Sony’s recent PS5 reveal event left me with a lot to think about and discuss. While the pacey presentation delivered a range of games from big titles like Horizon Forbidden West to interesting indies like cyberpunk cat-sim Stray, what really stood out to me was the diversity of these game’s protagonists.
With June playing host to the Black Lives Matter movement, Pride Month, and a wave of male tattoo artists in the UK being outed for sexually assaulting clients, the politics of gender, race, class, and sexuality are at the forefront of my mind and undoubtedly our collective attention. Politics, whether we like it or not, are an unavoidable aspect of almost all areas of life and games are no exception. In such turbulent times, video games are an essential outlet, a refuge from the hardships of reality that allow those that feel powerless to feel powerful. However, for many a lack of representation transforms what should be empowering escapism into a reminder of oppression and alienation.
Games as both an industry and a community can feel exclusive; a boys club of white 20-somethings that acts as an unwelcoming echo chamber. From development to journalism to consumers, the voices of white men have long dominated, and, as a white man, I can attest that the last voices I need to hear are those of fellow white men. Not only does this hegemony do little to expand my worldview but frankly it’s boring. Simply put, there are much more interesting and important voices that need to be heard and which can be heard should a platform be provided.
While progress is being made in game development and audiences demographics, encouraging and enabling this diversity is something the industry needs to continue to do actively and with consistency. Beyond offering greater opportunities for employment in both game development and media, the easiest and arguably most effective way of disseminating this message through consumers and producers alike is by representing this diversity in the games we play.
Recent years have seen greater diversity in games, from Apex Legend’s eclectic roster to BioWare’s inclusive casts, and thankfully this momentum seems to be sustained. Other than Agent 47’s shiny dome and Resi 8’s exceedingly swoll Chris Redfield, there was a distinct lack of white dudes clogging up Sony’s PS5 presentation. Instead, it was vibrant with diversity, opening with Spider-Man Miles Morales, which aside from stirring excitement for more of Insomniac’s beloved 2018 game, sent an important and timely message. Miles feels like a contemporary hero, one whose importance as a black icon feels magnified by current events. With black writer Evan Narcisse involved in the game’s development, Spider-Man Miles Morales is a statement of inclusivity for black developers and gamers alike while acting as a conduit of new experiences and perspectives for non-black gamers.
Following this bold start, the rest of the presentation was equally refreshing. Further black representation was celebrated in Arkane’s scintillatingly stylish Deathloop which featured two black assassins, Colt and Juliana, going head-to-head in a frenetic action-game that sits somewhere between blaxploitation cinema and Groundhog Day. Horizon’s Aloy was accompanied by fellow female protagonists in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Project Athia, JETT: The Far Shore, and Returnal, the last of which featured some rare age representation with an older heroine. Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart also introduced a female Lombax and games like arena-based demolition-derby Destruction Allstars and mumblecore dino-drama (mumblesuar) Goodbye Volcano High both featured a diverse cast of characters.
It’s certainly easy to be cynical when the ultimate goal of Sony’s presentation was to get us to save our pennies and buy a product, but with games being such powerful means of expression and identity it’s clear that this event was more meaningful than a mere corporate showreel and the PS5’s diverse line-up is testament to that. While ensuring your games have LGBTQ+ characters and characters of different ages, genders, and races doesn’t automatically qualify you as inclusive, none of these inclusions seemed tokenistic. To me, at least, this diversity felt like a sincere and natural reflection of the lived experience of PlayStation’s varied developer and player community.
Looking towards more recent releases, PlayStation’s present is equally diverse. Arguably this generation’s biggest title, The Last of Us Part II promotes inclusivity in a number of ways. Series protagonist Ellie is one gaming’s most beloved and well-realised characters and her exploration of her sexuality in Left Behind was an important moment for her as a character and for LGBTQ+ representation. The opportunity to play as Ellie, a strong, nuanced, and relatable character who happens to be a gay woman, is important for those within the LGBTQ+ community and equally for those outside of it, and her status as a PlayStation posterchild only amplifies that message.
With Part II further fleshing out Ellie’s character and identity, whilst implementing some revolutionary accessibility options to enable players of all abilities to enjoy the game, Naughty Dog’s latest is at the fore in Sony’s push for inclusivity, equality, and diversity, both now and in the years to come.
What are your thoughts on/experiences with representation in gaming? Please share in the comment below.