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Over the next several posts I would like to share several articles that I wrote for the IGDA Indiespectives newsletter.

Robert Madsen, Blogger

January 24, 2013

5 Min Read

Diversity is a core precept in the Indie ethos.  Why did we become indie after all?  Wasn’t it to do something different? Wasn’t part of the motivation to leave the mainstream and make the kind of games we wanted to make?  In this sense, indie = diversity.

Nothing contributes more to diversity and creativity in a game than diversity and creativity in a game studio.  Living in America, it is sometimes hard to see a great deal of diversity in the typical game studio.  Partly because of the dominant Caucasian culture and partly because of the historical male population of gamers, game studios in America tend to attract white males.

Much has already been written about the tendency for games to appeal to white adolescent boys (because they have been historically created by white adolescent boys).  But there are
many other facets to diversity than race and gender.  Diversity also includes variations in ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and many
other factors.

When I went to work for a game studio in Canada, I was amazed by the diversity I saw.  In a studio of about twenty developers, at least six different countries were represented.  Working in a game studio where I was the minority gave me a new perspective on the issue of diversity.  I was in a different culture myself.  The holidays were different. The food was different.  The accents were different!

I am convinced that the path to creativity is diversity.   When I see and play the games that come from contests such as the annual Independent Games Festival, I am always amazed.  The dominant thought for me is often, “I would have never thought of that!”  Point made.  Diverse minds create diverse games.

Types of Diversity

Gender is probably the most common concept that has come up recently when discussing diversity in game development.  Games have typically been developed by males and for males.  As a guy, this is great for me!  I have to admit that when I first started reading about the sexism in games I thought, “What’s the big deal?”  That is probably because, well, I’m a guy.

A core measure of maturity is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view.  While I am not advocating for a world where sexy women are taken completely out of games, I can understand why a game that uses half-naked women as its fundamental draw probably isn’t going to appeal to the majority of women.  I see why it is necessary to move beyond this gender-biased paradigm, and one way to do that is to include women as part of the development team.  Another measure of maturity is being able to see the larger picture.  That means understanding that if we want to grow our industry we have to create games that appeal to the other half of the world’s population!

The next big issue is race, ethnicity, and culture.  I think the essence here is life experience.  Being a creative endeavor, game development is essentially a reflection of those who are making the games.  Each person gives a part of him or her self.  This is seen not only in the game design, but also in the art, the coding, the production, and every other aspect
of the development life cycle.  The experiences brought to the team by a diverse set of people add to the creative milieu and which means better games.

There are other types of diversity that often go unrecognized.  For example, religious
diversity may not seem to be important to game development until you realize the rich traditions, stories, and mystery that are a part of various religions and beliefs.  These not only provide an alternative word view on the part of the individual but also provide a deep
source of inspiration.  Another example is sexual orientation.  Again, the fundamental principle is that the different life experiences gained from various sexual orientations provides a rich resource that can and should be tapped. 

One additional group to recognize is those with disabilities.  People with disabilities are often left out of both playing games and developing games.  I experienced this personally in a small way because I am color blind.  My first professional game was a match-three game in which color was almost essential to playing the game.  I am not completely color blind, but I still get many colors confused and this made it particularly difficult to play the game.  The game designers had actually taken this into account by also including different designs that corresponded to the different colors.

Being color blind only gives me a taste of the types of difficulties that are faced by people with much more severe disabilities.  Developing games for those with disabilities is a challenge that we should accept so that games can be enjoyed by everyone.  But an even greater challenge is opening the doors in development studios to those with disabilities. 

Imagine a blind person who wants to create games.  How can we make this happen?  I once corresponded with an individual who felt he would never have a chance to work in the game industry because his health would not allow for the extensive hours required during crunch.  Should these really be obstacles that keep people from being part of our industry?

The Indie Difference

Because indie developers are small, we can also be more flexible and creative. Indie studios should be the most diverse development studios around creating the most accessible games for the most diverse audience.  When it comes to diversity, we can practice what we preach.

One of my team members is a very talented game designer who is legally blind.  We have a programmer who has to take time off for frequent surgeries.  These are just two examples, but they illustrate the point that designing for diversity in game development often means removing barriers and creating opportunities.

Celebrating Diversity

There are some excellent resources that celebrate diversity in game development.  I know that I won’t catch them all here, so if you know of additional resources, be sure to include them in comments to this article:

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