Diversity in Video Games

A commentary on diversity and a proposal on how to approach the issue.


I have been sitting here for the longest time knowing that I started this to say something. While I have been busy with graduating and establishing myself as a Game Designer, I have also been thinking of what I wanted to say. There are at least thirty iterations of an angry rant against Darksiders and my opinion on what they did wrong.

However, all this time there has been something that has been bothering me all my life. Through the journey of life we have all been fighting to define ourselves. We think to ourselves that I am more than just one of the quiet masses. I am more than just one of the faceless, voiceless masses! I am special in my own way, and I refuse to be a statistic, nor will society force me to be less than what I want to be! I would be lying if I said I wasn't this kind of guy, and its the journey to reach this goal that I has me bothered.

Now to continue on from this point we need to be honest with ourselves. We all, at some point, have wanted this goal to some varying degree, and while we have wanted to fight this premise of societal acceptance, we, as human beings, have always yearned for this. This struggle and how we approach it defines us and our character. If we become obsessed, we yearn for an apology from the universe and become bitter and angry people. In opposition, we risk our individuality for the comfort of knowing we are not alone. I cannot say I speak for everyone but I can speak for myself.

I am a second generation Puerto Rican, born in America and raised in upstate New York. When I was a child I was one of three children in my elementary school who were of any ethnic background other than Caucasian. This never really bothered me at the time I was simply another child nothing more and nothing less. As I grew up though and noticed the current medium I started to become more culturally aware of myself and wanted to know more. I wasn't just Bobby, I was Roberto Carlos Rivera: Latino! I wanted to know more! I wanted to learn Spanish, I wanted to know more about my people. It was at this point I entered Middle School and met more Spanish people. I thought we could unite under the flag of commonality and discover a part of myself yet unexplored. I was rejected. First, it was that I didn't speak Spanish. Something difficult for me at the time since I also have a learning disability. Then it was that I wasn't born in Puerto Rico. It was true I was born in the Bronx, regardless though I argued that it didn't matter! I was a kid like them and that we can learn from one another. Needlessly though it didn't stick.

Now if I didn't bore you, you are most likely thinking: "Why should I care and what does this have to do with video games?" In my desperate attempt to learn about myself I looked into the media and found that my people weren't there. Now think about it, without having to go to telemundo and taking in my age at the time were there any shows in the 90's that included any person of Latin decent? I couldn't find any, in fact at the time my favorite show was Star Trek The Next Generation. My favorite character was Captain Jean-Luc Picard and I have seen all the shows and all movies and there wasn't a single Spanish man out there. Oh, there were Spanish actors, but in a series about people who have a deep tie into who they are personally and ethnically how come there wasn't a single Spanish person? This happened to me across the board! I wanted to know more about myself and have a role model and the closest I got was Inigo Mantoya who was played by a Jewish man. While I still enjoyed the character and the actor, I wanted to know why. Why is it that there are plenty of shows of all different types of races, creeds and colors but at the time Spanish people weren't any where to be seen?
It got me thinking of why is the media so abhorrent to the idea of diversity? Would Captain America be less inspiring if he were African American? Or for that matter, would Wolverine be less of a bad ass if he were a woman? Would the Captain Jean-Luc Picard be less capable if he were Gay? It doesn't stop there! Look at all the video game characters out there and notice how many non- white, non-male, non- straight characters there are. The number is abysmal, and what is left are stereotypes, or caricatures of the minority. What is my point? We need to admit as a society that while we are becoming more culturally aware we can do a lot more to improve our efforts. I'm not asking for the "Black Best Friend" who proves the white character isn't a racist nor am I asking for the polar opposite. Like how Ke$ha believes that because some gangster rap paints woman in a bad light that she is allowed to serve it right back up to the men. No, that will not do.

You see, throughout my journey I missed something important. It wasn't that I wanted more Spanish oriented shows, (although that would have been nice) and it wasn't the fact that I wanted to be considered a Spanish person. All I want, all I ever wanted was to be a person. I don't want a Puerto Rican stereotype and I didn't want a character who was obsessed over race. Who I wanted to be considered was a person first who was unique and who was also Spanish. I'm not saying that every show and video game has to have a mandatory ethnic character. I think that what is best is to create characters who are people first and not a quota to be met.
Consider for a moment Samus, before she was revealed to be a woman we thought that she was a badass and not to be reckoned with. You got in her way and she messed you up! But then she was revealed to be a woman and the greatest thing in the universe happened: she remained a badass! This is a wonderful thing, she maintained her identity but allowed for elements and themes associated with her identity of being a woman to seep into game play and allow players a new perspective.

We need to have more characters like this, whose personality comes first and who doesn't have to fill in the, " We need a black character," quota. At the same time I think at the apex of this revolution of diversity, we need to learn more from these heroes and their stories. Though Jean-Luc Picard wasn't Spanish I found him to be an inspiring figure. I always found James T. Kirk to be to perfect. He was the ideal Heinlein hero who was capable of anything and represented the golden age of sci-fi. Captain Picard was also a very capable character who had an image of dignity and constant patience that he had to maintain for the crew. However, several times he revealed his weaknesses: he was a workaholic, tortured from when he was used for his intellect to almost destroy his friends and family. I also discovered his pride for being French, and his love of self improvement and passion for learning.
While it is true I learned a lot from a non-Spanish character, I also learned that I wanted the opportunity for not only myself for others to learn from a Spanish character. We are humans capable of communicating through movies, stories, video games and learning from the experiences of those characters. What would it be like to learn from El Cid Compeador, the hero of Spain? A warrior who fought for his people and fought against the annihilation of their culture? What lessons are their to learn from Altair a character who was Muslim, and believed in a cause so strongly he became arrogant. We have a lot to learn about ourselves and about each other, so I challenge all the developers and directors out there to take the dive and to learn from other cultures. To teach us all about ourselves by teaching us about one another. 

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