Mass Effect 3 Dev: Games Would Benefit From More Diversity

In a refreshingly frank interview with Gamasutra, Mass Effect 3 senior designer Manveer Heir shared his hopes that games can embrace more racial diversity and in doing so, tell better stories.

The number one argument I hear against it is, especially, what I just said, worrying about offending people. "Why do we have to put a minority character or a female character in a game just so we don't offend minorities or females?" To me, it's never been about that, at all, to me. It's not about fairness, it's not video game affirmative action. It's about actually pushing our medium to make better games, to tell better stories in our games.

I've played certain characters over and over in video games. Every time I save the world, it gets less interesting. It doesn't matter what the journey was to get there. Ultimately, I know what's going to happen. I know I'm going to save the world at the end, and I'm going to play the same like archetypical character to get there, because mythology says there are certain archetypes — the savior.

So, to me, thinking about the sexual orientation, the gender, and the race of a character can change... Even the age of a character — that can change the way your game is structured, what your game is about, the things a game can comment on, the mechanics of a game. They can bleed into several areas.

Heir has been a proponent of video game diversity for some time now, joining a panel on racial diversity in games at the 2010 Game Developers' Conference alongside our own Kotaku columnist Leigh Alexander. Like this new Gamasutra interview, that talk is well worth checking out.

Moving Forward On Race In Games: Manveer Heir Speaks [Gamasutra]


Comments

    So why can't we play as Turian or Asari or Drell in any Mass Effect games? :P

      Yeah Bioware are such speciests!

      Here's a better question though, why are they putting in "token" character ethnicities whilst the leading protagonists are still usually caucasian? :P

        But the main character in Mass Effect can be any race, depending on your character creation skills.

      I don't think that's entirely fair. It would require a huge re-write of the storyline to be able to switch species.

    Tbh I still believe they solely do it so people don't bitch and complain about it constantly

      I disagree. Its clear that political correctness isn't the reason behind a wide variety of character ethnicities/genders/sexual preferences/etc.

      Inclusiveness is GOOD BUSINESS.

      Why?

      Lets remember that BioWare make games with a heavy narrative element. The objective is to draw players into the game's world. Typically, this is done by creating characters that the player can identify with.

      Now, the more that a certain character is like any player, the more the player will identify with the character.

      And this is why inclusiveness is good business. A black woman playing a game is more likely to identify with a black female character than a white male character (ceteris paribus).

      Thus, all "diversity" in a game does is provide a wide variety of characters, which in turn allows a wider segment of players to really get into the game.

      Basically, by making a video game inclusive, you increase its appeal to a wider variety of target markets, and thus increase sales.

      Inclusiveness is good business sense, not political correctness.

        Totally untrue, that may be a convenient side-effect of political correctness, but it was not the driving force behind it I can assure you.

          Your logic is circular. You are assuming the driving force is political correctness, not proving it.

          I should add that I am not a fan of actual political correctness. PC is based on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and a media-constructs-people's-concepts-of-various-groups theory, both of which I disagree with (the latter may have some merit for very ignorant people with very limited levels of experience, but I doubt it would be determinative).

          I am not defending PC. However, I don't see how the mere presence of non-straight-white-male characters in a video game is somehow an example of PC Gone Mad.

          If, say, the non-straight-white-male characters were characterized as oh-so-perfect-Wesley-Crushers and the straight-white-male characters were characterized as idiot incompetents, then that WOULD be an example of PC Gone Mad. But the mere PRESENCE of, say, a black person, an asian person, and (for example) a bisexual person on the same cast is no evidence of "PC Gone Mad."

      For sure brah - if it wasn't for those whiny minorities Bioware would just LOVE to make games about nothing but stoic, muscular and white male space marines, all the time!

      Nothing more you need to be creatively fulfilled, after all.

    It's a good interview.

    He has a point about subverting or at least altering the hero archetype.

    Bioware's strength in storytelling lies in convincing us that the person we're playing is a hero, then giving us large freedom to mould the character as we wish.

    Unfortunately I think his point about new hardware leading to higher budgets, forcing even more risk aversion, is probably true. If the dominant publisher mindset is that a white, heterosexual, vaguely North American badass male sells more units or is a safer option, I can only see baby steps towards more diversity.

    Favourite article on the Kotaku.

    I agree with Gorhob. Including other genders, sexual orientations etc is only for making a few extra sales and too look good in the gaming public's eye.

    Prediction: the only people who say that inclusiveness is nothing more than good business are straight, white young men who have never been excluded from anything they've wanted to do.

    "I agree with Gorhob. Including other genders, sexual orientations etc is only for making a few extra sales and too look good in the gaming public’s eye."

    Who are the gaming public? Are all gamers straight white males, or is there diversity amongst the player base? If that's the case then what do you mean by 'looking good' to those people? Appealing to them? Seeming attractive somehow? Perhaps the reason diverse games 'look good' is because the audience actually likes the diversity.

      Not to mention that game devs don't always give the public what it wants. There's a certain amount of creativity involved, and sometimes better narratives come about when everyone isn't either a white-heterosexual-badass-space-marine or shapely blond femme fatale sidekick.

      Diversity is nice. I would like to see a Mass Effect game that does not necessarily revolve around a human. I would be cool to play as a Turian or even a Volus. Sometimes things can feel forced, like token characters or something put in for the sake of it to seem progressive and PC. What I should have said was Gaming Media and not public. I hardly see any articles which express things other than a PC view.

        What would be a non-PC view you'd like to see in games media writing?

      Thank you for your valiant attempt at character assassination and impugning my motives.

      First, you misinterpreted my argument. I did NOT say that diversity is "only" about making money. What I said was that diversity was a sensible and prudent way to make a game appeal to a wider variety of people.

      I was DEFENDING diverse casts of characters from people that were arguing such a cast is automatically indicative of PC-Gone-Mad.

      Your use of the term "only" seems to indicate you think that being a prudent business move is a bad thing. I disagree.

      I'm quite aware that the gaming public are a diverse lot. This fact is PRECISELY WHY diverse casts are a good thing. I wasn't advocating or defending tokenism, I was defending the completely sensible practice of giving as many demographics within the audience as possible a character or character/s that they can identify with easily. This isn't really a new practice; it is a common practice in all kinds of fiction that deal with ensemble casts.

      But you just HAD to go off and make speculations about what my race, gender or sexuality may or may not be, merely because I argue that a diverse cast increases the chances of a fiction-producer's "doing well by doing good."

        CORRECTION: I just noticed you were quoting Warlok rather than attacking my argument. My apologies.

        However, some parts of your argument could be construed as attacking some points I made.

          I deliberately mixed your comment together with the other dude's. These topics need a lot of pot-stirring man. As a straight white American male I feel duty-bound NOT to propagate the same ol' white patriarchy whenever I can :)

    Maybe it's because the white male is the group most gamers fit into in western societies. I see no problem with wanting to cater towards those.
    I would like to see more diversity though. So long as it's not because of political correctness and "token characters" That expects every game to have those characters.
    I don't mind playing as female characters or different races. As long as the games good :)

    "So, to me, thinking about the sexual orientation, the gender, and the race of a character can change… Even the age of a character — that can change the way your game is structured, what your game is about, the things a game can comment on, the mechanics of a game. They can bleed into several areas."

    Sooooo basically you're a racist, sexist and whatever you want to call someone with a prejudice against sexual orientation? Cause you know, being black means you can't possibly think or feel the same way as a white person? Gays are totally a different species! And females... geez don't get me started, game changing experience right there, I mean the way femshep handles things is NOTHING like male shep..... oh wait.... the irony, it burns.

      you are an idiot. He is saying that if your main character is a lesbian, you can comment on how society handles said lesbianism OR how being X race gets treated differently.

    I wanna see an epic story-driven game whose main character is (or can be) an albino transvestite pedophile who only eats fingernail clippings and clumps of hair from the floor of public restrooms.

    Talk about 'interesting' ;-P

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