Video games have this unique ability to immerse us in someone else’s fantasy. This makes them a valuable tool for broadening our understanding of the world and one other. Many games have regrettably failed to take advantage of this. They follow uninspired story-lines that cater to a very limited demographic. Fortunately, other games, some of which come from reputable franchises, have recently become more inclusive in this regard. Using Character Customization and player choice, these games have given people the ability to create their own experiences leading the industry towards a more progressive age where underrepresented races and genders aren’t completely set aside.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
As hard as it is to believe, the record breaking Grand Theft Auto V is one of these innovative games. Yes I know, it’s still as violent, depraved, and misogynistic as ever, but the character customization in its Online mode is quite innovative. Players choose presets of the parents and grandparents of their character. They can toggle which parent their character resembles more. This seemingly limited customization process actually leads to a multitude of physical possibilities. On a more subconscious level, it represents a proper melting pot. The presets we choose from cannot be identified by race. There isn’t the one “African-American” or “Asian-American” we see in other games, such as Fallout 3’s character creation mode, to represent an entire people. Instead, what we see is what we get: faces–unable to be categorized by ethnic group. Why is this a good thing? If you aren’t white, games will normally rely on stereotypes to create a character’s look and personality. This system allows for a character to stand alone, separate from these preconceived notions. There’s a lot of diversity in our final character now. While customizing, I came to the realization that there is no purebred group of people. Not everyone who identifies as white have had ancestors that claim the same, especially for Americans where the vast majority of our ancestor’s point of origin lies overseas. It teaches gamers that race isn’t something we inherit from our ancestors, but is socially assigned (see difference between “Race” and “Ethnicity”). Grand Theft Auto V’s character customization is revolutionary. Putting the game’s vices aside, this new feature broadens our understanding of race and ethnicity, it’s a distinction few games address, let alone incorporate into one of its most crucial early processes.
2. Pokemon X & Y
Last Year’s Newest additions to the Pokemon Franchise introduced tons of new content such as beautiful 3d sprites, 70 new
Pokemon, Game-changing Mega Evolutions, and a France inspired world. More importantly, for the first time in 15 years, Pokemon let players customize the look of their character, skin tone included. Pokemon’s handheld series has been in the hands of many from around the world. The newest generation of young trainers will grow up knowing that the Pokemon universe isn’t reserved for lighter skinned trainers alone. The feature isn’t perfect however. There are only 2 skin tones really, one being the standard beige we’ve seen in previous entries and the other being a light shade of brown. There is a third skin tone, but it’s hardly any different from the one we’ve seen in past games. It’s just a tad bit lighter. Regardless, this long overdue feature, is a promising step in the right direction for the company considering the character customization was quite limited overall anyway (like why can’t I take the hat off???). Unfortunately, the question, “are you a boy or a girl?” at the beginning of every Pokemon game alongside the gender based-clothing you are assigned afterwords still leaves much to be desired. Grand Theft Auto V and a vast majority of games aren’t exempt from this either. The gaming industry as a whole and our own society still ascribes to very strict gender-based expectations. How can we change it? That’s where Tearaway comes in.
Media Molecule is one of Playstation’s most beloved darlings. Their earthly concepts and kid-friendly games have pumped a breathe of fresh air in an industry filled with guns and violence. Their aesthetic choices, ranging from realistic wood to cotton dolls, creates an experience that feels accessible and new. Their newest game, Tearaway, holds true to many of these guiding principles as an adventure game with charming paper worlds, storybook narration, and engaging gameplay. The company’s commitment to empowering players with the tools to create their own worlds requires versatile thinking. Character selection at the beginning of the game exemplifies this commitment. There are still only 2 protagonists to choose from, a male and female character, but how it goes about presenting this choice reveals the companies versatility. All it asked was a single question: “would you prefer to be addressed as male or female?” Never before in my life had I been given this choice. The possibilities of video games are endless in theory, but in every game I’d played before I was confined to choosing the sex that I was in real life (“are you a boy or a girl?”) not which gender I chose to be. So the question really made me stop and think. For a society that still tells people what they can and cannot do, Tearaway’s simple yet unprecedented question comes as an insightful sneak peak at what our society could potentially be if we only opened up to new ideas.
The world of video games is vast. So why not use them to inspire a better world?