Games developers are failing to reflect diversity, according to the first survey of game characters. Latinos are nearly invisible, and women and other groups are woefully underrepresented.

Study leader Dmitri Williams, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication looked at the top 150 games in a year across nine platforms and all rating levels, and weighted by each title’s popularity.

The story

I wonder why it took so long for this study to be done?


  1. #1 Emily
    August 3, 2009

    It is an interesting topic.

    My fiance wrote a blog post about this topic here:

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 3, 2009

    My daughter would often generate a character for one game or another (at the user level, obviously) that was non white female (her gender/ethnicity).

    That was before puberty, of course.

  3. #3 Katherine
    August 3, 2009

    Ugh, beware the comments on the story at the link. Commenters think everyone is trying to take away their right to play as white straight adult males all the time. Or that somehow someone is talking about people being underrepresented in fantasy settings because there are too many orcs/elves etc.

  4. #4 travc
    August 3, 2009

    I normally play a mixed-race (vaguely mongoloid/American aboriginal) female character when there is a character editor. That probably says more about my aesthetic sense than anything else. The dialogue/options for female characters tends to be more interesting too (less smash, more clever).

    PS: Ethnicity wise, I’m just a generic white male.

    PPS: Some of the racial (so called “reverse racism”) sensitivity of us white males may be due to a lack of ethnic identity/culture. I really did (still do I guess) have a bit of a latent jealously of people with deep cultural roots. It does suck in some ways to be generic white (highly mixed European descent).

  5. #5 Steve Ulven
    August 3, 2009

    I am not all surprised. But I would like to note that there are a shitload of games with females as the lead character (I’d like to see this list, but requires payment and I’d consider subscribing if they had a student discount). The thing to note about the female empowerment in games is not necessarily to promote female empowerment. They are generally third-person view so the entire time you are staring at the ass of your hot female character.

    On a side note, searching for one of the authors, Dmitri Williams, on EBSCO I found another article he did in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, December 2006 called Groups and Goblins: The Social
    and Civic Impact of an Online Game. I only skimmed through it, but already found a problem, which, thankfully, he does somewhat address halfway through. He uses old sources, and when it comes to video games, 2003 is pretty old and he goes all the way back to 1988.

    Besides the old references, which I do understand are setting up the framework, but I still do not like it, it appears to be a good study. I will fully read it fully when I’m not wasting time commenting on blogs avoiding writing my own papers (which are overdue).

  6. #6 Phil
    August 3, 2009

    But should what should we expect when these are to top console games:
    1) Wii Fit w/ Balance Board (Wii) – Nintendo
    2) Pokemon Platinum (DS) – Nintendo
    3) Wii Play w/ Remote (Wii) – Nintendo
    4) Wii Mario Kart w/ Wheel (Wii) – Nintendo
    5) Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360) – Capcom
    6) UFC 2009 Undisputed (Xbox 360) – THQ
    7) Call of Duty: World at War (Xbox 360) – Activision Blizzard
    8) Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3) – SCEA
    9) Mario Kart DS (DS) – Nintendo
    10) New Super Mario Bros. (DS) – Nintendo

    Four of these games are definitely “boy” games, thus tilting the field.

  7. #7 Steve Ulven
    August 3, 2009

    Phil, I choose the female trainer on Wii Fit for the specific purpose of seeing her ass (see my comment above). And really, about half of those games allow the option to choose who you want to be and the options are male and female. Call of Duty: Word at War is a World War 2 game and women weren’t allowed in the military, so that would be historically inaccurate. Do they allow chicks in UFC? That’d be fucking hot? I have Killzone 2 and that has no women that I’ve seen thus far. I know Resident Evil has a history of women as a main character, but am unsure on part 5. The rest I know, or assume, have a female character to choose from.

  8. #8 Tenebras
    August 3, 2009

    It’s worth noting that the majority of video games are made in Japan. Japan, from what I have heard, is nowhere near as multicultural as, say, the US. There is a higher percentage of asian people in Japan then there are caucasians in the US. For the same reason that the aforementioned Latinos can’t play as themselves with a “white” character, a Japanese person wouldn’t be able to play as themself if the character is obviously Latino. The developers are just aiming for the majority of their players. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m just saying it’s understandable.

    Anyway, being the gigantic Pokemon geek that I am, I can comment on number 2 of Phil’s list up there, at least. I don’t know if it was included in the study, I couldn’t get it to show up (guess I need a subscription?) In Platinum, the playable characters (you have a choice of a boy or a girl) are both “white”, although they have what I like to call the “blank anime face.” It’s the kind of anime face that people will project their own race onto. If you’re a white American, and you look at these characters, you will see two white American kids. If you’re Japanese, you will see two Japanese kids. So it’s not quite so cut and dry. Somewhat related: the Wii Pokemon game, Pokemon Battle Revolution, allows for some limited customization of your character, including skin tones, gender, and (to a limited extent) age.

    It would be nice though if game developers mixed it up more often, even if it’s just the major NPCs, and it’s awesome when they do it. I freaking LOVE Telma from Zelda: Twilight Princess. She’s a woman with a rather important role in the story, she’s not “white”, she’s independent, she’s confident, she’s sassy, she’s sexy, and she has CURVES. Gamers need more characters like this, methinks.

  9. #9 Steve Ulven
    August 4, 2009

    Nice comment, Tenebras. The locale of the manufacturer is quite important. So maybe it’s not our fault afterall!

    Anyway, a fun point I want to make is about the fairly popular game, Assassin’s Creed. It takes place around 1100 C.E. and your job is to actually assassinate a bunch of religious leaders in the Middle-East. I quite enjoy it. Anyway, at the very beginning of the game, they actually have a disclaimer that states something along the lines of the people that made the game are quite diverse and are multi-faith.

  10. #10 Igneous
    August 17, 2009

    I believe video games, just as other forms of entertainment have become “more inclusive”, will pander to the market segments which support them. As countries like Korea and China started becoming larger consumer markets they could not be ignored. Game companies started seeking out rights to material like John Woo characters and plots. When I grew up you could only find mainstream television and some Spanish language stations. I’d stay up late at night on weekends to catch “Kung Fu Theater” even though the dialog was most often changed to the voices of people who spoke with an American English accent. Now in the Silicon Valley you can watch Chinese as well as Spanish TV stations (and many others). Cable carries stations specifically marketed to African American and Gay Culture. The female point of view is more prevalent than the male on many television shows now. Disney shows are about iCarly orThe nice thing about video games is that a novel game can be made by anyone. If it is quirky enough to gain YouTube like appeal the entire globe will see it. So share your culture be proud of it, but also be able to laugh with the rest of us because games are meant to be fun.

  11. #11 Shmagi
    July 22, 2012

    (Author) August 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm and we were just in time to release our treopramy website! Still needs work on describing the portfolio items and adding portfolio items. But it’s a start 🙂