Video Game Convention Makes Limited Progress on Diversity

E3

by: Vance Brinkley Special to the AFRO
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If you’re a gamer, this week was that time of the year again for you to be really taken aback about what goes on at a press conference. No, it’s not Lebron getting testy with reporters during the NBA Finals, we’re talking about the Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3.

For six days, the streets of Downtown Los Angeles are packed with gamers all trying to get their hands on demos of video games and products that’ll be releasing in the next coming years.

Terry Crews is one of the stars of Microsoft’s upcoming game ‘Crackdown 3.’ (Courtesy photo)

However, there’s an issue at hand. According to International Game Developers Association roughly 3 percent of game developers are African Americans while a Pew Research Center study found that 53 percent of African American say they play video games. The vast majority of people on stage at this year’s E3, as has been the case for most of the convention’s 20 plus year history, were White.

Diversity is an important factor that has to be focused on now that E3 is a public event, a change from previous ones, and with the current climate of society affecting many areas of culture from sports to music, the question is how did the convention navigate through it. From the announcement of the Xbox One X to one of the biggest stories from this show being the announcement of “Beyond Good & Evil 2,” E3 2017 did not disappoint when it came to showcasing the massive amount of fire that was going to release very soon. On the side of diversity however, it seems like diversity is a factor that these video game companies are making limited progress on.

Electronic Arts kicked off the convention with a press conference June 10. Right out of the gate, EA aired a trailer for Longshot, a story mode that will be featured in “Madden 18.” The new mode, similar to FIFA’s story mode The Journey, boasts a unique cast starring J.R. Lemon as the lead character Devin Wade and Oscar-winning “Moonlight” actor Mahershala Ali in a supporting role as Wade’s father.

The Journey was also announced to be making a return in “FIFA 18” as well as The One, a new career mode in “NBA Live 18.” It was obvious that sports games was going to highlight a lot of the superstars (who just happen to be Black), but hearing Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” and Stormzy go in on “Energy” gave each sizzle reel more flair added to the many faces gracing the screen. “The Force Awakens” actor John Boyega also announced that his character, Finn, would also be a playable character in “Star Wars Battlefront 2.”

Next up was Microsoft, the computer company that had big night after unveiling their new gaming console, the Xbox One X. However, compared to the other conferences in terms of diversity, Microsoft played it safe. One of the biggest announcements from Microsoft’s E3 conference was actor Terry Crews’ future appearance in “Crackdown 3” (not to mention the 3-1 ratio of Black men as main characters in the trailer) and “State of Decay 2” boasted a diverse cast to in its zombified world. But with other gaming companies making swift moves to show how inclusive they are, Microsoft missed out mainly because of many of the other announcements they made throughout their hour long presentation did not feature diverse casts.

It could be possible to count “Assassin’s Creed Origins” as another victory for Microsoft, because the game is set in ancient Egypt and features many people of color, but it was more of a win for the game’s developer Ubisoft.

Speaking of Ubisoft, the company probably had one of the most inclusive conferences at E3. They were already on a roll with “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” however the company doubled down on their inclusiveness by bringing out “Origins’” director Ashraf Ismail, who helped make the series’ last acclaimed game Black Flag. Along with the new Assassin’s Creed game, Ubisoft’s “Far Cry 5” will feature a Black woman, Grace Armstrong, as a supporting character. The game’s story revolves around a group of White Christian militants in the wilds of Montana so it will be interesting to see what obstacles she will face in the game.

The biggest announcement for Ubisoft (and all of E3) was the long awaited confirmation of “Beyond Good & Evil 2,” which will feature a Black woman as co-lead character. The game’s developers have promised that “Beyond Good & Evil 2” will boast a multi-ethnic cast of characters within its setting.

Sony’s press conference was next and though there weren’t many games that featured people of color, the company made it very clear how inclusive their games will be through some projects. Nadine Ross will make a return to the “Uncharted” series as a co-lead character in the new game “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy,” but the biggest news was that Jesse Williams is joining the cast of Quantic Dream’s next title “Detroit: Become Human” as a lead role.

Bethesda had a lesser number of games with people of color in major roles, but their announcement of “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” boasted a diverse cast to navigate gamers through a Nazi/KKK driven 1960s as BJ Blazkowicz, and we’re kind of interested in seeing the cast this time around. The trailer starts out by bringing back the original members of Blazkowicz’ resistance team in The New Order, but with a new nameless character a part of the team in the game being a Black woman, the company answered the question when it counted. Though the trailer was mainly about BJ Blazkowicz and the game itself, it’s interesting to see how these characters will play a role in the game.

Although this year’s E3 proved that developers are moving to be more inclusive during a critically cultural climate, it’s still important to note that there needs to be more inclusivity in the companies that create these games as much as they are on a screen. Although companies have once again made attempt to push gaming forward by showing their games promote diversity, there was one main demographic that dominated most of the stages.

However, aside from this year’s small missteps, it seems like the Electronic Entertainment Expo did what it could to navigate smoothly through such a rough patch in our times. Next year not only brings hope for more people of color in video games, but also in the offices of the developers that make those AAA titles, which could help push the video games industry to a more progressive state than what has been already viewed in the past.

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