The media we view shapes who we are and how we see the world. That’s why seeing yourself reflected in the video games you play can be powerful. It validates your experiences and it can even inspire you to realize your full potential.
The diverse cast of OVERWATCH.
The video game industry has a history of being molded for boys and men. It’s not because girls and women don’t enjoy playing video games—nearly half of all gamers are female. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, that marketing budgets disproportionately support games with male-only protagonists, which makes more male-driven narratives sell, which gives developers a reason to focus on producing more male-driven narratives.
Gender is just one quality of representation in video games. Diversity through the lens of race, age, sexual orientation, economic class, differently-abled bodies, mental illness, and other qualities can welcome a broader range of players and invite greater empathy through others’ experiences represented in video games.
The advent of indie games and the increasingly diverse gaming culture have inspired better representation in video games. Here is a short list of recent and upcoming games that include a cross-section of experiences to enjoy.
Virginia is a first-person thriller that lures you in with its eerie sci-fi FBI mystery but keeps you around for the larger story between two women.
Anne Tarver and Maria Halperin are researching a mysterious disappearance. Halperin is a seasoned agent with family history in the FBI while Tarver is young and eager to prove her mettle. Their relationship as professional partners is tested by their superiors and, through the eyes of Tarver, we see how their bond as two black women in a bureaucratic institution is shared across a generation.
Though this is a narrative-driven game with diverse representation as a key aspect, the broader story is taut and gripping. It manages to avoid common pitfalls of environmental storytelling games and draws the player in with its cinematic sequences.
Seasons of Heaven (2017)
Seasons of Heaven is an anticipated puzzle adventure game primarily because this Nintendo Switch-exclusive release will put the new console to the test. (The trailer was created using Unreal Engine and developers are working on porting it to the Switch.)
Not much information has been released about this indie game except for the fact that the protagonist is a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome with a sidekick French bulldog. Both the boy—Yann—and his bulldog “Ani” are playable characters in this fantastical landscape. Health issues might play a central role considering the trailer opens and closes with an EKG-monitored heart rate that stops and starts again.
In addition to the lush graphics, it will be interesting to see how Yann’s autistic syndrome plays a role in his story.
What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
Representation is important not only for learning about yourself but also learning to empathize with the lives of others. In a meta sense, What Remains of Edith Finch accomplishes both.
As Edith, you return to your seemingly haunted stomping grounds in the wilds of Washington state to learn what has happened to your deceased family through the ages—and why you’re the last Finch left. Every room in the house is preserved like a museum piece, filled with over a century’s worth of personal stories.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative-rich mystery-adventure where the player seeks out an understanding and coming to terms with the life and death of family. To quote the developer’s website, “It’s a game about what it feels like to be humbled and astonished by the vast and unknowable world around us.”
Old Man’s Journey (2017)
At first, Old Man’s Journey looks like a simple (yet beautiful) 2D platformer as you navigate the titular Old Man through towns and countrysides. Then, through the changes in environment, you’re treated to glimpses of this Old Man’s life: his difficult choices, his regrets, his redemptions.
Colin Campbell of Polygon best touches on how the player experiences a life through experienced eyes: “Through these vignettes, the simply drawn old man becomes a whole human being who has lived his life and made his own choices, not all of them wise. Throughout the story, it’s not clear how much of his life is a source of regret, and how much is an acknowledgement that he is who he is, that character is destiny. This gives the game an added feeling of narrative depth.”
If the multitudes of mind-blowing cosplay from this game hasn’t been enough of a hint, Overwatch‘s massive fanbase might be drawn in thanks to its colorful and diverse cast of characters.
The diverse cast of OVERWATCH.
First of all, the game has reached near gender-parity with ten female characters and thirteen male to choose from. This in itself is something to celebrate considering most first-person shooters are dominated by male characters. Its international cast hails from all over the world, including but not limited to Brazil, China, France, Egypt, South Korea, Russia, Nepal, Japan, Mexico, India, and Sweden. Some characters are rumored to have mental illnesses while one has prosthetic legs. A few characters are advanced in age. A primary character is openly gay.
So was this unparalleled FPS character diversity intentional? “I think it’s really interesting that people think that diversity was the goal of the Overwatch team, when it was not,” says game director Jeff Kaplan. “What we cared about was creating a game, and a game universe, and a world where everyone felt welcome. Really what the goal was, was inclusivity and open mindedness.”
The goal is resonating. With over 30 million players and growing, Overwatch is a testament to the success of diverse representation in video games.