Hello my fellow WASPs.
Let’s talk one privileged white male to another.
I know what you are thinking. Here comes another rant about the need for gender and cultural equality in the work place. I can already hear your heels digging into the ground, ready to make any number of ideological stands against what I am about to say. But I’m not really here to talk about the altruistic reasons for adopting a more respectful and inviting game dev culture. In a perfect world, those would be enough. No, I want to talk about the purely selfish reasons we, as white males, playing into even the most entitled versions of ourselves, should want more diversity in games.
Something New To Create
I don’t know about you, but I’m not just tired of playing as prototypical white men, I’m tired of animating them. Well, specifically I am tired of animating the stereotypical version of them that permeate almost every game. Like most animators, I love getting into the mindset of a character I have never worked on before, and defining how they think and move, and how that relates to their design. Sure, monsters, robots, zombies and all sorts of alien creatures allow for this to happen in rather broad strokes, but not every game can or should have those to fall back on, especially if it is the subtlety of human nature that you want to get into. I don’t profess to know how women or someone from another culture thinks or acts, as I’m sure this post will continue to highlight. But from a purely creative side, I love working on characters that challenge me to learn more than just fight styles or what animal they might move like, as a chance for the character, player and myself to learn something new about the world we live in. So if only for the chance to break me out of my creative comfort zone, I love the idea of having more women and ethnicities in the games I am creating. There is a canyon of fantastic personalities, thinking processes and character traits that we are missing out on honestly exploring by making the token white guy our entry into the game.
Digging Deeper Into True Diversity
Maybe the game honestly calls for a white space marine but the hook for his diversity is that he is Muslim. Sure, that’s adding some cultural diversity, but until I have created or understood what the most generally true and common version of a Muslim character would be, how can I honestly convey the deeper complexities that this white space marine is going to be feeling? Sure, I can read some books, listen to some podcasts, visit a Mosque and talk to someone who practices the faith in the traditional, anthropological sort of way. But wouldn’t it just be easier and more honest if my everyday life included a large swath of culturally diverse people who have grown my understanding of these beliefs and experiences organically, instead of in an impromptu cram session? Furthermore, how many missed opportunities have there been to add in an interesting character trait because no one was familiar enough with the topic to even suggest it and talk to someone openly about it up front in a comfortable atmosphere? I’m not saying there should be a moratorium on hiring white males, but wouldn’t it be great if I only had to ask the woman sitting next to me what her perspective would be when placed in the scenario I am working on, as opposed to having to go on an expedition to get the same knowledge?
Equal Recognition Based On Merit
I play a little game at work, when we have a guest speaker give a seminar to the animation team. See, we have three female animators at the studio and I try to guess how long it will be before the speaker feels the need to specifically point that fact out, completely out of context of the conversation. Most recently, it was the first sentence uttered. And it sort of drives me nuts. I know WHY it is being pointed out, but in that setting, when the idea is to foster focused conversation on the topic at hand, I would hope the people taking part in the discussion or being singled out are those with the most interesting contributions, not just those that happened to visually stand out the most.
Of those three female animators, one I consider to be the most talented animator I’ve worked with at the studio. Another I was involved with the interview process on and gave her overwhelmingly positive feedback. So of those two, I certainly believe them to be animators worthy of recognition, but for far more honest reasons than their gender. I am sure the other animator with the high number of x-chromosomes is a fine animator as well since she is doing it professionally, but having never worked with her, would it be fair for me to assume she is any better than any of the other animators I’ve yet to work with?
I understand the irony of a white guy decrying inequality in the workplace online is like holding a metal umbrella in a thunderstorm, but it is something that gets to me. I know the studies about pay inequality across genders, and just a quick glance around the office proves there are an awful lot of honkies in here, but arbitrarily giving opportunities to someone based on genes can’t be the best answer. I know that is the easiest way to assume someone will have something unique to contribute or that it will right the injustices of corporate cultures, and I’m sure being female plays into the specific personalities of the animators I mentioned, but in this field, at this time, it seems like an oversimplified way to combat the problem that doesn’t do anyone any good. You have to be a rather intelligent and driven person to become a professional game dev which SHOULD make for a workplace that follows suit. Sure, there are still some terribly close minded people who make it in, but on the whole, the amount of education, socio-economic hurdles that need to be jumped and dedication it takes to makes games inherently breeds people who value worth in a person’s abilities, not their appearance or traits.
As creators and artists, empathizing and understanding others should be inherent in all of us, especially when we have all felt like outcasts at some point in our life. In fact, I would think that is where the most detailed and human diversity comes from. I obviously can’t say I truly know what it is like to be a woman, but having been raised by a single mother, I can certainly empathize. I certainly don’t have the experience of being judged by my skin color on a regular basis, but with a Peruvian father and adopted African American brothers, I can certainly relate. Yes, I am a typical white male by outward appearance and general perceived experience, but to say that is all I am is denying the reality of the details. Details, which define the core of my personality, creative process and decision-making skills. Isn’t that what this is all about, getting away from singling someone out based solely on appearance and not what actual experiences they can contribute? Physical makeup is only a perceived shorthand, and we should strive to use the entire written word. But we can’t honestly evaluate on pure merit until we equally recognize the need for complete cultural equality.
We Could Stop Discussing The Why
Ultimately, the most selfish reason I can think of for fostering equal and constant respect for everyone is that it means we can stop discussing WHY we need equality and start creating games that show HOW it is important. It means we can have the best people possible making the best games possible, knowing that the worlds and characters we are creating are what are truly best suited to the game and not just a marketing spreadsheet or politically correct version of a new status quo. I believe some truly great games can and should be made that can get us towards a reality where this doesn’t need to be a discussion we have anymore, and I hope I get to be a part of them. If only so that I can animate some honestly diverse characters and work with a large group of people that have completely unique views and experiences from me, so that I can learn something different about the world and translate that into what I create. Sure, I’ve got my altruistic reasons for wanting that, but I would be lying if I didn’t say my selfish reasons aren’t also a driving factor.
I Want To Live In This Selfish World!
So how do I plan to push forward my selfish goals? By honestly respecting the need and value of diversity and equality in games, helping to push it forward where it honestly fits. When I hear of someone papers about gender inequality in games are reaching a bit, I am still going to take them to heart and converse for and about them every time the subject arises. The best conversation I had during and after SIGGRAPH this year came about from that paper, between myself and another white male. Yes, you heard that right. A conversation about gender equality that I enjoyed having!
Well, of course, besides the ones I look forward to having in the comments.