Hispanics and Blacks Missing in Gaming Industry

Hispanics and Blacks Missing in Gaming Industry

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The pixilated elephant in the room of the multi-billion dollar gaming industry: African Americans and Hispanics play and purchase video games more than any other ethnic group in the U.S., yet the overwhelming majority of characters in games are young white males.

According to the video game industry, we don’t need another hero?

A recent study by University of Southern California Professor Dmitri Williams found an overwhelming lack of diversity in video game characters. Williams, a social psychologist by training, compared the ethnic diversity found in his survey of 150 games across nine platforms and all ratings to categories contained in the American census. He found that fewer than 3 percent of video game characters were recognizably Hispanic and none were playable. Native Americans and biracial characters were non-existent. African Americans enjoyed a rate of 10.74 percent, with a big caveat; they were mostly athletes and gangsters.

What’s the big deal, right? So what if people are unequally represented in video games? As impressive as the study by Williams is, it seems like a topic best suited for water cooler conversation, and not discussions over coffee and bagels in the boardroom.

As columnist Owen Good opined in Kotaku, a popular video game blog, “In an American games industry dominated, marketed to and consumed mostly by white males, discussions of race and class can quickly hit a wall, blocked by insistence that the subject is inappropriate for a pursuit that should be colorblind in basis.”

Good’s assertion that people in the gaming community are disinterested in talking about race in games is correct. Take, for example, what followed the sharp critique by then-Newsweek blogger N’Gai Croal in 2008 of a Resident Evil 5 trailer that featured images of a white protagonist killing African zombies. "Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game," was re-quoted in every popular video game news publication. It was honestly like pouring honey on the poor man and sitting him beneath a beehive.

“But it wouldn't be racist if it was a black guy shooting a lot of white people right? This is dumb, people just look for things to bitch about,” was one reader's reaction to Goods’ commentary found on the game site Destructoid.

Who Are the Gamers?


Good’s assertion, however, that whites constitute the majority of consumers in the gaming industry is inaccurate. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play games 30 minutes more per day than white youth, while Hispanics play an average of 10 minutes more.

Nielsen studied the same cultural groups, with ages ranging from 18 to 49, and also found that African Americans consistently spent more time playing video games than whites. Hispanics, on the other hand, dipped slightly below whites, while Asians -- who make up the second most recognizable ethnicity as video game characters -- showed up fourth.

And while both studies examined home console trends, another report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that even in the area of portable gaming, which given the ubiquity of smart phones and tablets has become the most lucrative arm of the industry, African Americans and Hispanics still outranked whites.

One of the arguments used to justify the lack of diversity across the video game eco-sphere -- its media, marketing efforts and characters – is that gaming is, like lacrosse or tennis, a pastime of the privileged. On the contrary, Reuters reported that low-income families who make less than $35,000 play more games than families who make over $74,000 in a study that also found little difference in their purchasing habits.

The overwhelming evidence vs. the underwhelming effort


Each year the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences puts on a video game conference in Las Vegas called the DICE Summit. Last year’s event featured a panel discussion on diversity in games featuring Williams of USC and a host of other industry insiders. “What population do [the video game characters] reflect,” Williams queried. “The shocking result’s of our survey…is you make games that look like you. So, it’s really just a reflection of the industry.”

Another panelist, Navid Heirs of Raven Software, offered his own view, insisting the problem has more to do with risk management. “No real data exist that... shows that this works or doesn't work. We just don't know because no one's really tried.” Publishers and developers, in other words, are not willing to take the creative risks of depicting unfamiliar characters with explicit cultural differences.

Navid Khonsari of New York-based Ink Stories, however, blamed industry ineptitude. Currently working on a game centered around the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Khonsari insisted during the panel discussion that developers are perfectly capable of bringing in cultural consultants, citing the example of the classic PlayStation 2 title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. For that game, developer house Rockstar Games reached out to DJ Pooh – who wrote the movie Friday -- to help them with the rags-to-riches story of the gangster character CJ in 1990’s Los Angeles.

Until research is done on the motivation of video game developers and the publishers they work for, we can only make educated guesses as to the overwhelming lack of diversity within the industry. We can be certain about one thing, however. From the press to the games they cover, the absence of black or Hispanic characters is limiting its fan base, its narrative potential, and its creative ideas.

Damon Packwood is an educator. visual media enthusiast and blogger @ www.dangerbrain.wordpress.com



 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

This article about racism is racist within itself!!! You mention Hispanics and African Americans but why didn't you mention any Asians? Are they not people as well?

Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

"Native Americans and biracial characters were non-existent." Turok...

Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

while Asians -- who make up the second most recognizable ethnicity as video game characters

Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

From the article

"...while Asians -- who make up the second most recognizable ethnicity as video game characters -- showed up fourth."

In the end of the day, it IS the elephant in the room, and people will gladly choose to ignore it or even at times get defensive to protect video games, who have always been under attack by conservative groups due to perceived violence and lewdness.

Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

Asians are mentioned under the heading: Who are the Gamers?

Anonymous

Posted Sep 13 2011

They should have mentioned Asians, I agree, but there are plenty of Asians in these games.

Anonymous

Posted Sep 14 2011

I have to say, I fail to see how your conclusions are supported by the data you cite earlier. If african americans and hispanics play 30 minutes a day more than white or asian counterparts, and families making less than 35k per year play more than families making 74k or more (family income typically highly correlated with ethnic identity as well), then it would appear that the absence of black or hispanic characters is not limiting the fan base. Given that blacks and hispanics make up about 10% apiece of the American ethnic landscape, I don't think it's shocking that there aren't a huge number of video games featuring them. That being said, the representation relative to player base appears badly skewed, but since it appears that blacks and hispanics buy these games anyway, your conclusion, however much we may agree with the sentiment behind it, appears completely at odds with the data.

I also want to point out that anecdotally, at least, the idea that there are *no* such characters appears inaccurate as well. As an earlier poster pointed out, "Turok" features a Native American lead, as does "Prey." "GTA III" features an African American lead, as does "Men of Valor" and "Saint's Row," by default. Furthermore, many modern games allow players to select a number of ethnic looks and types for the lead character. Virtually all modern western RPGs allow the user to create characters of most major ethnicities, either explicitly (Fallout 3's "race" tab) or implicitly (Mass Effect's custom character creator). JRPGs remain a major offender on issues of diversity, but these are largely products made by Japanese teams in a social environment where there is not only almost zero cultural or ethnic diversity, but also where explicit racism is still widespread and societally condoned. Even Black NPCs regularly get shameful treatment in Japanese games (Barret, anyone?).

Might I suggest that a more productive approach to this is asking why there are so few black game developers in the first place? The 2005 IGDA game developer diversity survey found around 90% of game developers were white. Until the industry becomes more diverse, I think it's unlikely that we're going to see a lot of explicitly positive lead characters of color.

Anonymous

Posted Sep 15 2011

Who cares.

Anonymous

Posted Sep 15 2011

hispanics arent missing you just cant see them because they are in the back of the house cleaning toilets as they should be

Anonymous

Posted Sep 22 2011

The writer here. It is challenging to convey the importance of a topic such as this in 1200 words but we writers try. This data was gathered from PEW, Reuters, Nielsen and a pretty good USC professor. I implore you to read what they had to say and the dialogue surrounding their data. Most of them seem to agree that this is a potential problem or a potential opportunity (however you want to look at it). Basically, there's money on the table for the industry to gain or lose to a competitor that focuses on these demographics.

As a person who just likes to play good games, I think diversity (any kind for that matter) can only benefit the industry as it has historically benefited Cinema, Baseball, Football, Basketball, Music, Dance, Literature and pretty much every other entertainment medium.

Considering the overwhelming history of diversity and how beneficial it is, I find pushback comments on these clear cut subjects...interesting.

Anonymous

Posted Sep 22 2011

The writer here. It is challenging to convey the importance of a topic such as this in 1200 words but we writers try. This data was gathered from PEW, Reuters, Nielsen and a pretty good USC professor. I implore you to read what they had to say and the dialogue surrounding their data. Most of them seem to agree that this is a potential problem or a potential opportunity (however you want to look at it). Basically, there's money on the table for the industry to gain or lose to a competitor that focuses on these demographics.

As a person who just likes to play good games, I think diversity (any kind for that matter) can only benefit the industry as it has historically benefited Cinema, Baseball, Football, Basketball, Music, Dance, Literature and pretty much every other entertainment medium.

Considering the overwhelming history of diversity and how beneficial it is, I find pushback comments on these clear cut subjects...interesting.

Anonymous

Posted Nov 7 2011

Grand Theft Auto? SAN ANDREAS

Anonymous

Posted Apr 24 2012

AS A HISPANIC...I really don't give a damn. I mean, don't get me wrong, I groan when I see a hispanic character and he's some Colombian cartel king or something, but I don't play video games to get my racial unity message. Speaking of which, hispanic isn't a race to begin with and I don't know why Americans like to associate colors with people, but let's leave that for now. Back to the issue at hand: the reason most characters are white or asian is because the developers are mostly white or asian. That's really all there is to it. Gamers in general tend to be white or asian. SNK actually has a very sizable Latin American following (their KOF series is very popular in Mexico), and it shows in their games. Some areas in their games take palce in Latin America, and some of their characters are Latin Americans as well. Simple as that. It isn't that complicated to figure out.

Anonymous

Posted Apr 24 2012

AS A HISPANIC...I really don't give a damn. I mean, don't get me wrong, I groan when I see a hispanic character and he's some Colombian cartel king or something, but I don't play video games to get my racial unity message. Speaking of which, hispanic isn't a race to begin with and I don't know why Americans like to associate colors with people, but let's leave that for now. Back to the issue at hand: the reason most characters are white or asian is because the developers are mostly white or asian. That's really all there is to it. Gamers in general tend to be white or asian. SNK actually has a very sizable Latin American following (their KOF series is very popular in Mexico), and it shows in their games. Some areas in their games take palce in Latin America, and some of their characters are Latin Americans as well. Simple as that. It isn't that complicated to figure out.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

The Resident Evil 5 issue a little silly. The first 3 games took place in the US, resulting in zombies of all races. The 4th took place in Spain, resulting in Spaniard zombies. If RE5 takes place in sub-Saharan Africa, what race should the zombies have been?

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

I like how I'm a white person, but all the other people get fancy names like "Hispanic", "Asian", or "African American". Yay racial equality!

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

I like how I'm a white person, but all the other people get fancy names like "Hispanic", "Asian", or "African American". Yay racial equality!

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

The study doesn't make sense for what they are trying to prove. Just because they play more doesn't mean they buy more.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

A lot of the games named in this story are from Japanese companies. Riddle me that batman.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

I don't complain about there being no white people in japanese games.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

Turok - Native American character - from Turok shooters.
CJ/Victor Vance - African American characters - from GTA San Andreas and GTA Vice City Stories.
Mordecai/ Luis Lopez - Hispanic characters - from Borderlands and GTA Ballad Of Gay Tony.
Numerous of Asian game characters from numerous of games. (Any more that I should know)

But bottom line, who cares?! Everyone has an equal opportunity to be in any video games!

Anonymous

Posted Jul 18 2012

Who cares? Seriously! There is equal opportunity of being portrayed in video games. I don't complain that their aren't that many Hispanic/Latino characters in games that I play (I'm Hispanic myself).

Anonymous

Posted Jul 19 2012

You're so edgy.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 20 2012

Hmmnn its interesting to read these comments, gives one insight. Many missed the point because they are almost conditioned to do so, that said if anything it just supports the data cited above. The subject is too touchy so they back off, or defend said industry as if they are being attacked themselves...or they spout non-sense. Much of those listing games like GTA (A game focused on crime where leads have always been some type of minority) and final fantasy 7 (A game where those outside of the blonde hair blue eyed norm are different in attitude and most note worthy weapon choice and spoken dialogue) and others are of white ethnicity too...even more fascinating. ..

Anonymous

Posted Jul 27 2012

Jesus, why is this country so obsessed with fucking diversity? "OH NOES! THERE'S TOO MANY WHITE PEOPLE HERE AND THERE AND EVERYWHERE!" It's also pretty stupid how we are just "white people" while everyone else is "African American", "Asian", "Native American", and "Hispanic".

Anonymous

Posted Aug 9 2012

Im Italian american. We enjoy the coolest characters.
mario, luigi, tommy vercetti, Jackie Estacado, Vulcano Rosso, Dante, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Enrico Marini, Frankie “The Bat” Niagara, Ezio Auditore da Firenze Rolento, Enzo, Don Vito Corleone, Neo Dio, The Punisher, Falco Lombardi, Marco Rossi, Mickey Hamfists, Voldo

Anonymous

Posted Aug 12 2012

This discussion does matter. The reason there is a like of diversity in video games where young white males are the protagonist is because the majority of the development studios and their employees are mostly Japanese and Anglo. I like to use Mass Effect as a prime example. Even though players may choose how their character looks, the marketing campaign centered around the Commander being an Anglo male. I wonder if the game's success would have been different if the marketing made the Commander African American female. I would like to see developers creating more heroes that are other than Anglo just to see how things go.

Anonymous

Posted Aug 15 2012

Exactly how can African American youths play more games when they're only 12% of the population,and Hispanics are around 11% well that just doesnt add up.Also,most of the developers are white or asian...is that wrong because apparently no other races like to make games ? Minorities are represented,but keep in mind,they're minorities..evr try to find a white super hero from Japan ? Nuff said.

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