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How Dove is Making Virtual Beauty Real

Dr. Philippa Diedrichs and researcher Raqi Syed explore the impact of inclusive character design and illuminate Dove's mission to increase representation and diversity in the video game world for women and girls.

Game Developer, Staff

June 19, 2023

Presented by Dove

First thing's first; why is Dove talking about gaming? “The brand known for its iconic beauty bar? What do they know about video games?”

Representation matters. It’s more important than ever that we see people or characters who look like us in the films we watch, on the social media feeds we scroll and in the games we play. By diversifying the appearance and functionality of characters and avatars, particularly female characters, gamers can be part of a bigger movement to improve the well-being, self-esteem and representation of women in games everywhere. This is why Dove has teamed up with friends in the games industry to help with this incredibly important mission.

Among those working closely with Dove on this project are Dr. Phillippa Diedrichs and researcher Raqi Syed, a duo thoroughly well-versed in the pillars of thoughtful character design and the positive impact of inclusivity across different forms of media.

[Find out more about Dove Real Virtual Beauty!]

"Dove's mission is really to ensure that the next generation of young people grow up with a positive relationship with the way that they look," explains Dr. Diedrichs, a professor of psychology at the University of West England's Centre for Appearance Research.

"Recently, we took note of the fact that, around the world, 1.3 billion women play video games. We did some research into this space and found that, despite the fact that women comprise almost half of the gaming community, around 73 percent of people who identify as women don't feel like gaming is diverse enough," continues Dr. Diedrichs. "This presented us with a really exciting opportunity to explore how we can use creativity, innovation, and self-expression to portray beauty and appearance in the virtual [world] in a way that's more inclusive and diverse when it comes to design."

Empowering Players Through Respectful Character Design

Truly giving developers the knowledge and tools to design inclusive characters requires a multifaceted approach because, as Syed explains, character design touches so many different areas of animation and technical art. Developers and visual artists beyond even the game industry need to embody these principles throughout every step of the process, from rigging, to motion, modeling, texturing, shading, costume and hair design, and motion performance.

Understanding these building blocks, Syed explains, ensures that artists start with a great foundation for many areas of technical art as they continue to work towards respectful character design. Respectful design, a term coined by Dr. Dori Tunstall, aims to value cultures, inclusivity, and ways of knowing through creative works, and Syed maintains that it is key to making truly empowering design decisions.

"It means that as designers, we're working from the inside out," she explains, advocating for an autobiographical perspective that works in tandem with the experiences of others. "Instead of imagining a user who's external to our process, we put ourselves at the center of the design process, and design from the experience of who we are, designed from ourselves."

"We use our lived experience to design characters and build story, and then move on to other areas of story from that internal perspective," continues Syed. "After we do that and we understand the foundations of storytelling and character design, then we can move on to a methodology of co-design where we work with others to include their perspectives, always valuing the internal perspectives and the perspectives of others."

Creating a World of Real Virtual Beauty

With all of that in mind, how can developers take their first steps toward embracing inclusive design? Dove's Real Virtual Beauty Training is a new series designed to teach and inspire game developers, creators and artists about the importance of diversity in games. Through a series of online modules created in partnership with the Unreal Engine Education Team at Epic Games, this accredited course empowers creators and offers practical pointers on how to craft more realistic, more authentic, characters and avatars in games – allowing for better and authentic stories to be told.

"We're really inviting developers to get excited about the social impact, the creativity, and the innovation that awaits when people start to design authentic and diverse characters. " Game developers eager to start down their own journeys into inclusive design can find those trainings on the Epic Game Dev Community page, and can learn more about Dove's Real Virtual Beauty campaign here.

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