In the world of video game development, diversity and inclusivity aren’t always high priorities for developers. We’ve seen the same white, scruffy male protagonist over and over so much that it’s hard to tell Joel from Drake from Max at this point. Ubisoft took a lot of heat for not including a playable female character in the multiplayer Unity campaign last year and gamers who support diversity and equality have definitely not been shy about speaking up more and more to voice their concerns.
One of the few developers that has been ahead of the curve in terms of both gender equality and sexual orientation options is Bioware. The developer of Mass Effect and Dragon Age has always put an emphasis on romance in its games and since Jade Empire’s release, the company has been trying to include a variety of romantic interests for its characters that more accurately represents the diversity of the real world.
In a recent interview with The Edge VGS, Bioware writer David Gaider spoke about his early involvement with including gay romance options in Bioware’s RPGs and what it was like to work for one of the first AAA developers taking that major step forward.
“I remember hearing about when they made that decision to put it in and I was floored… I mean, I’m gay myself, so I felt it kind of odd when I heard about it, how shocked I was because I just never thought that part of my life had a role to play in work. Like I said, it just wasn’t done. I didn’t even really consider the idea, so when they made that decision it was like, ‘Oh, really?'”
The writer explained that early on there was a lot of concern about how the public and the mass market of gamers would react. The team definitely acknowledged the concerns, but felt that what they were doing was important and “needed to happen.” Years later, now that gay romances are a regular staple of Bioware games, Gaider says the change never really hurt the bottom line.
“There’s a certain amount of backlash but I think also a certain amount of support as well… And I think what each time we’ve done that, what has become pretty clear is that from a bottom line standpoint, you could make the argument, I suppose, that if we didn’t include that maybe the game would sell more. You could also make an argument that if we didn’t include that the game would sell less.”
“We’re putting out something that appeals to players who don’t traditionally get represented in games, so maybe more of them come to play the games… Maybe it’s just enough to make up for the ones that are turned off by that. But, ultimately, it hasn’t really affected our sales insofar as we can tell. So, the idea of how commercial a consideration it is kind of goes out the window and we can focus on just doing the right thing.”
The backlash that Gaider mentions definitely still exists in some parts of the gaming world, but it certainly hasn’t held Mass Effect or Dragon Age back from becoming best-selling franchises. The romance systems in Bioware games are far from perfect and there are still lots of valid criticisms of the games’ branching decision tree formulas in general, but there’s no denying that the writers are making a serious effort to engage gamers from all walks of life. In a gaming landscape when almost every protagonist looks and acts exactly the same, it is definitely refreshing to take control of a character that feels unique and stands out from the crowd.
Does the amount of diversity in a game impact your decision about whether or not to buy it? Let us know in the comments.
Source: The Edge VGS