First a little background. “Gaming in Color” is a feature documentary examining “the queer side of gaming: the queer gaming community, gaymer culture and events, and the rise of LGBTQ themes in video games”. Director Philip Jones along with writer / editor / cinematographer Ryan Paul bring us an easily digestible piece, featuring interviews with notable gay gaming personalities. The project started life on Kickstarter in May 2013 and managed its adjusted budget of $50,000.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a problem with diversity in video games, it is something I have covered many times over the years as a games journalist (running prominent female skewed and gay gaming sites for over 15 years). Whether it be racial diversity, gender diversity or indeed sexual diversity, video games tend to stick to the same old trope, generally speaking that is the straight, male, Caucasian protagonist.
“Gaming in Color” does a good job of looking at this issue by way of personal experience of gay gamers. The upshot is, game developers – generally speaking – cater to their alleged main demographic, that of the straight, male, Caucasian. In theory this makes sense from a business perspective, but from a social perspective this creates other issues, most notably that of lack of representation.
Pretty much all those interviewed for “Gaming in Color” brought up the lack of representation. Just as with issues of gender representation, LGBTQ characters are portrayed in a certain way (with a few notable exceptions, thanks BioWare! & Naughty Dog). Generally speaking LGBT content either does not appear at all, or appears in some vague peripheral form of little importance to the overall plot. As one of the interviewees concludes “We don’t need a reason to change video games, there needs to be a reason not to”. That reason it would seem is better representation of the gamers themselves, many of whom – shocking I know – are gay, or female.
Another interviewee briefly touches on another topic close to my heart, that of video games as art. He states that if ever video games are going to make that leap, they need to cover a gamut of social and cultural topics, not just violence as its key plot device. Again, representation is at the crux of the problem.
One of the more interesting points “Gaming in Color” addresses is the idea of escapism through games. People often play games to remove themselves from the drudgery of real life. This includes having to think about moral or social issues. They want to stay in their “pleasure bubble”, so adding in things that make them uncomfortable, or makes them think, well, who wants that when they’re trying to blow sh_t up, right?
And so this point brings us to where gaming is headed. Will it remain a brainless frag fest, where the mindless masses can escape to. So that an alleged majority can smile as they swoon off into their happy place, knowing that they are represented on screen and tough to everyone else. Or will game developers see the intrinsic value in more choice, in a virtual world that societally mirrors the one we live in. We can but hope it is the latter.
“Color in Gaming” is a thought provoking piece of media. It does well in bringing up valid issues within gaming and excellent insight into some of the issues facing LGBT gamers today. The only way it failed – in small part – is that it still didn’t present a solution for the issue overall. Perhaps a followup piece would make for good viewing also, in which real workable solutions are examined and the results put forth to some of the major developers and publishers. It really isn’t that difficult, start diversifying your character portfolio, add in LGBT characters, better female characters and more racially diverse characters. Job done.
As one interviewee succinctly put it: “It’s not about sexuality, it’s about representation”.
Developers, take that onboard.
Want to know more about “Gaming in Color” (and why wouldn’t you). Check out the trailer below or their official website. Well worth a look.
A clever and thought provoking documentary made on a small budget. If you’re a gamer of any sexual orientation, this is well worth a watch.