I see a lot of arguments to bring a stronger gender balance in the video game industry, I have my own view on that point but that isn’t what I’m writing about here. One particular point I hear often from articles or comments is that having more women or more black people in the industry will better stories involving or around them. I get a little annoyed by that, so let’s have a blog post looking into this.
So from what I am gathering, you believe that the reason women are often treated like they aren’t important or poorly characterized is because of the lack of women in industry. Now the word woman in that sentence can be traded with black people and so on, or something along those lines. If I’m missing something or misunderstanding I apologise, but I’m gonna go with this and re-evaluate later if my opinion changes. I think this point is ridiculous and here is why.
The stories are treating those who are not generic white males as less important not because of the gender or race of the writer, but instead due to bad writing. Writing is considered a last thought in a game, most game companies do not form a game around a universe to create or story they’d like to tell, rather they focus on a things like genre or mechanic. I find this perplexing, while I’m sure there are some arguments for this method, consider the releases of ThatGameCompany. They first line out the story they wish to tell and build from there, look at what has come out of that design philosophy. Good developers aside, this methodology has lead to tremendous experiences for all gamers, there is a tried and trued method right there and so many ignore it.
So back to the point on genders and races. I do not believe you cannot create a character involving the history of their gender or race, nor a believable story about the trials and experiences from their perspective unless it is written by one and/or stars one. I bring up a little game called Tales Of Symphonia. Throughout the game your best friend and his sister are noted to be found out as half-elves, don’t worry about that name but suffice to say they come under fire from both elves and humans on a very clear race level. Treated like second class citizens, insulted and so on are the experiences of these characters and sometimes they delve into some hateful territory themselves as a retaliation. This sub-story doesn’t feel tacked on it comes across as a genuine story of racism and the struggles that come with it, including how to face all this hate when your best friend is part of that same race.
This experience is synonymous with the kind of experiences mixed race people came under. Repelled from both sides, submit to insults and slander along with many others. This story doesn’t come from someone who suffered from mixed race racism, it came from someone who wholly understood the story and took the time to carefully craft it.
I will admit, I don’t know as a man the feeling of having a child physically depending on me and living inside me, I will never know that connection. That doesn’t mean I or anyone else can’t understand it. I will never know what it is like to be a slave to people who think you are a lower class of human being. I can however learn about it and delve deep into the history of those who did,coming to know it like it was my own experiences perhaps in time. A games plot is often written by the lead designer, so it is rather safe to say the majority of lead designers are just awful at planning out the story. There will always be exceptions, but so far the stories crafted without the input of a studied and educated writer have been poor to say the least.
Let’s face it, when we know a story about something is from someone who has experienced it themselves, we change how we view it. The movie about overcoming the mental damages of child abuse feels different when you know there is a personal experience behind this. While this can be positive, it can also be negative and in general I don’t think it should be this way. In an ideal world this is a story of rising up from being a slave and that is it, it doesn’t carry the notion of being someone’s personal retelling of their life. If I write about a mother struggling to find her maternal instincts, I want it to be seen as the story and nothing else, no ties to real life accounts or anything, just a great story of self discovery.
Great stories come from the great storytellers. J.K Rowling isn’t a wizard (to my knowledge) yet people adore Harry Potter for instance. There is a discernible difference in how a well researched and thought out story is put together and how an amateurs attempt of writing results in an ensemble of clichés and tropes without expansion or meaning. You can write stories about anyone, you don’t have to know something to understand it. Bringing more gender or race diversity won’t turn hack writing into brilliance no matter how perfect a solution that seems to you. The problem is the person, not their skin, genitalia or sexual preference, the quality of the person wielding the words.
So there it is, around 900 words of thoughts leaked out onto the internet in the spur of the moment. As usual I’d like to know what you all think about this sort of topic, what great stories do you know written by people you never expected? Do you or anyone you know believe adding the unrepresented groups into the industry will help steer the end product from these creative potholes?