Narrative And Storytelling In Video Games: Gender Identity Diversity In Gaming
Video games have been used to escape reality for many. While some video games are a reflection of our real world, some introduce a new world that allows gamers to be a different entity or character. Every game introduces a story – a narrative, and with modern gaming, each character has a unique story that tries to connect to the user/player. The establishment of the connection between player and character is important as one creates a personal relationship with that character.
A psychological study shared by Psychology Today summarizes a study on how players’ emotions interact with their game characters’ actions. “… committing an immoral act in a video game caused players to feel guilt and shame, especially players who were more absorbed in the game, and who identified more with their on-screen characters” (Winch, 2015).
An annual study conducted by Statista assessed the growth of numbers of the opposite sexes gamers. The statistic strictly followed biological-sex, but the growth of female gamers by 2019 just shows how the gaming industry continues to become diverse. Specifically, in 2010, males dominated the industry by 60%, while female players counted 40% (cite). In 2019, female players grew 6% more, and is expected to grow even further and balance out the industry.
Although, there are no statistics that show how much of the gaming population identify as LGBTQ+; society’s progression has opened up towards the community and is evident to the change that game narratives are introducing with in-game gender-identities. The growth of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ persons in society continue to shift and evolve the narratives and storytelling in video games to reflect real-world identities. Many gaming companies such as Overwatch, Assassin’s Creed and Apex Legends have introduced LGBTQ+ members to create a story where everyone can find themselves connected to experience greater quality of gaming.
Games that strive to accomplish a narrative that creates a hypothesis of our current world’s future have been including different gender – identities to reciprocate the real-world environment. Let’s explore Overwatch, Overwatch takes place in the future, exactly in 2076. Overwatch’s vision of the future, is an ambitious and fantastical yet realistic approach. From worldwide maps to worldwide landmarks and other identifiers to show that it is a vision of Earth’s future. But Overwatch does not just express this vision through futuristic world designs but also with their unique ensemble of character identities. Overwatch has two confirmed LGBTQ+ members: Tracer who identifies as lesbian and Soldier 76 also known as Jack Morrison who identifies gay. These characters have been a symbol of Overwatch’s values and what kind of world they strive to achieve. Blizzard, Overwatch’s game company stated:
“… As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world.”
This statement shows just how important narrative and storytelling is to a game in our ever-changing world. A game narrative undoubtedly establishes the value and vision of a game. With a game like Overwatch, it has helped LGBTQ+ identifying players to feel that they are part of that futuristic world that Overwatch envisions – which millions of people love. One player expressed, “Almost all of the characters have some deep, lasting tragedy in their background. For a fun, cartoony shooter this game is kinda starting to hit those feels pretty hard.” This acknowledges that representation of a character’s sexuality is a big name game narrative that does create an impact on its gaming community.
Many games around the world circulate behind myths and historical context. Games use these infamous narratives to bring these beliefs a realistic visual to produce a game that connects to the audience who indulge themselves with them. Let us take a look at Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft. This game has run through 21 expansions, from the exploration of Ancient India, the American Revolution, Italian Renaissance and even more that brings many different cultural histories to life. While the assassin filled world has portrayed LGBTQ+ characters over the years it has only allowed heterosexual male characters to be playable until the introduction of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate in 2015 with Evie Fyre and then 2018’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey with Kassandra of Sparta. Evie and Kassandra being the only female characters playable in the main storyline. To even show more progression in the game, Odyssey introduced the choice of playing either Alexios (male protagonist) with Kassandra and leaves their sexuality to be decided by the player. This allows players to play both Alexios and Kassandra as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey creative director, Jonathan Dumont commented,
“‘Since the story is choice-driven, we never force players in romantic situations they might not be comfortable with,’ Dumont told Entertainment Weekly. ‘Players decide if they want to engage with characters romantically. I think this allows everybody to build the relationships they want, which I feel respects everybody’s roleplay style and desires.’”
This playstyle deviates from the usual heterosexual male character that Assassin’s Creed has been creating over the years. This unusual gameplay has created huge waves of positivity in the large gaming community that Assassin’s Creed caters to. Although, this playstyle has only been released in 2018, proves how important a game character narratives is one of many keys to connecting with the worldwide audience.
One of the newest games that took the gaming industry by a storm is Apex Legends. It broke records with more than 2.5 million players within the first 24 hours of release and hit 10 million players by 72 hours. Unlike Overwatch, Apex Legends was not shy at all expressing the different character identities that their game carries right away, whereas Overwatch took years before having their characters come out. A character’s lore is a summary that introduces the characters’ origin, personality, and overall hero’s journey adventure. Players right away were quick to notice the character Gibraltar’s lore. It revealed his heroic past adventures with his same-sex lover. Things got more progressive when players have noticed the pronouns of Bloodhound another Apex Legends character set as “they/them” in their characters lore. Which was later on clarified that Bloodhound identifies as non-binary. This brought waves of excitement and questions from the large fan base which EA, Apex Legends game company was quick to respond with,
“Our studio is comprised of a diverse group of people, the player base of battle royale is comprised of a diverse group. Having a diverse cast is super important. You want everyone to have someone they can connect to.”
This game which was just released this February 2019 just shows how far the gaming industry has come with putting real identity values in their games. Emphasizing their statement, “You want everyone to have someone to connect to.” should be a quintessential element in-game narratives to welcome all players.
There are many more games that have introduced LGBTQ+ characters in their plots to create diversity and reflect our real-world in games. Blizzard’s Overwatch, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and EA’s Apex Legend is just one of the many examples that have put importance on how narrative can impact a players gaming experience. With further statistics from Statistica, the United States of America a dominator in the gaming industry showed that 40% of its audience dominated the industry age group of 18-30 years old. This age-group is widely known for the exploration of adulthood which comes with self-identity which involves the topic of gender. The gaming industry showing this diversity allows players to find themselves and to what they feel most connected to.
The gaming industry is finally accepting the importance of an inclusive narrative considering its worldwide platforms. The shift of gaming narratives to inclusivity has brought waves of positivity in the gaming community. As games continue in production, we hope to see even more diversity not just with sexual-identities but with race, color and more that will truly establish connections with players all over the world. A person once said, “A belief is just a belief, My existence, our existence is real.
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