wJun 1, 2010

WisCon 34 Panel Write-Up: Rated E for Everyone? Increasing Diversity in Games and Gaming

Again, it's not an exact transcript because I do pen/paper notes.

Panel Description: In some ways, the gaming industry is the last glass ceiling of geekdom; in spite of its increasing diversity, gaming culture has largely assume white, male, able-bodied, and heterosexual biases. Gaming communities like XBox Live, MMORPGs, D&D groups, and even retail stores can be noninclusive or even hostile environments to women, people of color, gay people, or the disabled. There are exceptions: Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins was highly lauded by GayGamer.net for its inclusion of same-sex relationships, and won AbleGamer.com's Most Accessible Game of 2009. This panel will discuss how games can get it right (and why they often don't). We'll also explore ways to make the gaming community more accessible, and brainstorm strategies for surviving hostile encounters in the gaming world.

Panelists: Chris Hill, Robyn Fleming, Jacquelyn Gill, Nonie B. Rider, Anastasia Marie Salter

The sub-culture of "gaming" is very broad, so the panel began by establishing different interests.

CH: Role-played in the late 70s and early 1980s, and is now into computer gaming.

JG: Roleplayed D&D and White Wolf. In college, more into computer gaming. She noted sometimes feeling uncomfortable online, in stores, etc. Also dislikes being told what she "should" like, as a girl gamer (i.e., not violence).

AS: Just finished a PhD in (?!) gaming narratives (sorry, I wasn't paying attention and didn't write that down properly). She likes to focus on the gender dynamic in computer gaming - how those playing with female avatars are usually assumed to be male; how this is now complicated by the addition of voice-chat, etc.

RF: Writes gaming columns, etc. Plays D&D, is bad at 3-D navigation. Would like feminist gamers to stop demonizing the hyper-femininity of some games. She likes the Barbie games. Please embrace them.

NR: Only into tabletop gaming.

Press coverage of a quote of fail was made reference to: apparently, when asked why Modern Warfare II contained no women (you know, to be modern), the person answered that in order to take the time to render female characters in the game, time would have to be taken away from other detail-work, such as crumbling walls. So apparently, crumbling walls in video games are more important than the option to see/play as female characters.

AS: doesn't play video games to necessarily "be herself," but why don't the games have more options?

RF: Gives props to Mass Effect (highly customizable avatars)

More games that have customization options are using it as a selling point.

Dragon Age is very accessible, and also explores other classes. Sometimes, "customization" is cited as being prohibitive to telling a linear storyline. Dragon Age disproved this for games that have storylines.

Also, for MMORPGs, which have no linear plot, there is still a lot of work to do on making avatars more representative of the human race. The "linear plot" argument is indefensible here, if it is in fact defensible anywhere.

At some point, there was a lengthy digression about the new rules put out for D&D. (Basically, for the 3rd edition, non-male pronouns were sometimes used (gasp!), but they were all or mostly male again for 4th edition. Also, even when the pronoun-usage is evenly dispersed, the pictures on the page show women in voluptuous/revealing clothing. There is a disconnect.

At some point, City of Heroes was also brought up as a game that allows a lot of customization (even fat characters!).

Team Fortress II was brought up as a game that had 9 classes of men in it. Online gamers are creating detailed hacks for female classes, too.

Hacks are fan-created works.

Ways to make the gaming community more accessible/let people know that gamers are diverse:
--If a game pisses you off because of its treatment (or complete lack of) POC, women, disabled people, etc., then don't buy it. Also, tell gamers in your life why you're not buying it. Write about it on the Internet.

--Find ways to hack the games, and play as different characters.

--Be a presence in gaming stores. Instead of buying things online, physically go to stores, let the employees know you exist, you play games, and you're giving them money. JG said she makes a point of going into gaming stores and asking intelligent questions about current games.

--Write online. Be a frequent commenter on the websites of companies that frustrate you. Let them know what frustrates you.

--Support game-producers who are not EA or ActiVision. Don't let huge companies be the cultural gate-keepers. Open-source games are awesome. There is a belief in the world that free games are not necessarily "good" games, because they're not mainstream. This is false. Use them. Smaller projects can afford to be more experimental than the Big Two Companies because they don't have as much money riding on a project. So if you support smaller projects and prove that experimental wonders such as including fat avatars or more POC can be successful, there will probably be a trickle-up effect.

--Download a free game, play it, and tweet it to the WisCon tag.

--Tweet to the #HackGender tag.

--Be a pusher of inclusive games to younger kids/teenagers in your life. They will be receptive.

--Use the Bechdel test on video games.

--Read Border House. From their own website: "The Border House is a blog for gamers. It's a blog for those who are feminist, queer, disabled, people of color, transgendered, poor, gay, lesbian, and others who belong to marginalized groups, as well as allies. Our goal is to bring thoughtful analysis to gaming with a feminist viewpoint and up-to-date news on games, virtual worlds, and social media."

I really took a lot away from this panel, particularly the To-Do list. The idea of supporting small companies (and small book presses) is one I've always supported in theory, but looking at my habits, do not do much to support financially or through promotion. It was because of this panel that I realized I had never purchased a book put out by Aqueduct Press, despite this being my fourth WisCon. (I then bought four books from them.)

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scribbled mystickeeper at 8:11 PM

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