Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history. The Pew Research Center estimates that 43% of the millennial generation is non-white. At the LA Games Conference in Hollywood, Kym Nelson, Senior Vice President of Sales, Twitch relayed that millenials will soon make up 30% of all consumer spending, a majority. And they are the first generation to be digitally native, having grown up with the internet. Electronic devices and games have been embedded into their identity.
When you look at the larger picture as a whole, one begins to wonder why video games are not more diverse?
Nelson was part of a larger dialogue about game advertising and how brands are looking at ways to integrate their products and company awareness into video games. Game developers work with brands to develop in-game advertising, integrated product placement within the game, real-life and in-game rewards and promotions, and co-promoted real life versions of virtual items such as clothing, toys, and licensed items. What’s startling is that in the monetization dialogue during the conference, there was so much concentration on monetization that is removed from the game conceit. While native advertising or brand integration may enhance the game experience for a player, it does not effectively modify what the game actually is.
Lesson Learned from Television and Film
For better or worse, those in the game industry use the trajectory of television and film for comparison. For instance, they say social games are like television whereas the higher budgeted, high publicity associated with console games are akin to that of feature films. As we all know, millenials are fleeing traditional delivery methods in droves. As in video games, content creators are seeking external methods in an attempt to pull millenials back to TV and film. Tacked-on online video segments or ancillary games never come close to affecting the momentum of the traditionally-aired content, much less the conceit of the IP. When emerging developers do ask industry leaders what facets should be cornerstones of game development, beyond the obligatory “Make it Unique” or “Be Better than Anything Else,” occasionally one will say, “Make your game relatable. Make it reflective of the player’s life.”
If the game has one playable female character, how is that reflective of a society that is split down the middle as far as gender? If the game has characters based on grotesque stereotypes, how can a society that will be non-white majority in less than 30 years relate to that? Must the lead character always be a white male?
What Can We Learn from TV and Film
This season television programmers learned that success can be achieved by implementing diversity into the conceit of their shows. Duh. Previously their notion of diversity was:
Chinatown Episode: The white leads journey into the seedy underworld of the city’s Chinatown or gay bar or whatever “den of iniquity” the show creators pass off as the outskirts. There dwell unscrupulous malformations of society, unseemly paraphernalia indicative of third-world voodoo, and a white-as-snow victim who fell from the sanctity of normality into the depths of depravity.
Ancillary Characters: Humor is usually generated at these side characters, not from them. While they may be interesting and colorful, they’re rarely given the opportunity to have a multi-dimensional storyline. They are always to the service and at the side of the white guy’s spotlight.
The Hordes: The countless, faceless in the crowds that merit no dimension or concern.
The Bad Guy: Yes, the baddie who’s disposition more often than not is distinguishable because he looks different from the white lead. Gay? He did it. Asian? I bet he did it.
Even with the so-called newfound success of diversity, actors of color are still tacked on to roles not originally conceived as such. While that is a step in the right direction, content creators are learning that they have to start building the shows with diversity in mind at the very beginning.
While games may lend themselves more favorably to character interchangeability, the need to build shows with diversity in mind still is just as strong as it is for TV and film. Like traditional entertainment, console games have been experiencing an exodus as well. Implementing diversity properly may be something to turn that tide.