November 30, 2009

Another Diversity crisis

From Science Daily:
If the future of entertainment is interactive media, some minorities are still headed back to the past.

The first comprehensive survey of video game characters, encompassing the top 150 games in a year across nine platforms and all rating levels, and weighted by each title's popularity, shows that the video game industry does no better than television in representing American society.

In some cases, video games do worse, said study leader Dmitri Williams, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

In his study, Williams cited research showing Latinos are making modest gains on television.

They are? Who knew?

Are there any Hispanic stars on HBO, the most prestigious network? I can't afford HBO, so I don't know. There sure aren't many on Mad Men. There are various Hispanic maids and repairmen on Curb Your Enthusiasm, with whom Larry David interacts awkwardly, but I can't remember Larry meeting any Latinos of his own class.

By contrast, fewer than 3 percent of video game characters were recognizably Hispanic, and all of them were non-playable, background characters. ...

"Latino children play more video games than white children. And they're really not able to play themselves," Williams said. "For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.

"Ironically, they may even be less likely to become game makers themselves, helping to perpetuate the cycle. Many have suggested that games function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math."

Women, Native Americans, children and the elderly also were underrepresented. For example, only 10 percent of playable characters surveyed were female, though women now make up 40 percent of video game players.

African-Americans appeared in proportion to their numbers in the real world, but mainly in sports games and in titles that reinforce stereotypes, such as 50 Cent Bulletproof.

Males, whites and adults were overrepresented.

Williams noted that some newer games give players more options for customizing their characters. Those games were included in the survey, with characters chosen randomly.

The fact that random selection did not have a major impact on the results suggests that when players have a choice, their range of options is limited.

The study itself was limited in two important ways. Many games feature non-human characters, and many are first-person games where the player never sees himself or herself. The study only included visible characters that were clearly human.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

53 comments:

simon said...

Hispanic is not a race, so presumably they mean recognisably Mestizo? Plenty of video game characters could be white Latinos; swarthy dark-haired guys are a lot more common than blond Nordics IME.

Bowser said...

"Latino children play more video games than white children. And they're really not able to play themselves," Williams said. "For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.

It's true. Back when I was a lad, Super Mario Bros. was the only video game really around. I could never quite identify as a short, fat, mustachioed Italian plumber, and this was very traumatic. I still suffer from this trauma today. And it sure as hell killed any potential interest I might have had in plumbing technology.

Vernunft said...

Bowser:

You forgot how Metroid, where the main character turns out to be a female, put boys off video games forever. If you had to explain why males never, ever play games, it's because Metroid made them an underrepresented, behind-the-curve group forever.

Shame, really.

Olaf said...

"For identity formation, that's a problem."

It remains a mystery, then, how anyone was able to "form an identity" prior to, say, the latter half of the twentieth century and the advent of television and more advanced forms of visual media.

For that matter, this planet's billions of inhabitants who want for video games must just be in a terrible state, drifting through life, zombie-like, with no identity to speak of.

agnostic said...

"Males, whites and adults were overrepresented."

Yet if video games were more packed with pictures of 18 year-old Latin girls, the designers would be accused of sexist exotification that only worsened our culture's obsession with youth.

And anyway, Ms. Pac-Man was more popular than regular Pac-Man, probably more than any other arcade game of its time.

Of course, she wore make-up, high heels, and a bow in her hair, so that just reinforces stereotypes and doesn't count. Only men with vaginas like that Tomb Raider chick can empower girls.

Anthony said...

Echoing simon, what exactly is "recognizably Hispanic"?

Lots of characters in a game could look Hispanic "Mestizo" but not be - Asians, Indians (feather), Pacific Islanders ... Plenty of blacks are Hispanics ... Plenty of whites are Hispanics. Mixed-race Brazilians who might look "Mestizo", on the other hand, aren't ... under most classifications ...

"Native Americans ... were underrepresented"

What % of the U.S. population is full-blooded, or even half-blooded, Native American?

"For example, only 10 percent of playable characters surveyed were female, though women now make up 40 percent of video game players."

Females tend to play different kinds of games, so these two numbers might not be that relevant.

Having said that ... isn't the CW among parents that playing video games hurts childrens' academics?

Drogomir Smolken said...

So there aren't enough Hispanic nerds who make video games? How dreadful. At least it's not as terrible as the lack of black male librarians you wrote about a while back.

J said...

Facebook's Mafia Wars has no diversity problems. It has Russian Maffia, Colombian Maffia, they make you interact with all the imaginary organized crime world, which is happily multi-ethnic and diverse. But make no mistake, Sicilians are the elite.

Anonymous said...

If they can't form their identity then how do they know that they are not being represented. Surely this Williams guy is not implying that identity is any way connected to crude superficial, external features. What is he, some sort of racist?!

Black Sea said...

"The study only included visible characters that were clearly human."

Discrimination once again rears its ugly head.

Regarding Hispanics on TV, Selena Gomez is quite popular with the kids, or at least, with my kids.

l said...

I say we start a letter writing campaign: Demand that the videogame industry introduce some racial and sexual minority first person shooter characters. Maybe they could base a game on that black guy who shot the 4 cops in the coffee shop in Washington state. Or the DC sniper. Or howsabout "Dr. Hasan, Muslim Avenger"?

RKU said...

Well, aren't Orcs and Zombies massively over-represented relative to their share of the population?

I suspect that far too many of the designers and executives of game companies have Orc or Zombie backgrounds, and are allowing their personal biases to influence their selection of characters...

Anonymous said...

The article fails to mention how under-represented handicapped characters are. Where, oh where, are our handicapped heroes?

But seriously, when the article mentioned "the elderly" I LOLed. What 14 year old boy wouldn't want to be an old white woman in a video game?

David said...

> Males, whites and adults were overrepresented. <

Given the purpose and consumers of video games, this is a surprise?

I don't complain about the relatively small number of Latina laundromats as compared to Chinese laundromats. Does anyone?

Isn't this simply about bashing male white adults, as such? Hate is regarded as good if they're the target. Ask yourself if the NYT would complain if Latinas were "overrepresented" in video games as compared to white men or other groups.

Paul Mendez said...

Of course, this study overlooks the positive impacts of video gaming -- warlocks & killer androids are now feeling more empowered and are studying science & technology in greater numbers than at any time in our history.

Velvetgunther said...

I thought Hispanic characters were over represented in all the GTA games, though not in a good way. In GTA San Andreas, the main character's black.

Velvetgunther said...

And in the highly-acclaimed 'Prey', the main character is Cherokee. I guess one could go on...

Wade Nichols said...

"Latino children play more video games than white children. And they're really not able to play themselves," Williams said.

Dear God, will the "hand wringing" ever end?

Does this guy Williams realize the stupidity in what he's saying? Does he even bother to think that Latino children should simply put down the damn video games and read a book perhaps?

Playing video games - jobs white kids are no longer willing to do!

"For identity formation, that's a problem. And for generating interest in technology, it may place underrepresented groups behind the curve.”

To no ones surprise, Williams conveniently left out any mention of the horrible underrepresentation of Asians in video games. I guess it's difficult to play video games when you're attending Mandarin classes on the weekend, and practicing the piano/violin after school. Maybe those oppressed Latino kids could learn a thing or two from the Asian kids, ya think?

Stopped Clock said...

The Japanese are, of course, greatly over-represented, but I dont see anyone complaining about that. No it's always "whites whites whites" and sometimes "white males". (For what it matters, I never felt small just because most of the best characters in Street Fighter II were Asians.) Also, I disagree that adults are over-represented, since in the real world there are never any children placed in positions of power and given the task of saving the world, whereas in video games there are at least some. So children are over-represented (as they should be; we've got to sell to our audience.

Le Mur said...

Perhaps elderly Amerind female children should write more video games.

He did have a word of advice for game developers. "These are highly underserved groups. It's a missed sales opportunity."
So what's stopping assistant professor Dmitri Williams from 'serving' his favorite groups?

James said...

The only white male on Dexter so far is the title character, a serial killer. Oh and a Captain is white but you're supposed to hate him.

Anonymous said...

But make no mistake, Sicilians are the elite.

I thought that the Sayanim were the elite.

Womack said...

Isn't the "Street Fighter" franchise extremely diverse?

They have fighters from every continent, and they reflect their culture through their personalities, outfits, etc.

Mr. Anon said...

"Many have suggested that games function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math.""

Yeah, right. "Many" have suggested this. "Many", in the sense of "Nobody", or "Nobody who knows anything". "Many" have suggested that crystal meth addiction leads to interest in careers in chemistry and pharmacology.

Dahlia said...

Another thing about the actors in "Funny Games". It wasn't just that one could pass for Jewish in the original and in the latter they were Germanics. The guys in the original were so normal and average looking. Good lucking, but one was a brunet and looked like a run-of-the-mill continental European. In the American version, they were *caricatures* of German/Austrians. They were SO gorgeous, blond and with blazing blue eyes. They were also the only people in the movie with German accents while everyone else is "normal American". Their lips looked like they were stung by bees.
I don't think it could have been screamed any louder that these guys were Germans in the American version.

Whoever made that movie had serious issues. See for yourself by just the pics and actors.
2007 American
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0808279/
1997 Austrian
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119167/

Anonymous said...

I see...

No one ever heard of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, where your avatar is a black gangbanger?

Anthony said...

"if video games were more packed with pictures of 18 year-old Latin girls" this middle-aged white guy might actually play them...

On the other hand, the videogame market is pretty free. Some videogame maker will read this report, and tell their artists to brown-up one of their games for release to the Mexican/Mexican-American market. If it sells well, then future videogames will have more hispanic (and/or black) characters in them. If it doesn't sell, then it's clear that hispanic (and black) youth don't give a shit.

Anonymous said...

Dmitri Williams, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.




People like this are a fungus on the body politic.

Anonymous said...

"For example, only 10 percent of playable characters surveyed were female, though women now make up 40 percent of video game players."




He needs to change his survey then, because video games have a greater than 60% male user base and have way more than 10% female playable characters.

Anonymous said...

Williams noted that some newer games give players more options for customizing their characters. Those games were included in the survey, with characters chosen randomly.

The fact that random selection did not have a major impact on the results suggests that when players have a choice, their range of options is limited.


Highly doubt that random selection from the kind of setups that modern games with fully customizable slider and option based character customisation resulted in majority White or male characters. Perhaps they judged based on the pre-gens (which is not really reasonable).

One factor of all this, aside from the currently popular "Beefy White space marine genre" and the nerd bias in game development (which isn't favourable to the depiction of anyone who isn't White or Asian), is that a lot of games are Japanese and (to a lesser extent) European built and Japanese built. These people receive and transmit no Latino presence in US culture. US Hispanics simply do not export media they care about (games are still largely derivative of movies and tv when they aren't doing sci-fi and fantasy genre stuff). There's a degree of change here with the British GTA developers sticking a Hispanic American lead in their newest, but still...

Middletown Girl said...

Well, there's Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel.

Btw, who cares about videogames? The whole point of playing them is to take leave of reality and escape into fantasy. How many people are good looking, tall, handsome, and can kick ass? 1/3 of Americans are obese and over 1/2 are ugly as sin, but most videogame characters are handsome and tough--regardless of race.

And ever notice that women can beat up men in martial arts video games? What does that have to do with reality?

And blame the Japanese, who've designed a lot of these games where characters look like Nordic Anime characters with green or purple hair. If Japanese videogames don't reflect Japanese society, why should American videogames reflect ours?

And, just look at Mexican TV. Most soap operas have white--even blonde--characters. Most Mexican TV news anchors are white folks. Do they reflect the general Mexican population? How many Mexican soap opera stars are short, tubby, and stocky like most Mexicans?
And, just look at most black TV journalists. They are light-skinned and often have white features. Are they representative of most American blacks.

And, consider that Jews are only 2%of the population. Do the ownership and management of Hollywood and other such industries reflect America as a whole? And, how come there are so many Jewish personalities and characters in movies and TV? You'd think Jews are nearly 30% of the overall population.

And, when will progressives ever complain about the black domination of sports though blacks are only 15% of the overall population? Aren't they bothered by the lack of diversity? Apparently ONLY WHEN there are too many white gentiles.

In other words, if 80% of videogame characters were black, progressives would not be complaining.

Gene Berman said...

Bowser and Vernunft:

You guys must be right. Which is why, I guess, never having played either Super Mario Brothers or Metroid, I've always maintained a high level of interest in female plumbing technology.

Eric said...

You forgot how Metroid, where the main character turns out to be a female, put boys off video games forever.

Or Tomb Raider. My ego never recovered from the blow of realizing I'd never have gargantuan, gravity-defying breasts.

Cap said...

(For what it matters, I never felt small just because most of the best characters in Street Fighter II were Asians.)

I disagree with this.

If you take out M. Bison and Sagat for being bosses and ethnically ambiguous, the Asian fighters you're left with are Ryu, E. Honda, and Chun Li (Dhalsim doesn't count). E. Honda and Chun Li are gimmicky characters who are by no means best in the game. Ryu is one of the best, but he's not really any better than Ken, and some of the other characters for that matter.

Eric said...

He did have a word of advice for game developers. "These are highly underserved groups. It's a missed sales opportunity."

Video game companies have lost millions of dollars following this logic. Every few years game companies announce this year they're gonna tap that great underserved market - women. Fortunately for shareholders, by now it's mostly just talk.

There are games popular with girls, but they're all Sims-style virtual doll house games. Every time the game industry tries to aim another genre at the girls it's a miserable failure.

Dave R. said...

Williams noted that some newer games give players more options for customizing their characters. Those games were included in the survey, with characters chosen randomly.

The fact that random selection did not have a major impact on the results suggests that when players have a choice, their range of options is limited.


Okay... So they tell you right out in the open they're under-counting minority representation. If the character is customizable, that should be a score for diversity. Instead they're making a random choice and scoring the game solely on the result of their random choice. 1 in X of customizable games are being scored as if they've got fixed white male leads.

Implicit in the second sentence quoted is a demand that there be a rainbow of choices, so that "white male" has a very low chance of being chosen randomly. But I imagine if there was a market for a rainbow of choices someone would meet it. Video game avatars aren't very representative to begin with, so a few shades covers most of humanity.

pzed said...

yes womack, street fighter is quite diverse. in the current version, there is a wrestler from mexico. there is a also a bullfighter from spain, but i suppose he doesn't really count.

the current tekken series also has 2 capoeira fighters from brazil.

Anonymous said...

Michael Haneke directed both "Funny Games" movies as he was obsessed about getting it to the American Public. He only cared that Naomi Watts was cast in the second. The movies are a textbook case of what good and bad casting can do to a movie. The Austrian version had the killers and victims nearly identical in class, ethnicty, nation, etc., but the killers were styled as though they were from the 1920's. In the American one, the killers had nothing in common with their victims which put the focus from the philosophical outlook of the killers to what they were physically like and their mannerisms. Naomi Watts is over-rated.

Truth said...

"How many people are good looking, tall, handsome, and can kick ass?"

You rang?

David Davenport said...

Or howsabout "Dr. Hasan, Muslim Avenger"?

That game -- a 1st person shooter, one assumes --will probably sell well if marketed to the appropriate consumers.

Stopped Clock said...

I was thinking of M Bison and Sagat as Thais. Yes I know they don't really look stereotypically Thai, but the game (at least the version I played) locates them in Thailand and I don't see any other reason why they would be there.

Ronduck said...

I googled Dmitri Williams name since I was curious how a man with a last name like Williams gets a first name like Dmitri. I found Dmitri's site, but it doesn't mention any personal information on his CV (MS Word). Dmitri's CV does show that he has been obsessing over this topic since at least 2002.

Wolfen said...

I was thinking of M Bison and Sagat as Thais. Yes I know they don't really look stereotypically Thai, but the game (at least the version I played) locates them in Thailand and I don't see any other reason why they would be there.

It's not perfectly clear with either of them.

Sagat is more likely to be Thai.

M. Bison is deliberately vague. In some backstories in the Street Figther universe, M. Bison is said to have been abandoned as a child in Thailand by his Irish missionary parents. And he was portrayed by Raul Julia in the 90s Street Fighter movie. Nevertheless, Bison is supposed to be shady and "international" more than anything. He's an international arms/drug dealer, businessman, etc.

Anonymous said...

OK, having read the study, a few observations:

First of all, it is not even mentioned that a large percentage of games sold in the USA are created in Japan (with little or no regard for international consideration, until fairly recently.) However, almost without fail when referencing video games, American titles are used. The set is not large, but is not provided. This is done so carefully it can't be an accident.

Secondly, there is no criteria for how ethnicity was evaluated. Games are frequently ambiguous on this front for many reasons, not the least of which is to avoid being accused of playing to stereotypes (for example, "Tak and the Power of Juju," which features a witch doctor that is, apparently, white?) or Bridgette Tenenbaum in "Bioshock"...is she German, Jewish, a German Jew? It's not clear. This is without wading into the whole issue of Japanese cartoon characters "looking 'caucasian.' They aren't, and they don't, to Japanese at least.

Finally, sports games...Madden reinforcing stereotypes? They use the actual %$#^$@ players on the actual teams! What do these idiots want? EA to add cousin Oliver or a guy in a wheelchair to every NFL team?

Anonymous said...

Ken, of Street Fighter fame, is actually3/4 Japanese and 1/4 American.

Not that I would've guessed.

RKU said...

I googled Dmitri Williams name since I was curious how a man with a last name like Williams gets a first name like Dmitri.

Actually, I'd say that "Dmitri Williams" sounds like a name whose ethnicity seems pretty obvious. And for someone with that sort of name focusing on Diversity Studies, the likelihood must be up around 90% or more.

Wolfen said...

Ken, of Street Fighter fame, is actually 3/4 Japanese and 1/4 American.

Not that I would've guessed.


This isn't really true. The backstories for the various characters in the Street Fighter universe have changed depending on the game and format (comic, movie, anime, game, etc.), and they're somewhat vague enough for people to impute all kinds of additions, embellishments, changes, distortions. And there are inconsistencies among the various formats.

Middletown Girl said...

This whole 'videogame is racist' article totally misses the point. The REAL danger of videogames is too many people play that junk.

It rather reminds me of Jesse Jackson bitching about there not being enough blacks on TV when the REAL ISSUE for a black leader should be BLACKS KIDS WATCH TOO MUCH TV INSTEAD OF DOING THEIR HOMEWORK!!!!

Anonymous said...

Video games today are really something else.

Did anyone catch some of the scenes in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2?

Especially the infamous "No Russian" scene?

I don't want to sound like someone's dad or something, but it's kind of disgusting and extreme.

Whiskey said...

I've blogged on this extensively. First, as Steve has pointed out, Latinos watch Spanish-language media. Games they play are likely to be from Spanish-language nations: Mexico, Spain, Argentina, etc.

Second, Blacks are 12.5% of the population, and are VASTLY over-represented, particularly when according to the WSJ, only 40% of Blacks are Middle Class.

Third, almost everything BUT video games are a hostile, feminine-gay ghetto: movies, TV, music (think Adam Lambert at the AMA -- Music is "gay") and so on. Games are the refuge of the Straight White guy. For a reason -- they are made by and for that audience.

Games can cost around $60, so they are basically White middle class male enthusiasms, as noted above substitutions for hostile media like movies, TV, and music.

The whole point of the article is to create a constant, hectoring, 24-7 PC/Diversity/Multicultural zone, telling Straight White Men they are worthless and have no value in life, are in fact inferior to women, gays, and non-Whites. Given that the US Census reports that Whites are 76%-80% of the population (2005-2007 survey, or 2008 Estimate) this is likely to be a loser culturally in the end. No matter how much the elite LOATHES ordinary White guys.

Anonymous said...

"How many people are good looking, tall, handsome, and can kick ass?"

You rang?

Not a fan of lol, omg, and shite, but I did laugh out loud. Truth is a nice addition to this site.

Udolpho.com said...

The real hilarity here is that video games don't offer anything valuable so why would you want more backwards minorities to play/design them? The common video game experience is one of mind-numbing repetition and/or twitch reflexes which are not applicable to any real life experience, except maybe working as a file clerk or stenographer.

The notion that video games are the gateway to technology and engineering jobs is so dumb it could only come from an English major.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of 'diversity crises', anyone read this(from a liberal magazine no less)? Too funny.

http://www.tnr.com/article/metro-policy/kick-start