What Constitutes Inclusion in Video Games?

TreaAndrea Russworm, in her book chapter Dystopian Blackness and The Limits of Racial Empathy in The Walking Dead and The Last of Us, proposes four guidelines that help form a framework for critiquing and building racial dystopian narratives in video games. In her final guideline,  she writes that “…game design should be a dialogic process (which Bakhtin defines as the “constant interaction between meanings”) and not just a procedural or algorithmic process…for crafting critical racial dystopias in digital culture.” Video games, she suggests, are interactions not only between players and the games they play, but also between players and what these games signify. Games are not merely entertainment; they convey meanings that are interpreted by gamers. These interpretations may or may not be what developers intended to convey, and this is where discourse on games offers the possibility of critique.

One game Russworm mentions (which I also played as an assignment for this class) is The Last of Us. She critiques how Marlene, a black character in the game, was developed without much consideration of the broader implications of having black characters in a dystopian game. “…[A]though TLoU includes representations of black characters who are not overtly stereotypical, blackness nonetheless functions unimaginatively and unprogressively in this dystopian narrative frame that is so primed for social and political commentary.” All four black characters in both TLoU and its expansion, Left Behind, are presented as token characters who exist to satisfy a requirement for diversity in video game characters. Eventually they all die either by committing suicide, being bitten, or by being murdered by Joel. This observation led me to wonder whether representation counts as inclusion. Is the presence of racially diverse characters in video games enough to be characterized as inclusion, or does inclusion require more than just representation? After reflecting on my experience playing games such as TLoU, I came to the opinion that perhaps the development of racially diverse characters in video game narratives as more than token NPCs would be a good step towards expanding the idea of what constitutes inclusion in video games. Nonetheless, this topic of what constitutes inclusion in video games is one that gains clarity when approached through Russworm’s proposed guideline of dialogic interactions between game designers and gamers.

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2 thoughts on “What Constitutes Inclusion in Video Games?

  1. In my opinion, inclusion should be more than just the appearance of a character from a marginalized group.Those characters could play important roles in the main characters life or become the main character like Aveline, The main character in Assassin’s Creed Liberation. Moreover, developers should strive for more accurate representations by consulting marginalized groups. In doing so, the character will be authentic and will help make members of those marginalized groups comfortable. As prof. Parham noted in class one day characters that depicted black people was something she often feared because of the misrepresentation. If we want more inclusion we need to get the representations right!

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