Earlier today, Keza MacDonald of The Guardian published an article refuting many of the commonly-presented arguments made against the addition of female characters in video games. In it, she notes: “In 2009, researchers at the University of Southern California carried out a comprehensive study of the 150 biggest video game releases – they discovered that less than 10% of game characters are female.”
Despite major progress in recent decades, the lack of representation of women and minority groups is an ongoing issue in all forms of media. Representation is worthwhile because the portrayal of women and minorities in the media has a real-world effect on how we as a society interpret and interact with people of different demographics. When popular rapper and actor Donald Glover famously triggered a fan-driven campaign for him to play Spiderman in the newest film adaptation, he received a comment on Twitter that claimed that there “are no black guys like Peter Parker.” To a certain extent, it is understandable why someone might be led to believe this; after all, portrayals of African American males in the media are largely marginal and/or stereotypical.
One of the arguments against increased representation is the fear that the presence of women and minorities in media has become completely arbitrary and that characters of different genders and races are thrown into a story merely to fill a quota. While the threat of “tokenism” is worth considering when discussing media representation, it is untrue that the mere presence of women and racial minorities automatically lends itself to tokenism. Rather, tokenism occurs when the characters are underutilized to the extent that they exist merely to represent a demographic. Rather than creating one-dimensional characters that are defined by their race or gender, fictional media needs interesting, complex characters that come from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Representing people from all walks of life requires a change in mindset. Media representation should not be an afterthought in the creative process. When brainstorming a novel or script, writers and artists should not pigeonhole their characters to the same back stories and settings. They should instead reach a little further into the melting pot and broaden the possibilities of who their characters are. After all, people of all demographics have stories to tell. The only hindrance is whether we as a society will allow them to have a voice.