Video games have a weird relationship with diversity. It all started during the 80’s when developers and publishers began doing market research on who’s buying video games. Prior to this, video games were advertised to anyone who’d play: Pong was advertised as a game for pub participants, and home consoles were the center for all family fun. Once the market research came in and revealed that a small percentage more of males play video games than females, video games went through their “dude-bro” phase. The decade that followed produced more male-marketed products than a Viagra commercial.
As well, few non-white developers have really been prevalent other than those from Japan. For the most part, it’s been Western and Japanese development teams, with thin brushstrokes of “multicultural teams of various faiths and beliefs.”
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about how little diversity is in the video game industry. “It can’t all be white males,” Peter Moore recently stated. “As a result, I think that hiring managers at EA over the last couple of years have had a sharper focus on diversity. I know that my teams around the world have.”
There’s always two parts to a diversity quote. The first part always involves a shameful complaint of what they see as a lack of diversity. The second part is a reminder about how the company they run or work for has such a great amount of diversity. The only thing less diverse than video game development teams are the statements made about them.
So instead of posting about all the negativity that surrounds reporting on diversity in gaming, I’d like to discuss some more recent positive news about diversity.
West African Gaming Expo 2015
Nigeria held its first-ever gaming expo last year, and the event was successful enough that they’re able to repeat the West African Gaming Expo (WAGE) this year, this time a four day event rather than just three days. Starting a video game expo is a monumental step forward in growing the local video game industry. Developers have direct collaboration with other developers in the area, attend workshops, and market games they’ve already made or are working on. As well, the area’s greatest tech minds collaborate and show the future of video game development tools. Continuing years of WAGE will definitely increase Nigeria’s viability to develop video games, giving their developers the tools and the publicity to improve in popularity and prowess.
The Really Awesome Gaming Expo in South Africa is kicking off on October 9th and lasting through the 12th. The conference started in 2003, and since then, rAge has managed to become a huge success, almost like the E3 of African game development. They won the Best Consumer Exhibition in 2014, and plan on having even more developer exhibits this year. They’re even setting up a booth for Start Up, a charity that helps those with Asperger’s Syndrome maintain high-end job positions. The only thing they’re missing is any news coverage from IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, Destructoid, or most other major news outlets.
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
Central Africa’s first video game developer, Kiro’o Games, has just recently started a Kickstarter for their game Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan. The studio plans to create games inspired by African tradition and narrative, sharing a part of world culture that generally is forgotten about or not as prominently displayed. The fantasy game also steers away from the traditional “knights and dragons” route by adding African creatures of myth and legend. If this game is successful, the Kiro’o will most likely continue to develop games inspired by African mythology. It’ll be a real treat if the Kickstarter makes it through.
The Journey Down
Ok, so this game’s made by Sky Goblin, a development team based in Sweden. And the blokes are all white males. But their latest Kickstarter project is a game called The Journey Down, “an afro-noir point & click adventure saga set in a rich, atmospheric musical world.” The Afro-Caribbean environment invokes much more than just an art style. The character’s heads are taken from traditional African tribe masks, giving the characters a sort of Grim Fandango look while being used as a visual reference to the unique combination of African and Caribbean culture . As well, the reggae music adds another layer of unique atmosphere for what looks like a stellar game.
When Peter Moore and those like him make statements about video game diversity, they come off as merely trying to cover their own asses. Instead of looking for minor problems that set us back a step, let’s look for the leaps and bounds we’re already making and support them. There’s so much more than just these four things happening in the world of diversifying video game development. We need to change the negative conversation that hangs around diversity in gaming like a thick mist. Otherwise, we’ll lose the diversity that’s happening right behind the conversation’s back. Let’s make the next conversation about a new Middle Eastern game developer instead of a new statement that Phil Spencer or Peter Moore makes.