The gaming industry has been under increasing pressure to diversify the representation of women and marginalised communities in the game characters and storylines, instead of just reflecting mostly while male fantasies.
The gaming field has long been dominated by white, straight men who have saturated the imagery, roles and representations of characters to be sexist, racists and demoralising – including given women overly-sexualised bodies in submissive roles while male characters remain primary.
But now, things are changing for good. LGBTQI+ representation is above the average in UK’s creative industries and the number of women joining the games sector is also increasing.
The old stereotype of the typical gamer of being awkward, socially isolated young boys in secluded bedrooms is slowly dissipating over decades, as women, people of colour and gay communities are demanding better roles and narratives in gaming programs.
Undeniable homogeneity is still prevalent in almost every game developer in the western world, with industry executives still universally white and male.
But new data from the University of Sheffield reveals that the tide is changing. Supported by games industry trade body Ukie, the study conducted a census of more than 3,200 game developers across Britain and discovered a young and increasingly diverse workforce.
Researchers found that two-thirds of the UK’s game development workforce is 35 years old or under; 28 per cent are women and 2 per cent identifying as non-binary as well as a further 10 per cent coming from minority backgrounds; 28 per cent come from outside of the UK; 21 per cent identify as LGBTQI+, which is a significantly high statistic given that only 3 to 7 per cent of the general population do so.
But gender balance still lags behind, with 68 per cent of the industry still being male. This still, however, shows progress – in 2009, the International Game Developers Association stated that 11.5 per cent of game developers identified as female. The number of women participating in all areas of the gaming industry is creeping upwards.
Even so, despite these encouraging statistics, women, LGTBQI+ people and people from minority backgrounds are still underrepresented in senior roles.
Jo Twist, CEO of games industry body Ukie, said change is necessary for the industry if it wants to continue to grow, thrive and reflect the tens of millions of people who game every day in Britain alone.
‘A diverse industry that draws on myriad cultures, lifestyles and experiences will lead to more creative and inclusive games that capture the imagination of players and drive our sector forward,’ Twist told The Guardian.
Ukie’s response to the census has involved signing up developers to commit to inclusive hiring practices and ensure representation across all sectors – from marketing to development.
EA, Facebook, Jagex, King and Xbox have already signed up. Ukie intends to repeat this census every two years to see how its members are progressing on its intentions.
But high-profile examples of a culture of sexism in the gaming industry doesn’t help attract and retain female employees. Last year’s Riot Games lawsuit reveals that hiring women is just the first step to addressing the gender imbalance – companies also have to afford them an equal voice in decision making and welcome them in the job.
The trickle down effects of diversity in the industry means safer, more accurate representation of communities in the games characters and storylines.
One example is last year’s sci-fi Falcon Age, or the forthcoming Tell Me Why, whose lead character was a transgender man. Female avatars with a range of different skin tones have also become an expected requirement for any game that lets you create your own character.
Sony’s PlayStation has also began celebrating the LGBTQI+ community with ‘PlayStation Pride’ headed under a slogan reading ‘for all players’ that also sold in merchandise.
While it’s true that stereotypes take a long time to die, the census data shows that change is happening – and many big companies are jumping on board.