Metacognition: Enough is Enough

We’re back with our “thinking about thinking” series! If you’re interested in our previous deep thoughts, check out the Metacognition series.  Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

When will you consider that games have “enough” representation?

Representation is a pet interest of mine, and it’s something I’ve talked about a few times, as well as played a game about. I’ve even talked about how we tend to “gender” mechanics, using certain themes on certain genres of games to appeal to one gender or another, with varying success.

So where does it end? When will I be satisfied? Well, that is an interesting question; I consider myself fairly liberal in terms of social issues, but I am no SJW or man-hating feminist. I believe in moderation in all things. I am idealistic, but I have no problem trying to figure out a way to make reality more ideal than it currently is.

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The point is, I don’t think “enough” representation is something that can be quantified, i.e. it can’t have a number applied to it. Having 51% of all video games characters be women because 51% of the actual population are women sounds absolutely ridiculous, because at that point I think representation becomes a forced “checking of a box,” rather than, you know, representation.

A Definition

It wouldn’t be a post at AmbiGaming without a definition, would it? When talking about representation, it is important to remember that is it not just a quota that must be filled in order to appease a loud, irritating throng.

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Representation is, instead, defined as either the portrayal of something or someone as being a certain way, or something that depicts a likeness of someone or something else.  For our purposes, we are talking about the representation of people. This means that representation is twofold:

  1. Representation aesthetically demonstrates how people are. This means that in a game that takes place in 700s North America, for example, the characters must not be any other other than those represented in the indigenous people living on the continent at that time.
  2. Representation characteristically demonstrates how people are. This means that the more internal, personal characteristics of people must be shown, and this is how characters avoid becoming stereotypes or “cookie cutter” characters. It also provides variety. For example, a game about the American Revolution would include the occasionally soldier who was black, but a game about the Vietnam War should have a little more representation. Women are found in many different professions. Italians are more than mobsters. Russians aren’t always the heartless bad guys. And so on.

Stop Ruining Our Fun

But Athena, you might type. We have had some great years for women in games! We are making progress! Aloy is a great lead character, and Uncharted:The Lost Legacy has two strong, three-dimensional women as lead characters! And… Your list would continue.

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Herein lies the pickle, though. On the one hand, by talking about an issue, it becomes An Issue. On the other hand, the fact remains that, for instance, is a great female protagonist, which may or may not be good for games, as we’ve discussed.

This is where my idealism comes in. In an ideal world, we would not see people as “unequal” due to gender, race, or whatever other arbitrary label we feel like using. Each person would be accepted as a person, with strengths and weaknesses due to who they are as a whole, not due to one characteristic or another. Or, perhaps even more importantly, if there is a strength or weakness that is found across one group (e.g., men need less sleep than women, women have a higher pain tolerance than men, etc.), it won’t be used as some childish idea of “proof” that the other group is lesser somehow.

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It is at that point that I will lay down my mantle about good representation, because we won’t need media to show us how things could be anymore.

So what am I asking for? I’m certainly not asking for women and people of color and folks of the LGBT community and other minorities groups to be stuffed into games just because Representation Must Occur. No. Not at all. I would hate that, and I’m sure you would, too.

Honestly, I want us to continue on this trajectory, where minorities are seen, and are seen as viable “characters,” and more than stereotypes or set pieces. A blogging friend once said that there are studies showing that girls will related to men more readily than boys will relate to women, but I am reminded of something Gal Gadot said, in passing: “It’s because we’ve had no choice.”

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The highest-grossing superhero origin movie

Maybe little boys could relate to women if they saw women doing the same things that men can do. Maybe if children saw men and women doing the same things as each other, they would all grow up believing that was both possible and acceptable.

More Than Games

There is so much more to representation and equality than what we see on a screen or in our media. It is how we are raised, it is what we are taught, it is the total of what we are exposed to, it is the fact that no one’s art should be policed because it is “distasteful” to another group, regardless of how philistine it may seem or what ideas – even socially harmful ones – it may express.

So yes, my lovely readers, we have made great strides in games. We have made strides in gaming culture, which is beyond the scope of this particular blog post. But to answer the original question, I will think there is enough representation in games when people are finally seen as equal to each other out in our society. When it’s not so nice that we have such representation in our media, it just… is.

What about you? When is enough representation enough? Is this an issue beyond games? Or is there no problem at all? Do you think this article is a harbinger for articles to come? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~Athena

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7 comments

  1. I did not like Aloy at all! But horses for courses and all that. I think I mostly disliked her because she was voiced by Ashly Burch, and I’d not long come off playing Life is Strange, where I despised Chloe with the fire of a thousand suns.

    Ahem. Anyway. Yes. This was a good post!

    I think one thing people should also think about with regards to representation is that it’s not even just a case of “having people who look like me” in a game — as you say, that tends to lead to enforced diversity box-checking and “look, we have a black character in this game!” sort of situation.

    Instead, I derive much more value from characters whose personality, emotions and actions are somehow relatable and familiar to me. This means I typically feel better “represented” by characters who are *not* stereotypical grizzled soldier man facing away from the camera with an explosion behind him. Because “ooh big manly man” is quite a long way off the reality of what I am, and I just don’t find that archetype interesting.

    I wrote about Esty from Atelier last week; the fact she is 40 and questioning her life choices up until that point are my favourite thing about her because I felt *that* was true representation. I related to and empathised with her even though I am emphatically not a 40 year old skilled swordswoman who looks extremely good for her age. (I am pushing 40, but that’s about it!) :3

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha well I haven’t played much of Horizon: Zero Dawn yet, but I did like how Aloy was a character first and a woman second. Of course, I haven’t played Life is Strange yet, so maybe that’s why! haha

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. You are absolutely right that representation goes far beyond physical appearances, and most people will react most strongly to people who are characteristically similar. But I think sometimes the “experience” of a character is shaped by their looks, just like in the physical world. I am thinking of Samantha Traynor who, although I am not British or of Indian(?) descent, I am very like, being a woman, gay, sort of nerdy, and liking both traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” activities. I found myself chuckling at her “plausibly deniable” flirting, and her forced “not caring” attitude if femShep turns her down. Her experiences seemed “real,” and real to me. Versus, say, Bayonetta, who is a woman and has black hair and glasses.

      All this to say, I agree with you! I think there is a lot of room for realistic characters, and then for the outward characteristics to be chosen later. Good characters first, skin color and gender and other features of that nature later, to be black-and-white (pun not entirely intended) about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think boys are just as capable of loving female protagonists when given the opportunity. One of my favorite television shows is The Legend of Korra, and when they first pitched a girl Avatar with a test group of boys, the kids thought she was awesome. Her gender didn’t matter to them. I know in my own experience, when I realized that the Dishonored 2 protagonist was a girl, it made me way more hyped for that game even though I still liked Corvo in the first game. There’s a lot of potential not being explored when developers repeatedly use white dudes as the main character!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! While current research seems to suggest otherwise, I also wonder if that is skewed because of society… Women were not seen as, well, the heroes, or the people one might want to emulate. Who wants to be Lois Lane when you could be Superman, after all? And from a story perspective, it makes sense, like you said: more diversity in characters means more potential for diverse stories and storylines! It’s a win-win 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the most important reason for representation, in any form of media, is so that the “masses” can see that different types of people exist in the world. It’s not necessarily to give everyone someone that represents them all the time (I really hope I worded that right, haha). Understanding is the key to obliterating all the hatred that still sadly exists (things are better these days though). Shoehorning minorities into cookie cutter roles is NOT the answer. These need to be “real” characters, with a real purpose in a story, that people can see and empathize with. Based on that, I totally agree with you – there is enough representation when everyone (regardless of gender, age, or orientation) is seen and respected like the amazing human beings that they are. 💗

    Seriously. We’re all human and we’re all in this world together. Why must we make the battle of life so hard for each other?

    Also… every time I see the word harbinger a voice in my head goes “Assuming direct control.” in Keith Szarabajka’s voice 😛 Oh! And to all the haters still out there, and to quote the Harbinger of the Mass Effect variety – “Progress cannot be halted.” Mwahahaha!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, here I am agreeing with Harbinger.. But I do agree. You have a point when it comes to representation; to be seen in media is to remind everyone that these or those people exist, are valid, and are more interesting than The Token [Fill in the Blank].

      And you’re right; we really are all in this together. At some point we need to get out of this survivalist mentality and realize we are all playing on the same team at this point in history. Survival of one does not come at the extinction of another anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know what? Harbinger actually has some pretty inspiring quotes… IF you totally change the context: “We fight as one.” “You are shortsighted.” “This body does not matter.” “You cannot sustain your attack.” “You are no longer relevant.” “Human; viable possibility, if emotional drives are subjugated.” “Pain is an illusion.” etc. Um… there’s a small chance I may have been indoctrinated. All hail Harbinger! I need to lie down now…

        And yep. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort for humans as a whole to fully evolve past that survivalist mental circuit. We’re going in the right direction at least! Some people will never change but there’s lots of hope for future generations 🙂

        Like

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