We live in a time where the games industry expands more by the day. Audiences for games are getting more numerous and more diverse. When we ask ourselves what we as developers, designers, writers, etc. what we can do to help our audiences expand, we need to acknowledge the awesome power and responsibility of representation. That is, creating in-game characters, protagonists, antagonists and more who accurately represent the incredible diversity of the human species.
Representation is more than symbolic. As this blog post by Nick Yee regarding player gender demographics can attest, representation can make a difference in the hard numbers.
"Among Open World games, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is noticeably higher than the genre average (27% vs. 14%). And among Western RPGs, Dragon Age: Inquisition is also much higher than the group average (48% vs. 26%)."
The post goes on to make many interesting points relating to genre appeal and player gender, and this other post by the same author elaborates on that point by digging deeper into player motivation.
What I took away from these posts is that representation matters. Assassin's Creed Syndicate and Dragon Age: Inquisition both feature the possibility of playing the game as a woman, and contain numerous capable female characters. It's almost as if women respond positively to games that contain characters who aren't all men.
More than just genre appeal, game developers need to consider the power of representation in their games. When players can see themselves in the characters that they play, the player community expands, and everyone wins.
But that's not the only way representation matters. The very fact that developers need to think about this stuff at all signals a much more pernicious problem, which is lack of diversity in the game industry itself. If development studios were as diverse as our society, I can't help but wonder if diversity in game characters would be an issue at all.
The best thing any studio can do to expand their audiences by representing more, different, types of human beings isn't just to diversify their characters, but to diversify their studios. For a voice to matter, it's got to be in the room.