Doing It Right In Video Games

Back in the early days of my blog, I posted two posts about video games. The first of these posts talked about my dreams of video game writing, and began by discussing some of the issues that video games have historically struggled with, such as overly sexualized female characters and non-diverse casts. However, there are some in the video game industry pushing back against its worrying trends, and I wanted to document some of their successes. These successes are definitely long overdue, and definitely only a start, but they're a start to be proud of. So, without further ado, here are three heartening recent developments in video games.

1. The famously brutal Mortal Kombat Franchise unleashed its tenth title on the world earlier this year, featuring, among other characters, a hot-headed but troubled young archer named Kung Jin. Astute player quickly noticed a cutscene from the game’s campaign, in which another character in the game, Raiden, tells Kung Jin that the Shoalin “care only about what is in your heart, now whom your heart desires”. Mortal Kombat’s twitter account later confirmed what many had suspected: Kung Jin is gay, the first gay character in the Mortal Kombat universe. In creating their first openly gay character, and in choosing a character who’s literally a god of the Mortal Kombat universe to support him, the game takes refreshing stance in an industry rampant with homo- and transphobia.

2. League of Legends, the world’s most popular MOBA, recently released a new playable character: a woman named Illaoi, the Kraken Priestess. However, she looks nothing like the standard female cleric we’ve come to expect from video games. Instead of a curvy, scantily clad bombshell, Illaoi is a bulky juggernaut of a character with everything but muscular arms covered. Even her voice is atypical, deeper and rougher than the smooth speech that’s become somewhat standard in female video game characters. In being willing to break the female video game character mold, Riot Games created a character who was both more compelling than her more traditional counterparts and a much-needed change of pace.

3. Blizzard, one of the most famous video game studios in the world, recently unveiled an innovative new game named Overwatch, that mashes up the MOBA and first-person-shooter genres. Among the game’s innovations is its diverse cast. Of the 21 characters currently available for play 12 are men, 8 are women, and one is without gender because it’s a robot. 6 are Asian (from South Korea, Japan, China, and India), 2 Australian, 1 South American (Brazil), 2 North Americans (Both USA), 6 Europeans (Russia, England, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany), 1 African (Egypt), and 2… different (one a robot and the other a super-intelligent gorilla from a lunar colony). Yes, many groups are still underrepresented in this cast, but there’s a pretty good amount of diversity, which is a strong step in the right direction.

4. Speaking of steps in the right direction regarding race: the studio Telltale Games has recently garnered huge acclaim for their "The Walking Dead" video game franchise. There are a great number of reasons why: a beautiful story, dynamic and well-acted characters, and an innovative episodic release model, but one of the reasons is its choice of protagonist. In the first installment, you play as a black man, and in the second you play as a young black girl. It's practically impossible to overstate how important this development is in an industry that suffers from "the curse of the scruffy white male." In choosing characters who were different from the industry standards, Telltale Games is helping bring diversity to a largely homogenous industry. 

None of these steps completely solve the problems in the video game industry, and there is still much work to be done in making video games better. But we are taking steps in the right direction, and those steps deserve to be celebrated.

If you have any developments in video games that you’re particularly happy with and want to share, let me know in the comments section!

With excitement and optimism,

Alex