An interview with Tanya D, the creator of the hashtag, by the 8-Bit Animal.
It’s no secret that modern gaming has been littered with games starring the same White male protagonist. Sure, they have different names, faces and voices, but they are typically the exact same character.
Gamers who aren’t White men have long voiced annoyance at the lack of diversity in gaming going back years, but it took Ubisoft’s seemingly gleeful omission of a female protagonist in the latest Assassin’s Creed title to bring this discussion to the forefront.
As a longtime gamer myself, I can’t think of very many major games released over the last console generation that aren’t starring a White male protagonist, so this discussion is long overdue. Clearly, a lot of other people on Twitter shared the same opinion.
Tanya, a gamer for some 20 years, has seen the same general lack of diversity in gaming over the years that a lot of us have, but she spoke out about it.
“It happened because I was up and angry at video games at like 6 in the morning,” she said. “Being frustrated with the fact that game companies can make a game with a WOC [woman of color] protagonist, then turn around and say that women are too hard to animate in the same breath. That I often see the same retread, of the same man-pain-fueled, frigid girlfriend, or wife, or child, for the sake of the PLOT, and the same blonde/brown haired scruffy White dude protagonists in most of the titles out there. Then when you do have a female lead, it’s rare, and there is still misogynistic crap I have to wade through to enjoy the storyline.”
She also added that she’s “Sick of being the thug, the ho, or the disposable, uninteresting stereotype in games.”
The hashtag gained steam and continues to generate traffic, as it has been a seemingly perfect foil to the disjointed hatespeak disguised as a rally for ethics reforms in gaming journalism that was sparked by #GamerGate. Unlike the hostility coming from #GamerGate supporters, those involved in #INeedDiverseGames have been relatively civil, even when expressing dissatisfaction towards the industry.
Has Tanya seen much negativity directed towards her or the hashtag?
“Luckily no,” she answers. “I’ve avoided harassment from GG’ers [GamerGate “activists”] and the reaction has been mostly positive. That said; there’s a lot I’ve missed thanks to Blockbot and Blocktogether tools on Twitter. Some of it still slips through because Twitter’s mute and block functions aren’t worth anything. The only real backlash that I’ve given much attention to is the usual ‘MAKE YOUR OWN THEN’ rejoinder, which makes me see red. It’s never that simple.”
In most instances, titles developed by people of color aren’t often funded or distributed by major publishers. An example of this is Never Alone, a game developed and financed by a Native American community in Alaska.
Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto V had a development and marketing budget of $265 million to create and advertise the title, and Destiny’s budget topped out at around $500 million. Many indie games are made for what many would consider less than a fraction of the typical big budget AAA title.
Fortunately, it hasn’t been all negative for Tanya and other supporters of #INeedDiverseGames. A number of Twitter users have rallied around her and the hashtag as something of a sounding board for those who feel ignored in their desire for more variety in the stories told by game developers.
In essence, it seems that #INeedDiverseGames has created a community all its own. That’s something that Tanya agrees has proven true.
“I’ve had some great conversations and have been met with warmth from minoritymedia who made Papo & Yo, and have a new iOS game coming out soon. There have been some folks who have kept it going – engaged when I did not have the strength to do so and it’s been amazing to see. Also trying to get a game jam together, and that’s all thanks to the power of Twitter,” she says.
With a growing population of gamers that don’t fall into the “Straight White Male” demographic, movements like #INeedDiverseGames have become increasingly important. Speaking to a community that encompasses as many different types of people as society at large, gaming culture is at an impasse. Many gamers have decided that titles that stand on the traditions of White privilege simply won’t do for them, and this will lead to changes as it hits publishers in the one place that matters to them, their sales figures.
Tanya’s parting words were telling of many gamers’ view of what needs to happen: “The gaming world is changing whether people like it or not. The question is will people get on board with the great things folks are doing — or will they get left behind, clutching at their old ways, unable to see that asking for more stories, more narratives to spin benefits us all as gamers. That there is room at the table, they just need to stop taking up multiple seats.”
For more information on #INeedDiverseGames, you can also visit the official Tumblr.