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Why I Think Naughty Dog's Vision Of Inclusivity & Diversity Is Important For The Future Of Games

I recently watched RobinGaming’s video on how Naughty Dog's agenda of inclusivity & diversity will in his opinion make their games worse and make them lose fans. In this write up I analyze Robin's arguments and present my own counter arguments.

I recently watched RobinGaming’s video where he talks about how Naughty Dog is pushing an agenda of having more female and LGBTQ with their social media content and The Last of Us II’s marketing, and how he’s afraid that this will lead to poorer stories. I recommend that you watch his video to understand the context to my critique below.

In this little write up I’m going to break down Robin’s main arguments on why he thinks that this agenda being pushed is a bad thing and present my counter arguments on why I think this agenda is indeed important. These points are mostly in the order that he presented them in the video, and not in order of importance.

 

1st Argument: Most gamers don’t really care about the gender of the protagonist in their games

Robin starts off by saying that most gamers aren’t interested in the gender of the protagonist in a game, and that the protagonist just needs to be well written and interesting for gamers to get invested in them. He uses what he considers good male (Nathan Drake from Uncharted and John Marston from Red Dead Redemption) and female (Faith from Mirror’s Edge and Senua from Senua’s Sacrifice) protagonists as examples to illustrate the point that they are good characters despite their gender.

Next, he moves onto stating that in the game industry currently there is too much emphasis on inclusiveness and diversity. In his opinion the game’s story should be the most important thing that developers should focus on instead of inclusiveness and diversity. He makes a case for this by saying that there are very rarely, if ever, Dutch characters in games, but that never bothered him as a Dutch person because he understands that games need to appeal to mass markets.

The fallacy Robin makes in the beginning argument is that of a hasty generalization. He states that most gamers don’t care about the gender of the protagonist but shows no data to back this up. It seems to be purely his gut feeling based on what he sees in his own audience and social circles. As such there is no basis for such an over-generalization.

Robin sees the game’s story as the most important thing and everything else, in this case inclusiveness and diversity, comes second. His concern for the story’s quality is understandable, but his reasoning that as a Dutch person he has no problem with the lack of Dutch representation and therefore no one should have similar issues, is a false equivalence.

He is trying to pose being Dutch and being LGBTQ or a woman as equivalents, which doesn’t make sense once examined. The Dutch were never discriminated against and oppressed in contemporary western society like LGBTQ people or women are, and Dutch people don’t face the same kind of hate and discrimination, and don’t have to defend their very existence just for being Dutch. This idea that if something doesn’t bother you it shouldn’t bother others is a moot point.

It’s important to note that there is no proof for Robin’s first statement and that representation does indeed matter. Several pieces of research suggest that seeing yourself represented in media leads to a higher self-esteem and conversely if you don’t see yourself represented in media, you can feel like you are unimportant. As such, seeing minorities represented in games is indeed important.

 

2nd argument: Naughty Dog’s agenda can negatively affect the quality of the story in the Last of Us II

Robin goes into this argument by showing a video clip of Neil Druckman, a few months after The Last Of Us’ release, explaining how he has a secret agenda of creating the most badass female character that is not sexualized. Robin then moves onto examine two characters from Uncharted 4, namely Chloe and Nadine. He brings forth the point that you could argue that removing Nadine from Uncharted 4 would in no way change the story of Uncharted 4, but he didn’t find any issue with Nadine’s character.

Robin then speaks of how in the Uncharted 4 DLC, Lost Legacy, he joked at the start that Chloe and Nadine would end up together in the game, which never happens, but after the DLC’s launch on social media Naughty Dog has been promoting Chloe and Nadine as a couple through their own art work and sharing fan art (employees even have a name for the couple: Chlodine).

Robin considers this bad because Lost Legacy is not about Chloe and Nadine’s romantic relationship but instead it’s about adventure and treasure hunting. By doing this, he points out, Naughty Dog is pushing these characters together to fit their agenda and this makes it seem forced. He points out that Naughty Dog has now changed their game’s narrative in order to push forward this agenda.

Lastly, Robin states that he has been a fan of Naughty Dog’s games for a long time (he starts off the video by explaining how he most likely wouldn’t be in his current position if he hadn’t started playing their games) and that he doesn’t want to see them change.

Robin’s argument that the art work that Naughty Dog and its employees share on social media changes the narrative of the game doesn’t really hold water in my opinion. This is because if you go play the game now, Naughty Dog hasn’t added cut scenes or sections to Lost Legacy that build a romantic relationship for Chloe and Nadine. In other words, the narrative hasn’t changed as Robin is claiming. The games are still the same and what’s happening on social media is, to my knowledge, not part of the official story of the Uncharted series.

I think Robin’s last point really brings to light why he has an issue with Chloe and Nadine. He doesn’t want the games to change. He wants to keep them the same as when he played them, namely focused on adventure and treasure hunting instead of any contemporary themes. In this sense, Robin is presenting a conservative view point of not wanting to bring forward more inclusivity and representation because then the things that he holds dear will have to change.

Also, this fear that Naughty Dog’s agenda will somehow make their games worse is something I can’t quite understand. Most games have an agenda. Doom’s agenda is making you feel like a badass kicking demon ass. Breath of the Wild’s agenda is for you to make your own adventure in the world, etc. Having an agenda isn’t a bad thing in an of itself. I haven’t seen any signs of Naughty Dog’s games getting worse because of their agenda, and I haven’t heard of a big game which is notably worse because of having an agenda.

 

3rd argument: There is an over emphasis on female protagonists in games

Robin argues that fans were asking for Chloe and Cutter to return in the Lost Legacy, but instead of Cutter they got Nadine which only a few people liked. Secondly, he argues that it’s weird that Joel hasn’t been the focus of The Last of Us II trailers (together with Ellie) because both him and Ellie were central to the Last of Us. He argues that everyone wants to see Joel in central role in The Last of Us II, and that it’s odd seeing all these new characters in trailers instead of Joel.

He then moves onto explaining that Drake from Uncharted had a daughter in Uncharted 4 which, according to Robin, was not the original plan. He says that Drake was supposed to have a son, and now if any other studio wants to continue the Uncharted series, they are stuck in this decision.

Robin then talks about the Last of Us II panel at PSX 2017, and how two particular things, in his opinion are, supporting his argument of an over emphasis on female protagonists. Firstly, the host of the panel, Hannah Hart. Robin points out that Hannah didn’t really know much about video games in general and how that led to a bad panel. He then goes onto claim that Hannah was only chosen because she is a “popular lesbian vlogger”.

Secondly, Ian Alexander. Robin brings up that Ian was handpicked by Neil Druckmann and that this is unfair because the other actors, so Robin claims, were chosen through a proper casting process. He then goes on to imply that Ian was chosen for his left leaning views and for being trans.

Lastly, he talks about how the Last of Us II gameplay trailer from E3 2018 starts off with Ellie and Dina kissing, and how the emphasis on this moment at the start and end of the trailer had no place in the there. He argues that this is because it’s a gameplay trailer and therefore should focus on gameplay, and that them kissing had no context or build up within the trailer.

Considering the first points of this argument, that everyone wants to see Joel in The Last of Us II and that few people like Nadine, we can again see Robin making hasty generalizations. He makes these claims without any data to back him up and it seems to be only based on his own feelings, his audience, and his social circles. As such these generalizations don’t hold up because he isn’t basing this argument on anything substantial, just his own subjective view.

His claim that any future developer that takes on Uncharted is now stuck with Nathan Drake having a daughter is a weird sentiment. He portrays this as some kind of terrible burden that will somehow damage the series which I don’t agree with. Any future developer could also set future Uncharted games in any setting they want with any characters they want so I fail to see how this will leave developers stuck. They can choose what to do with the series. Also, he fails to explain how having a daughter instead of a son is worse, and particularly how this will make future games worse. This makes his argument sound very sexist.  I don’t see any reason having a daughter vs having a son is inherently worse for future games in the series.

Robin’s accusation that Hannah Hart was only chosen to host the panel because she is a “popular lesbian vlogger” has no evidence to support it in his video. Robin doesn’t point to any substantial evidence that would support this claim. However, his criticism that they should’ve chosen someone who is more knowledgeable in video games is fair. I haven’t watched the panel myself, so I can’t speak of its quality, but Hannah might have been chosen exactly because she is not versed in games as this can bring some interesting questions and topics to the panel. Both I and Robin are speculating here on why she was chosen as there is no clear reason given by Naughty Dog. As such, this speculation doesn’t really bring much value to his argument and only serves to make his argument look bigoted in nature.

Continuing this point, Robin’s implication that Ian Alexander was chosen only because he is trans and because of his left leaning views is once again based on no real evidence but purely on his feelings. It makes his argument sound even more discriminatory. People getting hand picked for acting roles, to my understanding, is nothing new in the entertainment industry. If a director finds someone who fits the bill, it’s understandable that they would want to cast them.

Lastly, Robin’s point that the kiss had no place in the Last of Us II trailer is perplexing to me. If you look at the other major trailers from Sony’s E3 2018 press conference (Spiderman, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding), they all had a cinematic opening to establish the mood of the trailer. I would argue that Naughty Dog used the kiss (and the entire scene) to establish that Ellie has life outside of her life with Joel, and to contrast that with the harshness of the post-apocalyptic world they live in, which we see in the gameplay. 

The trailer wouldn’t have the same impact if there wasn’t something to counterbalance the harshness and darkness which the gameplay presented (which is why I think I didn’t like the first Last of Us II trailer). A gameplay trailer can have more than just pure gameplay. This sentiment makes Robin’s argument sound homophobic and that he is uncomfortable with seeing two women kiss and show affection towards each other.

 

4th argument: Naughty Dog is losing fans due to pushing their inclusivity and diversity driven agenda

Robin starts his last argument by stating that gamers aren’t sexist because they play female characters, like Lara Croft, all the time. He then points out that most gamers are white and straight, and because of this fact most gamers won’t ask for diversity and inclusiveness. He feels that Uncharted handled inclusiveness and diversity a lot better because it didn’t push it in your face.

Robin is bothered by Naughty Dog’s and its employees’ social media content being heavily focused on political topics and social issues. He says that this is making him less and less interested in their games overall. He would rather they focus on just talking about games. He finishes the video by pointing out that most gamers play games for escapism and to be entertained, and that he hopes that Naughty Dog will remember to make games for these people too in the future.

His argument that gamers aren’t sexist because they play female characters all the time doesn’t seem to hold water in my opinion. The fact that gamers play female characters doesn’t mean that they aren’t sexist. There are many female characters in games (like Lara Croft, Princess Peach, and Chun Li) whose originally purpose was something for men to desire. His example of Lara Croft is a great example of a character originally created to have strong sex appeal in order to be appealing to men and sell more copies as can be seen in this article.  Robin’s argument is the equivalent of arguing that you aren’t racist because you have a black friend.

My point here isn’t that most gamers are sexist. They probably aren’t.

But, when it comes to sexism, it’s still a wide spread problem in the game industry both on the developer and gamer side. Things like gamergate, female developers getting harassed by gamers (e.g. Jennifer Hepler getting abused for writing about her preference in games), and female developers being mistreated (e.g. Jane Ng’s experiences of not being trusted due to her gender) paint a very different picture  than what Robin suggests. We still have a lot of work to do to make the industry feel safe for everyone.

It is more likely that Naughty Dog’s inclusivity and diversity driven agenda will make the Last of Us II appealing to a wider audience, because millennials (ages 22 – 36 in 2018) are the most racially diverse generation when compared to older generations and to millennials diversity and inclusion are more important than previous generations. Also, Gen Z (ages 4 – 23) seems to be even more focused on inclusion and diversity than millennials. This goes to show that inclusivity and diversity will be important aspects to bring to games in the future and will probably foster business growth for companies like Naughty Dog who push forward this type of agenda.

Robin’s argument that most gamers are white and straight and therefore won’t ask for change, only helps to preserve the status quo. If we make games just for this audience without thinking about inclusivity and diversity, then our audiences won’t grow, and our industry will grow stale. If we don’t make our games more inclusive and diverse we might actually end  up with a shrinking audience as millennials and Gen Z become more prominent.

 

Conclusion

After having gone through Robin’s video and analyzing his main arguments, I couldn’t’ really find any reasonable conclusion to why Naughty Dog having more inclusiveness and diversity in their games would make them worse. In general, I don’t see why inclusiveness and diversity should by default make something worse. His argument paints Naughty Dog’s agenda as something that will take a lot of time away from making the game, which I don’t understand. Making the characters is part of developing the game, and research shows that to millennials and Gen Z inclusiveness and diversity are more important than to past generations.

His arguments seem to mostly be based on his discomfort in seeing minorities being put front and center. Robin points to Naughty Dog’s agenda multiple times during the video, but there is nothing inherently wrong in an agenda. Meriam-Webster defines an agenda as “an underlying often ideological plan or program”. Based on this definition, many games have agendas, as I mentioned before.

As such, I don’t agree that an agenda of inclusiveness and diversity is damaging to Naughty Dogs’ games. His arguments make it sound like he is content with the status quo, most AAA game protagonists being men and straight, and doesn’t want to see a change in that in fear of it making games worse, and that representation isn’t important. His arguments ring very conservative in nature.

But as I mentioned before representation does indeed matter. Studies show this and to claim that there is an over emphasis on female characters now is false in my mind. According to Feminist Frequency, out of all the games shown at the E3 2018 press conferences (which you could argue are the games that reach the widest audience in AAA gaming), only 8% of them had a female protagonist where as 24% had a male protagonist. 50% of the games shown either allow players to choose characters of different genders or have players shifting between protagonists of different genders. This shows that there really isn’t an overemphasis on female characters.

It saddens me to see someone who seems smart, like Robin, argue what seems to be out of fear and discomfort that we are seeing too many minorities in games. I hope that Robin can learn and grow to see that representation is important for minorities and that we definitely need it, because it will make for better games and for more inclusive communities.

If we don’t make inclusive and diverse games, we risk alienating large parts of future audiences which could lead to a shrinking audience in AAA games. This would mean that we would see a notable decline in games. I want to see games be more inclusive and diverse and hope to see more minorities as protagonists in future AAA games.

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