Daniel Vavra’s got some commentary on diversity from a slightly different slant from Adrian Chmielarz‘ bizarre critique of the social critics who dared to even start a dialog about race in WItcher 3, and games in general. Note; questioning the artistic vision is just fine when you ask why the art direction seems like a massive step backwards, but if you say ‘hey, guys, this game sure is…. white’, then the perpetual outrage machine suddenly gets as thin-skinned and easily offended as the SJW armies they’ve blown out of proportion in ther imaginations. Still, I like Vavra’s piece a lot more than Chmielarz’, though I still disagree with much of it. Let’s take a looksee.
Only along come the crusaders for social justice, ranting that the game is racist, because it’s not ethnically diverse enough, due to the fact that there are only Polish-looking people in it and the Poles have the “misfortune” to be white.
Again, the critics in question gave it a solid 8.0 and called it “one of the greatest games I’ve ever played”, so apparently these critics didn’t feel they were TOO horrible, but hey, what do I know, I just actually read what they wrote. Still, what can you say to someone who compares people who disagrees with him about video games to a Communist regime?
The communist regime also “meant well” and their rhetoric was almost identical to that we hear today from the likes of Jonathan McIntosh and other American progressives.
Right. Meanwhile, from my point of view, I wonder why these people don’t like money. Because at the end of the day, that’s what the push for greater diversity is all about CAPITALISM for those of us MAKING games. Getting more people to get their hands on our games – more non-gamers to play, more gamers from other demographics to play, or more gamers from new, emerging markets to play the game.
Only along come the crusaders for social justice, ranting that the game is racist, because it’s not ethnically diverse enough, due to the fact that there are only Polish-looking people in it and the Poles have the “misfortune” to be white. That’s an issue for the activists, because an African American, for example, might not be happy about playing a white Polish hero.
Certainly there is good reason for activists to want more diversity from playable leads – the handcrafted badasses that we painstakingly character design, write dialogue for, and market the industry around. But that wasn’t the point. The point is that viewers and game players of all sorts tend to respond favorably to portrayals, particularly positive portrayals, that they have personal resonance with. Which is to say, if you want to have a large-scale breakout hit which penetrates many multiple markets, you increase the odds significantly with greater in-game diversity.
Vavra veered into comparing the games industry to the music industry – suggesting that Britney Spears should play death metal, which was amusing. Similar complaints on Twitter to my article about Rescuing Princesses in Arkham Knight suggested that I thought that all straight porn should have a gay scene. While amusing, no. Extreme diversification of content for small, indie games is fine (though we need more, despite Vavra’s statistics). However, AAA games are far more similar to big budget movies in their financial statistics, and guess what? Hollywood is big believers in diversity once they start hitting 9 digits (a number we’re starting to hit as well).
Joss Whedon gets 100M+ to make Avengers movies because he puts female butts in seats (and yes, sometimes he trips up). Movies at that scale are not perfect, but compared to games they’re fanatical about putting in strong female and black characters – and not just in token roles, but in meaty, significant roles. Even more telling, it seems almost every summer blockbuster explosion porn extravaganza has at least one major scene in Asia (see: Battleship, Pacific Rim, Transformers 4, Avengers 2) – that’s not an accident. It turns out that Asian audiences are the audiences that eat these sorts of movies up the most after American audiences, and they like to watch Hong Kong get destroyed just as much as we like to watch the Hollywood sign go down.
Vavra would no doubt argue that this is not a very ‘diverse’ thing – to see every action movie find a way to wander over to Hong Kong for a pivotal fight scene. And this is true. Meanwhile, Transformers 4 is the top grossing movie of all time in China, so hey, maybe this isn’t just pandering to American communists who ‘mean well’. It’s also pandering to Chinese communists who spend very real money, which is pretty important if you’re spending ridiculous amounts of money creating your artistic vision.
What I like about The Witcher is its very “Polishness”, and I’m certainly not the only one. The very fact that the “diverse” Dragon Age Inquisition, set in an indefinite fantasy world, sold less copies in Japan in one year than The Witcher did in two weeks proves my point.
It’s equally absurd to demand that a European stick elements of foreign cultures he doesn’t understand into his games. As a Czech, most foreign games and movies set in my own country seem to me at best ridiculous, because foreigners can’t even manage to capture properly the look of this country (Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid 4, Forza 5 etc.), never mind our mentality and culture.
Comparing game sales solely based on the diversity of their casts is — well, not very useful, to say the least. A LOT goes into whether one game does better than another. Still, he has a good point buried in here – games that try to mimic a culture they’re not familiar with frequently fail to resonate with their intended audiences, producing results that feel alien or sometimes even insulting to the cultures they’re attempting to reflect. One of the things you learn early in this industry is to always contract your Asian architecture in particular out to Asian art houses, because Americans can’t get it to feel right.
That being said, I do think that it’s bizarre to think that the defining feature about Polish culture is, somehow, it’s whiteness. And I wonder if Witcher 3 might have sold even more copies if it had been more inclusive in its character designs. It would have been as simple as including a Zerrikanian, (such as Azar Javed from an earlier Witcher product), in the game, preferably as a meaningful character. Having badasses reflect you, the player, in a game helps create the sense that you belong. And that increases appeal to people who might not otherwise. People who are white and male don’t actually appreciate how rare that is for others.
To go back to the movies, Norse mythology is ALSO lily white. However, the makers of Thor saw fit to include Idris Elba in the key role of Heimdall. Did this somehow hurt the ‘Norseness’ of the movie? Not particularly – that’s not what’s important about Norse mythology, and the only people who were upset about it were the sort of despicable white supremacists who call Stormfront home. Meanwhile, the movie probably sold more tickets than it otherwise would have (the Thor movies both did over $180M gross, despite the fact that it’s based on a relatively second- or third-tier Marvel book). Which means that a larger, more diverse audience were introduced to Norse mythology. Which, if you care about preserving and promoting Norse culture, is way more important than ‘everyone’s white’. Marvel Comics is being far more forward and bold in this regard, of course, and clearly something’s working for them as they’re continuing to trounce DC in their books as well as their movies.
After this, Vavra posted a lot of numbers. I’m seeing different numbers where I’m sitting – I’m looking ahead to where things are growing. I’m seeing more devices in more countries and more games going international. I’m seeing more money from more sales to audiences outside our safety zone. I’m seeing, for example, and RPG audience that has shifted radically towards women. Which is good, because the truth is that AAA budgets are growing at paces that outpace the audiences that buy them today. There aren’t a lot of outs to solving that problem, so many companies are hoping that capitalism will save us. Through diversity.