Why I'm Worried About My Daughter's Video Game Future

This is my daughter. Her nickname is Cheeks. I really want her to play video games. Like, I really, really do. One of her favourite things to grab when she wanders around the apartment is an Xbox 360 controller. She holds it the right way most of the time, presses the buttons and looks up at me with a big smile on her face.

This fills me with hope.

I dream of her experiencing the beauty of Flower, the bluesy feeling of Bastion and the atmosphere of BioShock. For all my artsy parental aspirations, though, I realise that she's probably going to come in through some more down-to-earth fare.

But, like any father, I wonder what she's going to find when I start letting her engage with the medium I love and work with. More specifically, there's two big problems I see her having when she powers up her first handheld or console game.

She's Not Going to Find Anyone That Looks Like Her Leaving aside the specific mix of her parentage — Black and Asian, if you must know — this little bundle of cute is going to grow up into a brown woman. Have you seen where brown women wind up in video game casting? Sassy sidekicks are the best of it, folks. And maybe she won't be offended by the Letitias she meets, but they're not going to engender any great love in her either. They're not going to resemble her aunts or her cousins or her school friends.

It's not enough to just make a protagonist — or worse, a sidekick — black. Why? Because of the Hunger. The Hunger is the angry growling in the pit of a black nerd's soul that asks constantly, "where are we in the big picture?" It manifests differently for everybody. Nevertheless, I don't want to pass on The Hunger to my daughter. I want the video games of the future to make her feel welcome.

Now, you might say, "Evan, I play video games every day that don't have people that look like me. So do you for that matter!" That's true. But I want different for her. I want better for her. And my scenario's a bit different then what I'm envisioning for Olive. As a medium, video games already has its hooks in me. It has for years.

Cheeks is going to need to be convinced. Won over, even. Whatever Angry Birds equivalent she winds up playing won't be what lights a lifelong fire in her heart. Games like Rovio's hit are dalliances. You leave, you come back. They're disposable. No, she's going to need characters and plot twists and next-gen interactivity to make her a lifelong fan. Call it a father's naïve wish for his little girl but I'd hate to have the passion I have for video games not get passed on to her.

The Whole Girl Gamer Thing I used to work at Teen People Magazine 10 years ago. Back then, the fact that girls played video games still got treated like a mind-blowing revelation. Nowadays, the air of novelty is gone but it's been replaced by a distrust or dismissal. And the flip side of this is even worse, when women who play games are exoticized or fetishized.

I don't want her to have to hide. Ever. From anything. Again, that's probably naïve. But I want her to find a home, a catalyst and a passion inside of video games just the same way I have. Hell, better than I have. Our generation will be the first to raise kids who won't be hearing about video games as a cursed or second-class medium. That stigma's gone, but other ones remain.

If she were of age to play video games now, I'd be extremely wary of the reflections — or more accurately, the lack thereof — she'd find staring back at her. But she won't be there for a little while yet. She has time to grow up and learn about the world. I hope that video games do the same.


Comments

    So, are all of your articles going to be you being butthurt about your view on the state of race relations in video games?

      The above comes across way more aggressively than I intended it to, but to restate, in both this and your "I only want really cool black people in video games" article you express this view that black people are under represented in games because they're not presented in exactly the image you want them to be.

        And what's wrong with drawing attention to it? It's a fair point.

          The representation of ethnic minorities has not caught up to the standard of the representation of white, male characters. Drawing attention to this isn't a bad thing. This kind of feedback is important because it highlights what is important to people and gives everyone a chance to think about how games can be a bit more diverse and inclusive.

          Also, Evan has written hundreds of articles for Kotaku. Two of them have been about his ethnicity. I would hardly say that "all" his articles are about race relations.

            First off, I should have worded it as "future articles", that was my mistake. I rather enjoyed a lot of Evan's older stuff.

            Second, my issue is not that he's drawing attention to under representation. It's that his writing makes it seem as though he's dismissing a lot of valid representations because they don't make his filter. The other article I mentioned in the above post said that he wanted a non-stereotypical black protagonist he could be proud of, and then proceeded to describe the only valid representations as being Billy D Williams.

              We need more whiteys in games...

                ok, white male here, but personally ive foundthat the only video game characters i identify with are either the ones i create myself (liek in dragon age), or occasionally the faceless and/or voiceless ones you can project yourself into. I doubt many people identify with letitia, but i dont identify with adam jensen either. Just saying.

    " They’re not going to resemble her aunts or her cousins or her school friends."

    So you are going to promote racial segregation in your young daughter?

    Believe it or not, people from different races and cultural backgrounds can be friends.

    There's never been a game-character that's representative of me, and it hasn't stopped me from relating to the games and characters I play.
    By the time your daughter's old enough to worry about this stuff, I wonder if she'll just be worrying about it because you projected your own worries onto her.

    I'm in agreement, but I don't think this is an issue with just video games, geek culture in general has a problem with races other than caucasian cast as main character except as sterotypes.
    Just look at the nerd rage generated when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor, despite the fact he was awesome in that role.

      The rage was that, amongst all of the gods in Norse Mythology, the Norse being the whitest people to walk the face of the Earth, Heimdall was referred to as "The Whitest of the Gods". Casting anything other than a white, white person for this role presents a problem with accuracy.

      If they remade Shaft and cast Christian Bale in the titular role, would people not have a right to be annoyed at that?

        ...and the norse gods wound up being Grey aliens in Stargate SG1, what's your point?

        These are fictional characters were talking about here, based on mythological characters (also fiction), perspective please. The norse were a white race, so of course they would make all their gods white. They also didn't have technology beyond ships and swords, yet Asgard in the Marvel universe had all sorts of magitek lying around that was not spoken of in norse myth.

        Losing one white character to becoming black is not a big issue and fictional material goes through revision all the time. Just this time it's based on race and giving a good actor a chance at a role he would never normally have a chance at. Moviebob says it better than I can anyway:
        http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-big-picture/3183-Skin-Deep

        While I'm on the subject, the extra credits guys also touched on this issue in one of their shows:
        http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/diversity

          All of your points could also apply to my Shaft example.
          He too is fictional.

          Marvel's Norse gods, as created by Jack Kirby, aren't 100% the same as the RL Norse gods. But even in the Marvel comics, Heimdall is "Heimdall The White". It wouldn't matter if they made any other one of the Norse gods black. There was an Asian dude running around as one of Thor's pals, and nobody cared. The issue was that they chose to recast a dude who is characteristically white.

          I thought the actor they cast did a fine job, but as someone who knows the character well, it was still off-putting.

    I think you are over thinking it (and disregarding angry birds). In theory, a reasonable person should be able to replace the image of "generic white guy" with "human" and still inject their own perspective on the situation. If you grew up with no black characters and still live video games, there is nothing to suggest your daughter won't do the same thing.

      Absolutely that's the case, but why not ask white male gamers to do the same for a female person of colour protagonist? If we're supposed to be able to connect with any human character then why not ask the majority to occasionally do the same for a female or non-white protagonist?

        That's the thing though, they do. I never got upset when I played as Tifa in final fantasy vii, like my connection to the narrative was lost. When I play tomb raider it's the same. When I play mirror's edge, a game focusing on two sisters and a disembodied male operator voice usually relegated to the female character, it doesn't harm my perception that it's one of my favourite experiences this generation. I often replay mass effect as a female Shepard and its the same if not better. One of the first games I had as a kid was Jill Of The Jungle, and I loved it too.

        He's right, there's not enough black characters in main roles in video games (Especially when you negate almost all the examples for matters of personal taste!), but I'm more concerned that there aren't enough intellectually stimulating games to be honest. Give me black, white, Asian, male, female or gay characters, so long as the experience and the gameplay resonates. That's what's ultimately important, not a texture colour.

        This may be the "privilege" (a ridiculous concept, by the way) in me talking, but the character I play is always secondary to the quality of the game and or the story telling.

    The man's not hiding an agenda or ranting incoherantly, seems these articles are just a result of a little soul searching after becoming a father. Nothing wrong wtih that at all. Games could be a hell of a lot more diverse, but even today they're so much more grounded and sophisticated than they were even a few years ago. I don't even think we're in the 'golden age' of video games yet. The best is yet to come and games will continue to get better, realism and diversity will be a part of that too.

    I don't think you have any thing to worry about, though. If she's destined to be a gamer, nothings going to stop her. :D

      Note to self: stop saying 'even'... :P

    Zzzzz racial divides only exist because people keep making a big deal about it. Your daughter will only identify as being different if you keep pushing it on her if you promote the idea that there is no difference better her and other girls she will not make a big fuss if someone is white, black, yellow or green she would only see them as fellow humans.

    Why does somebody have be of the same race to be a role model or inspiration?

    Robert Johnson didn't look a damn thing like Eric Clapton, that didn't stop him being a (the?) major inspiration on him.

    Not to get into the whole racial argument here, but from a purely analytic point of view:

    The vast majority of characters should be "white" (what does that even MEAN anyway?) or "generic Asian".
    The small minority of characters should be "black". 12% I believe based purely on the US census data.
    Over half of all characters should be female. Just under half should be male.
    I think it's now 10% should be either gay, transgender, asexual, etc.
    And, realistically, 25% should be obese.
    1% or something should be Australian too.

    The problem here is that those small % aren't even represented to that level, so obviously we do need some over saturation to "break in" and then return to average use.

    However, if there's an argument that 50-60% of main characters *should* be black American,then it's really an unrepresentative sample - and publishers will look at who their market is and what's likely to make them spend money.

    So yes, we should see more representations of groups that currently aren't represented so that it accurately reflects our world society. With respect, however, that has to come with accepting that if we're shooting for accuracy here, there will always be a reflective and small representation of certain categories.

    For example - I wouldn't expect to see many "blasian" African-raised lesbian transgender academic kickboxers any time soon, but obviously that is not the point here.

      That's assuming the game is set in day to day society, not something like a war zone, or frontier space exploration, where the breakdown is different.

        With respect, that's an easy cop out.

        If we're dealing with a war zone, there's no reason why character #449A can't be of a certain random ethnicity and gender. It doesn't make a lick of difference to the story, so there's no downside to over saturation., only upsides.

        The same with space exploration - if we really want to shoot for realism here, the majority of any space sim loadout should be chimps (60% raised in Russia), followed closely by dogs and gerbils, with a token human thrown in.

          I think you may be onto some Molydeux genius there with that space exploration idea.

    Raise her on RPGs where she can create her own types of characters. Also nintendo franchises with their cartoon worlds would be a great choice as well.

      Is there even a black character in Mario?

    There is an easy solution to this.
    Get her to play NES and Snes. The graphics aren't all that great and there is more variety if I remember right.

      I just want to add, I'm not saying that having minorities in a game is a bad thing. I would welcome it.
      I'm sure most people would. It's just frustrating that a lot of people tend to stick to stereotypes, but that's partially because it's what we know. It doesn't make it right, not by a long shot.
      Otherwise I would suggest Alyx Vance or Jade from beyond good and evil. They are awesome role models. Otherwise start her on the harvest moon games. They're cartoon like and drawn in an anime style.

    You know what I find odd? Is this statement, "I’d hate to have the passion I have for video games not get passed on to her."

    At the moment I am having a internal struggle whether to let my 5 year old son play more video games. I know when I was 5 in 1991, we got our first computer, a 286. Dad taught me the basics of MS-DOS but I soon overtook him. I would wizz around the command prompt unloading TSRs so I could have soundblaster sound in Commander Keen. Games helped build up my reading and comprehension skills. The Sierra adventure games taught me new words and forced me to sound them out or I wouldn't get anywhere.

    Now he has had a passing interest in some Wii games (Wii Sports and Mario Kart), but I still wonder whether I should now push him in the direction of video games. I've actively limited it because I know it can be a time sink and I don't want to indoctrinate him. Like religion on my wife's side of the family and sport on my family's side, I have seen a family push young children into interests of their own desires.

    I think perhaps Evan should think about whether his daughter should be a "black nerd" of her own choosing.

      I have two kids, I assumed that because I play a lot of video games my kids probably would too. I give them plenty of opportunities to do other things (I took them to a cricket game and I can't stand the sport) but as it turns out, my eldest is becoming a fully fledged gamer but my youngest displays a lot less interest in gaming. I think it goes to show that despite how we might steer them, our kids will decide for themselves what they get into.

    That's cool, your daughter is cute. I'm Asian and my gf is black. Not to say that there's not an issue just because she hasn't complained about this - but my gf plays games to escape.. not become an avatar of herself in any realistic manner. If she did, she'd play The Sims or Second Life(which she hates). In that vein she also hates MMORPGs but that's just preference at the end of the day, which may be the deep root of this issue you've raised.

    I also think though that both your issues with lack of racial diversification and poorly represented black people is inherent. The number of black game writers and developers as a proportion to white writers and developers is probably representative of the number of black protagonists to white. Beyond that, not knowing your life or being in your shoes, what would they know about what would please you as a gamer? This is no different to the lament a lot of people have over poor movie roles black characters have. As good as Denzel is, he's typecast, one could argue stereotyped.

    Do you think Asians are fairly represented in games? Last I checked we either did martial arts and/or were in the triad/yakuza. Same goes for Hollywood movies - apart from the random roles John Cho has landed (Harold), I can't say I really identify with Asians on screen. Funnily enough there's a plethora of Asian game developers (beyond the Japanese - because let's face it, they're a whole different kettle of fish), yet we're left with stereotypes. But that in itself is fine, if you're known to be good for one thing why not run with it.

    I don't want to play games where a white character is easily interchangeable with a black character or an Asian character. That's just a character skin.. Beyond all that, what's the deep need to play a game character that you can identify with? I'm in the same mind as my gf (though I do quite like MMOs) - I'm not Italian or a plumber, but Mario is still a fun game.

      Btw there are some amazingly talented and half black half Asian women.
      Look up Crystal Kay in Japan and Tasha Reid (Baby T, Yoon Moon Rae) in Korea.
      There's a future out there and definitely great role models for any one faced with that struggle.

    If games were full of people that looked like me I probably wouldnt play. I play games partly to play a character that is NOT like me. Also I think it's dangerous to suggest to a child that they should identify themselves as a function of their race. One should connect with ethnicity culturally, through language and custom, not by appearance. Teaching your child to embrace the cultural differences of her heritage helps build a real identity that is unique and interesting, as opposed to simply being a certain color.

    And if you're both 5th generation American or whatever, just forget about it and be American. If you let her think she's different because of race, she's only more likely to believe it when other people tell her so.

    I think it's rather ironic referring to your concept as 'The Hunger', considering the recent uproar over people hating the movie 'The Hunger Games' for casting 'black people' in some roles.

    Hi Evan,
    My son’s nickname is Sef and I really want him to play video games too. I see him having an altogether different problem, yet somewhat similar though. You see my worry is…

    He’s going to find A LOT of people that look like him.

    His specific mix of his parentage — Anglo and Afghan, if you must know — means this little bundle of cute is going to grow up into a Middle eastern looking man. Well Evan, have you seen where Middle Eastern looking men wind up in video game casting? Arch Fiend terrorist is the best of it. And hey maybe he won’t be offended by the litany of C4 Strapped Suicide Bombers he meets, but again they’re not going to engender any great love in him either.
    They ARE however going to resemble his aunts or his cousins…. It’s just the family members on Daddys side are gleefully blowing away the family members on mummy’s side then high fiving or patting each other on the ass.
    Like you I’m extremely wary of the reflections he’ll find staring back at him. But he won’t be there for a little while yet. He has time to grow up and learn about the world. He has time to learn that video game makers are basing their creations what sells the most and nothing else. And while I hope that video games grow up someday, until the rest of the world stops judging the validity of a role model based on their appearance, I have little hope for VG’s being able to do it.

    As I've said in all the other articles about the state of representation of women and races in video games: Don't worry so hard, especially for the future, because it's getting better.

    I mean right now you can see tonnes of games where there is better representation than 10 years ago, and that was better than 10 years before that.

      Don't worry, American war fantasies like COD and War movies in general demonize what ever culture America is currently at war with. When I was growing up in the 80s I thought Russians were bad people. Rambo even defended them and jihad was glorified in film. Now days America is at war in the Middle East so current American war fantasies cast Middle Eastern people as the bad guys. Just pray that America goes to war with in an Asian country so your son doesn't look like America's enemy.

      Well written comment by the way

    idk if it's just me but haven't we (nearly) reached a point where it doesnt matter the race of your idol or influence? from what i've seen it seems to only ever be non-caucasions that want to continue to segregate themselves with false misrepresentations of not fitting in. As a caucasion I don't really care what colour my mentor or idol is.. well unless s/he is green.
    On a slight tangent, maybe Cheeks grows up to be the Lead Designer on a gaming project that brings an Afro-Asian heroin to the world... Who knows..
    In either case i'm sure her biggest hero will always be dear old dad

      I think you might be onto something. When I was young I was like "OMG a black person!!!" but now I play games and I don't even think twice about someone's ethnicity. I think we're moving to a point where different ethnicities are becoming less of a hang up and we see characters before we see races.

      That said, I wonder about sites for gay gamers or black gamers or parent gamers. I guess the goal is to represent people from certain demographics but when you say 'hey gay gamers, here's a place for you to come and hang out and talk with other gay gamers', isn't that creating even more segregation?

      Like Morgan Freeman said in order to end racism: 'stop talking about it'

      I believe that goes for all prejudices. If we stopped acknowledges prejudice it'd be gone in one generation. If our kids had no idea it existed it would go away.

    Dear Gabe Newell, please get your team to make Half Life 3 with Alyx Vance as a playable character. If not for the fans - then, please, do it for baby Cheeks.

    Interesting read. I think it's pretty understandable why the industry is the way that it is. Traditionally game developers have been a mostly white/Japanese male dominated industry. This is slowly shifting and eventually I believe we will see a wider range of cultural and gender diversity in games as a result.

    Just FYI I am working on a game at the moment focused on a female audience, and the customisation options will allow for multiple skin colors/races. :)

    This article kind of disgusts me.

    Let her find gaming by herself in her own time. Don't bloody force it on her from a young age!

    Its like how parents slam religion down their kids throats at an early age. Christ. Let them grow up and find it themselves and make the choice when they are capable of making a rational decision.

    You sound paranoid of your race, something that shouldn't even be in peoples minds any more. We are all human. Race doesn't mean squat. Everybody is part of the big picture.

    Disgusting article.

      Look an Internet super parent. Most probably not a parent themselves.

    oh that's why I stopped reading Kotaku. This article right here? A perfect example of the whining and bitching and denouncing of the video game culture we've all grown up with. Sometimes I wonder if these editors actually played games when they were young.

    Next up: Why Shepard should have been a hipster who hates guns, and why it's the fault of homophobic fat white males (that's you! The reader! Yeah! )

    You know (especially) if you are a girl games are quite diverse - my daughter plays just about anything including Skylanders, Kinectimals, Plants vs Zombies and Banjo Kazooie on the xbox, Scribblenauts and Dragonvale on the iPad, nintendogs, animal crossing and littlest pet shop on the DS and Moshi Monsters and Minecraft on the PC - she arguably has broader taste in games than anyone else in the house and there is a wide range of games catering to her taste - it's never been a better time to be a girl gamer and I'm sure it'll get better still from here on in.

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