Pandering vs. Progressivism: When Developers Listen To The Fans

Diversity in any medium is always going to create drama with its fans, whether the representation is legitimate good intentions or pandering for good PR. Anyone who debates this has, apparently, never been on the internet.

In fact, mentioning the forbidden Gamergate drama will cause at least three men to crawl out from their caves and chant “Not all men”.

Jokes aside, it’s clear where I stand on diversity. As a queer woman, I’d love to see more game characters that are like me. Instead of playing as another gruff, older man, I’d like to play as a woman – that’s right, without a love interest. Imagine that.

mass effect news

Thousands of news results for searching “gay video game characters” in Google. Incredible.

However, even I can see the point of view of people who believe developers are shoehorning in identities to pander to fans like me. There’s no limit to positive earned media when a game has a healthy amount of representation. Alternatively, games can suffer when developers refuse to make a cast of characters diverse, such as in the recent ‘Mass Effect‘ release.

When is diversity great?

Overwatch‘s character Tracer was revealed over the holidays to have a girlfriend in her London home. This was shown briefly in a comic to celebrate the season as Tracer frets over what to buy Emily for the holidays. At the end, Emily clearly loves the gift and gives her girlfriend a big, gay kiss on the lips. You can read the rest of the comic on Blizzard’s official site.

overwatch tracer lesbian

Tracer and Emily.

This is an example of good representation. Tracer’s character stays the same and doesn’t force her sexuality into the spotlight. In fact, many fans wouldn’t know about this without all the media coverage of it. Overwatch does not require you to read the comics to understand the game.

Another example is the infamous ‘Metroid‘ reveal in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Samus Aran wears heavy armor throughout the entire game and only takes it off after defeating Mother Brain.

When is it eyeroll-worthy pandering?

I spent an hour trying to find a good example of when diversity isn’t great. All things considered, I usually enjoy representation of many kinds of characters. I don’t enjoy the representation when it’s a character’s entire personalty.

One example is in the game Baldur’s Gate. A minor character reveals that she is transgender and gives the gist of her life to the player. Ultimately, after a lot of backlash, the developers removed controversial content from Baldur’s Gate.

mizhena trans

“Hello. I am transgender and this is everything that no one asked me.”

Mizhena, the transgender woman, tells the player everything about her name and her birth gender. This isn’t a good showcase of LGBT identities in the game because her entire personality revolves around her identity.

If Mizhena had a better storyline with more character traits that what her genitals are, I would have been glad. This inclusion just isn’t subtle. Where other characters talk about their past as an adventurer, she talks about how she transitioned. This is a case where I would actually prefer Mizhena was not included at all.

Am I wrong or right on this aspect of the gaming industry? Leave some thoughts or examples of other diversity, whether pandering or not, in the comments.


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