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OPINION: Videogaming is now bigger than movies - and so is its race problem

by Alexander Fernandez | Streamline Media Group
Saturday, 3 April 2021 13:11 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Boys play video games at the booth of Microsoft's Xbox during the first day of Europe's leading digital games fair Gamescom, which showcases the latest trends of the computer gaming scene in Cologne, Germany, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Gaming is shaping the culture of tomorrow - but right now it reflects a white-dominated worldview

Alexander Fernandez is CEO of Streamline Media Group, an independent videogames, entertainment and tech company.

Growing up in a low-income Hispanic family in the United States, in deep Utah, I had limited opportunities available to me. Video games provided escapism and entertainment – but little in terms of representation.

As I got increasingly involved in the industry, I noticed there weren’t many other Latinx people in games. I wondered if the videogame industry was going to be a welcoming place for me - but persisted in pursuing my passion.

Older people might not realize that gaming is for teens what movies and TV shows are for the baby boomers - the lens through which they view the world. Gaming is shaping the culture of tomorrow, more than any other industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has also proved a boon to gaming as more people seek solace in online worlds. More gaming communities are born everyday. This is much more than teenagers going through an adolescent phase. 

But in contrast to steps forward to diversify in film and other media, the games industry in the US and UK is still largely a white male club.

In 2017, the International Game Developers Association survey of 963 developers found 61% were white and only 4% identified as Hispanic or Latinx. And a 2009 study that studied 150 American titles showed that only 2.7% of the lead characters were Latinx, relative to their 12.5% representation in society. 

Lack of diversity in game-making influences the games we play: Latinx characters in gaming, for example, are almost non-existent. But conversely, games also have the power to challenge harmful stereotypes.

That’s why we need representation in this industry right now - to make games better, reflect the world as it is, and create social-economic mobility for marginalized communities through one of our biggest industries. 

Gaming is beyond entertainment, it’s leading the digital transformation of business and daily life. Video games technology is being used by educators and employers, making it even more important that we get it right. 

For example, the Digital Supply Chain Institute has created an entire change management methodology based upon multiplayer games. Politicians are also embracing this future; Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke with the voters of the future in the online game ‘Among Us’. 

The simple act of seeing yourself on screen is also key to inspiring a more diverse new generation into joining the industry, which in turn creates greater opportunities for economic upwards mobility. Access to this industry is directly correlated to high-standard of living and ability to enter the middle-class for LatinX and people of color. 

This social-economic mobility is why emerging markets around the world have embraced the video games industry as a high potential sector to invest into. It creates solid funnels for STEM education, and captures the imagination of young people. 

It also means that the next generation of video games characters are likely to be more representative.

There are some signs of positive change in the industry. Minority characters are no longer only non-player characters, ‘tokens’ or collateral damage, they are taking centre stage. Sony released Spider Man: Miles Morales with a lead Latinx character. My team has worked on original IP releases that include people of colour, octogenarians, and lead characters with identifiable religious affiliations.

The entertainment industry as a whole is taking a cue from film and television recent positive changes, but the games industry has the power to do more. We are a relatively young industry, led by independent studios and publishers that are poised to make a fast and meaningful impact. 

Unlike the movie industry, games are still a relatively open career path. There are a variety of roles open to people with varied experience, and the industry isn’t as difficult to get into without the right connections as movies. We still need more representation at C-level, however, that can create ‘trickle down diversity’ across the industry and the games it produces.

For me, that early interest in games helped to create a viable path for me to build a career in the industry and a life that was not the stereotypical Latinx story. As my Mom used to tell me “don’t become a statistic.”

Now we need to make sure the door is equally open to others.