Breaking ground as the first open-world game to exclusively feature a female main character, the game has thrown out the hugely expired trope of gender roles. If you’ve played through the game, you might be asking, “What the heck are you talking about? The Osram tribe is hugely patriarchal. The Carja had a civil war over different opinions about the treatment of women and outlanders. And Aloy’s tribe, the Nora, are matriarchal. Seems to me like there are definitely some gender roles happening!”
I was raised a gamer, by a gamer. My dad, whose roots are strong and true from playing Dungeons & Dragons in the ‘80s, put a controller in my hands when I was barely old enough to build a comprehensive sentence (I’ve written about my youthful adoration for Zelda and its impact on my creativity numerous times before). Gaming has always been a big part of my life, even spanning into my professional career through writing fiction. Watching E3 conferences was a family affair, and we were always first in line whenever a new console dropped. Every member of my family was an active participant, except my mother, who took on a more passive role until recently. For the last 23 years, she’d watch us play everything. Cheekier titles like Mario Kart and other Nintendo classics like Zelda, more involved and darker titles like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy X, Bioshock, Skyrim—she watched us play them all.
Although she was a “backseat gamer” for the vast majority of my upbringing, she was always participating. Telling us where to go when we walked past an obvious story marker, giving suggestions on a tricky boss. She wasn’t holding the controller, directing whichever character we embodied, but because she had been there observing, taking it all in from beginning to end, she knew the ropes just as much as we did (sometimes even better).
Since moving to Washington, I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, a lot of which still revolves around playing video games since I’m actively involved in the industry. A few months back my mom finally asked, “Will you help me pick out my first game?” and I dropped everything and went to work.
2016 was a pretty interesting year for games: with the rise of VR and announcements about new generation consoles, there’s a lot more going on for gaming than in previous years. I didn’t get to play everything that I wanted to (of course), and although I played a lot of AAA games as well, I’m trying to spend more time looking at indie offerings. Here (in no particular order) is a quick list of some of the indie games that I played last year and would recommend:
Inside is a side-scrolling puzzle/platform game from indie studio Playdead, where you control a boy who, from the first scene, is being chased by soldiers, dogs and scientists. Although the narrative doesn’t do much to explain what’s happening, you do get to wear mind control helmets to move zombies around to solve puzzles, and there’s an underlying commentary about autonomy and ownership. The art is minimal, with the setting being mostly black and gray, except for your character and interactable objects. Likewise, there’s very little soundtrack, with only audio cues, and the sound of your character’s footsteps, which really adds to how eerie the setting is.
This one came out in 2014 but I only got around to playing it in 2016. There are lots of games about war, but This War of Mine is unique in that you play as non-combatant residents of a war-torn city–all the fighting you do is for your day-to-day survival. I think this one hit home particularly hard because I started playing as the Siege of Aleppo was intensifying at the end of the year, and there are some incredibly heartbreaking choices you have to make. It’s not a game I would say I enjoyed per se, but I think it is definitely one that is worth playing for the lessons in empathy, understanding and acceptance it can teach. (And if that’s not emotionally wrenching enough for you, there’s now an expansion called This War of Mine: The Little Ones where you experience the besieged city through the eyes of a child.)
Overcooked is a great little cooking game where couch cooperation is key to success–it’s not enough to just be good at the game as an individual; where it gets fun (and tricky and frustrating) is playing with a group of up to three other players, where you have to navigate a kitchen without bumping into each other to source, prepare, cook and serve food. With some clever mechanics that focus on teamwork and cooperation, hilarity (and a little bit of rage) ensues.
I absolutely love Unravel. It’s probably the most visually stunning game on this list, and it’s a little game with a lot of heart. You play as Yarny, an anthromorphic ball of yarn who—as the name suggests—unravels as he traverses across levels, using his yarn to solve puzzles and move objects around. The mechanics in the game are pretty straightforward, but what ties Unravel together (if you forgive the pun) is how lovely it is. The story is poignant and bittersweet, but it is incredibly clear that the developers really put their love into making it the game that they wanted. Also, you’d never imagine that a ball of red yarn could have so much emotion and personality.
I’m a huge fan of adventure games, but the majority of them that I’ve played are of the point-and-click variety. Firewatch is almost like a grownup version of that, with a mystery that drives the story and a first-person perspective that works surprisingly well for the narrative and the puzzles. You play as Henry, a volunteer lookout for Shoshone National Park, and your only means of connection to the outside world is via a walkie-talkie. As you patrol your part of the park, you discover a whole host of different storylines that interweave. I really enjoyed the way Firewatch set up dialog trees so that your responses in your conversations would drive how your experience in the game evolved.
Salt and Sanctuary
If you like the grindiness of games like Dark Souls, but set in a 2D platformer, where you can play cooperatively with your friends (and not just people who invade your game), Salt and Sanctuary might be worth checking out. It’s a hard game, but there are lots of player customizations, and playing with your friends helps soften the blow of the many, many, times that you’ll die in the game.
The Flame in the Flood is a roguelike survival game, where you play as Scout, a survivor in a flooded, post-apocalyptic America where the land has been transformed into a series of islands that she has to traverse on a makeshift raft. As she and her dog Aesop travel down the river, Scout has to contend with wild animal attacks, snakebites, hunger, and staying warm and dry, all the while as she uncovers the mystery of where everyone went during the rapture. What keeps the game together is the river, which varies between calm streams to rushing rapids that you have to maneuver through to get to the next destination. Will it take you where you want to go? Or will you be dashed upon rocks? I also highly recommend the soundtrack for The Flame in the Flood; I didn’t stop listening to it for weeks after I finished the campaign.
What did you play in 2016 that you enjoyed? Are there any other indie games that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below! Happy gaming for 2017!
This one-hour panel, given by Elizabeth Sampat and Zoe Quinn, was a crash course in how—and why—to make your own game. Between them, the two designers have made video games, tabletop games, board games, and other entertainments, and they brought their breadth of knowledge and experience to GeekGirlCon attendees. Each half of the panel could really have been an entire talk of its own, being condensed versions of talks and workshops that Sampat and Quinn have given elsewhere. If you’re interested in more in-depth information on these topics, check out Elizabeth’s and Zoe’s websites.
Obviously I’m not alone when I say autumn is my favorite time of the year and Halloween is my favorite holiday, but for once my secret hipster heart is pleased by not being the only cool kid: it makes it easier to share my interests and, of course, get new recommendations! Right now, though, I’ll be kind enough to propose some of my own ideas for how to get into the spooky mood—but, of course, please comment below if you think of anything else!
In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I thought I’d highlight some of the best Asian video game characters out there, only to realize that the selection isn’t very large. For an industry that was, in a way, birthed by Asian companies like Nintendo and Sony, there’s surprisingly very few Asian characters in major (or even minor) games.
Professor Dimitri Williams of the University of Southern California did a study back in 2009 about, among other things, the representation of different races in video games. He found that while 80.05% of characters in video games are white, only 5.03% are Asian/Pacific Islander. In 2014, Ross Orlando, a graduate from Ithaca University, looked at the top 10 most highly rated games from 2007 to 2012 and found that Asian characters were only 3% of the games’ protagonists. He even found, perhaps surprisingly, that 75% of the games developed in Japan had white protagonists.