There has been a lot of discussion in the gaming community about equality and diversity in games. Ranging from text examples to art provided in games there is an idea that most RPGs cater exclusively to white men. I’ve flipped through a few books and it’s hard to argue with that, outside of a few more recent attempts to break the trend.
When I started thinking about art direction for In the Pines I decided that I don’t want to fall into this trope but I also don’t want diversity for diversity’s sake. I want equal and realistic representations. I did what I always do when confronted with decisions like this and started to research demographics.
I decided to start with an “easy” one; sex ratio. I want to make something clear up front; I’m discussing sex now, not gender. I’ll deal with gender later but for now I’d like to focus on the biological part.
It wasn’t hard to find the sex ratio for the global population and thanks to Wikipedia (and the CIA Fact Book) I know the following:
The male to female ratio for the entire world population is 1.01 males/female.
This statistic, not surprisingly, doesn’t factor Intersex. Lets take a look at their percentages real quick before we get back to the topic at hand.
According to the defunct Intersex Society of North America definition above, 1 percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity.
According to Fausto-Sterling’s definition of intersex, on the other hand, 1.7 percent of human births are intersex.
Typically intersex births are surgically assigned a sex but I’d still like to account for them. We’ll go ahead and bump intersex up to 2 percent and say that for In the Pines the art will be 49% Male, 49% Female, and 2% Intersex. Does that seem fair?
Now, I know that portrayal is just as important as raw numbers. After all, if every Male is heroic and Female is in peril I’m hardly doing the sex ratio any justice. This leads me to a concern though, In the Pine’s isn’t about heroism. The Investigators are disposable, made to be driven mad or killed. Which means I need art for In the Pines to depict characters occasionally in horrific circumstances. Should I be worried that characters, both male and female, are going to be depicted in a vulnerable, and perhaps grossly horrific, situations?
I feel like I’m stuck in a no-win situation. My own Kobayashi-Maru. I’m afraid that if I don’t feature women I’ll be attacked but If even a single woman is show being tormented I’ll be attacked for that. Which means I need to depict women only in a positive way, despite the fact the game isn’t about the positive portrayal of characters.
What am I suppose to do? Go against my theme or stay true and risk being attacked?
Update: There has been a little back and forth on G+ about this topic. I want to summarize some of my responses to help clarify my concerns and thoughts.
I wholly agree with the adage of “You can’t please all the people all the time” and it’s corollary sibling “No matter what you do you’re going to piss off someone.” but that’s no reason to not attempt to consider and discuss the potentially negative reactions my work could elicit.
I have no desire to find a middle ground on these issues and play the sidelines. I want my work to be wholly not sexist, not racist, and not insensitive. I’m nervous that no matter how pure my intentions the content of my topic is going to give the wrong impression. The game I’m designing isn’t about people bravely going into that cold night, but being crushed beneath the merciless heels of things beyond their understanding. It’s about people being driven mad and destroyed by things beyond their comprehension. This isn’t a topic that has a lot of happy endings or heroic final confrontations.
For example, lets say there is a everyday depiction of a woman being eaten by a grue. The woman is not cheesecake, there is no sexualization of the image or even suggestion of sexual activity, she is not being debased, humiliated, and victimized any more than anyone being eaten by a grue would be, but she’s not also putting up a brave last stand. I’d never argue that a single picture is a cornerstone for my game or that there are not other options, so does that mean it’s better to avoid that particular image and the risk of being harassed or should the context surrounding the image be enough? How far can I go avoiding non-heroic depictions of women in the game? Eventually if there aren’t enough women is that still a misogynist view?
At the end of the day, my concern is that no matter how closely I watch that there is going to be an outlier that’s going to draw all the attention.