The video game industry is rapidly growing. By 2025, it is estimated to be worth over 268 billion dollars¹. Over 2.5 billion people play video games globally, 54% are men, and 46% are women. Yet, there are 350% more men in the industry than women². More than that, the main protagonists in video games are often white and male. For years the video game industry has been criticized for creating a frat-boy culture. It is no secret that the industry has major diversity and inclusion issues.
The issue of gender discrimination has become extremely prevalent this year. The French gaming company, Ubisoft which developed popular games such as Just Dance, Assassins Creed, The Tom Clancy Series, and The Crew, was sued for encouraging a culture of institutional sexual harassment. The lawsuit called out multiple executives, including CEO Yves Guillemot, for establishing and tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace. Some of the high-level employees called out in the lawsuit did resign, and Ubisoft did say they are taking steps towards improving workplace culture. But employees have said that their efforts towards a better workplace culture have been very minimal³.
Most recently, The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for allegations of sexual harassment, unequal pay, and discrimination against its female employees. The lawsuit claims that the company's female employees start at a lower income. They allow the male employees to play video games while making the women do the work and allow "cube crawls." The "cube crawls" consisted of drunk male employees crawling through female employees' desks and engaging in inappropriate behavior. Only 20% of Blizzards' employees are females, and most of the leadership is white males. While the company issued a statement saying that the claims were "in many cases, false" and said they are implementing training programs, employees have stood in solidarity with the coworkers that came forward. Developers for World of Warcraft refused to work for a day in solidarity, and some game players staged an in-game protest⁴.
The gaming industry has an issue when it comes to gender discrimination. In a male-dominated industry, we need to have the right policies to ensure an inclusive environment.
Diversity in Games
The lack of diversity in video game characters is nothing new. Just look at the portrayal of female characters. They tend to fall into three categories: the damsel in distress, overly sexualized protagonist/antagonist, or the supporting character.
Princess Peach, the most widely known damsel in distress. The entire objective of Super Mario Bros is to save the princess. In 2013, she had appeared in 14 of the Super Mario games, and in 13 of them, she was kidnapped. Although now you can play as Princess Peach in some Super Mario games, she is forever known as the damsel in distress⁵.
The over-sexualization of female characters has been a conversation for many years. There have been significant strides to not treat female characters as sex objects, such as D.Va (Overwatch), Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), and Aloy (Horizon: Zero Dawn)⁶. But we still see female characters who are extremely over-sexualized with overly drawn breasts, hips, and barely any clothing despite fighting their enemies, which does not seem practical. Countless characters are still over-sexualized: Mileena (Mortal Kombat), Jane Romero (Dead by Daylight), and Ivy (Soulcalibur), to name a few.
Female characters are also in supporting roles 85% more than male characters⁷. Considering that twice as many adult women play video games as men, the industry needs to get on board because women want to see more realistic representation in the games they play.
Now when we look at the lack of racial diversity in games, it's even more pronounced. Black characters made up only 10.7% of all characters, and only 2.7% were Latinx. Those numbers are even smaller when you look at the main characters, and those characters are mainly in sports games⁸.
The world is highly diverse. Shouldn't video games be the same?
The video game industry needs to do better. Only 24% of game developers are women, and only 2% are black⁹. If the industry is going to see a change, it needs to start internally. Policies and procedures are crucial if any real progress is going to be made. Ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to contribute to the industry without fear of harassment or discrimination and that players see themselves represented in the games they play. How many more lawsuits, articles, tweets, and videos need to be made before companies open their eyes to what needs to be done?
¹FinancialNewsMedia.com. (2020, December 1). Global gaming market expected to Exceed $256 billion by 2025. Global Gaming Market Expected to Exceed $256 Billion By 2025. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-gaming-market-expected-to-exceed-256-billion-by-2025-301182238.html.
²The global games market will Generate $152.1 billion in 2019 as the U.S. overtakes China as the biggest market. Newzoo. (2019, December 18). https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/the-global-games-market-will-generate-152-1-billion-in-2019-as-the-u-s-overtakes-china-as-the-biggest-market/.
³Dealessandri, M. (2021, May 18). Ubisoft has reportedly made minimal changes FOLLOWING abuse allegations. GamesIndustry.biz. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2021-05-18-ubisoft-has-reportedly-made-minimal-changes-following-abuse-allegations.
⁴Jefferson, M. (2021, July 26). 'Frat boy culture': Activision Blizzard taken to court over discrimination against female employees. Marketing Week. https://www.marketingweek.com/frat-boy-culture-activision-blizzard/.
⁵Lynch, T., Tompkins, J. E., Driel, I. I. van, & Fritz, N. (2016, June 30). Sexy, strong, AND Secondary: A content analysis of female characters in video games across 31 years. Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jcom.12237.
⁶Brusuelas, C. (2021, May 30). Why horizon: Zero dawn is a breakthrough in feminist gaming. Medium. https://cbrucewillis.medium.com/why-horizon-zero-dawn-is-a-breakthrough-in-feminist-gaming-4164a1b6ed7e.
⁷Tremblay, K. (2012, June 1). Intro to gender criticism for GAMERS: From PRINCESS Peach, to Claire REDFIELD, To FemSheps. Gamasutra.