I have this one friend who I argue with about just about everything. And one of the points we’ve always vehemently disagreed on is character creation. He writes a game off entirely if it doesn’t have the ability to make your own character. But I diasagreed. There were so many life changing games that didn’t have that feature and didn’t need it. I argued, repeatedly, that you didn’t need that to make a game legendary.
This weekend I’m learning how wrong I was.
I just came out of a panel at GaymerX that was hosted by gaming writer Katherine Cross, and writer/designer for Paizo Publishing Crystal Frasier. The topic was identity in gaming, and it was a fascinating look into a side of the universe that, as a cis white dude, I never see.
Both Cross and Frasier are trans women, and both of them found themselves for the first time through gaming. Gaming allowed them to play as women, and experience worlds like World of Warcraft and Morrowind as who they truly were. Cross mentioned that just the opportunity to come up with her own name in Morrowind was life changing. Both played WoW for years – in the “real world,” they had to hide who they were, but in Azeroth they could be free.
It hasn’t been perfect. Frasier created a trans woman in Dragon Age: Inquisition, only to find there was no dialogue option to show solidarity with the game’s single trans character. But video games, unlike movies or TV, can up their representation and inclusion a hundred fold just by allowing players to put themselves in the game.
My friend who I would argue with about this is black. All of the life-changing games I was arguing for starred a white man. But you know what? Uncharted wouldn’t be any different if Nathan Drake was black, or Asian, or a woman or trans. BioShock Infinity’s racism might cause some dialogue to be re-written, but it’s still doable. Imagine if you could redesign the bro-party of Final Fantasy XV.
Yes, adding character creation to every game is difficult, and adds time and money to development. But it also saves your game from the inevitable criticism of yet another white male with brown hair leading the game.
Most of, if not all, of our minority readers and reading this right now and saying, “Duh.” Sorry guys, that’s my bad. I should have realized this before today.
It’s amazing what happens when I shut my mouth and listen to what people are telling me.