Before announcing our latest game, Devastated Dreams, I was scared. Devastated Dreams is a horror game, but as the developer, that isn’t what terrifies me. I was afraid of the response to our choice of player character. Not only is the protagonist a Filipino female, she is pregnant. I honestly expected it to be very controversial in these days where promoting diversity in games often carries with it contempt and a stigma as a “social justice warrior”. However, the reception to our game was warm, and I can’t think of a single negative comment I’ve gotten about our protagonist or our games’ exploration of Filipino folklore. Gamers seem genuinely excited by it!
However, after speaking to a female friend in the industry who has been subjected to unfair cruelty, I began to wonder WHY Devastated Dreams didn’t make waves. We received none of the negativity that is often associated with the game industry broadening its horizons beyond a pastime only shared by male kids of the 80s who could afford the expensive PC or console necessary to play the latest and greatest video games. The answer seems simple: because I’m a white heterosexual male.
I don’t have any evidence to back that up of course, but women are the targets of the most abuse in the game industry. Women speaking out for better gender representation are vilified. Perhaps men can receive some of that scorn, but the internet is a hostile place for women in general as outlined on a recent segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. While there are many laudable things about the game industry including the millions raised for charity by the Humble Bundle and Child’s Play, it isn’t immune from online harassment. John Oliver’s report highlights the abuse of several women in gaming.
Taking a step back, you may be wondering why I am making a game about a Filipino pregnant woman. I’d like to say it’s because I want to promote diversity in games, but my reasons are much less altruistic. The real reason is because it captures my personal interests and experiences. I learned about Filipino folklore from my wife and her friends who were born there, and it’s fascinating to me! The terrifying monsters called aswang that prey on the unborn seemed like a perfect metaphor for my fears as an expectant father. Since the aswang prey on unborn children, a pregnant woman felt like the only choice for the player character. The design of the game fell into place quite easily.
While I am working very hard to make the best horror game I can, I can only offer an outsider’s perspective of being a pregnant woman as well as what life is like in the Philippines. I am working closely with my wife, our family, and friends to ensure that it is an accurate portrayal, but I don’t really know what the experience is like. Besides trying to get players to wet their pants with fear, I want to make Devastated Dreams give players insight into living in the Philippines and the fears and hardships of being pregnant. Of course, I am just guessing because there is no way I can experience it for myself as a white male.
I expect that a Filipino game developer who is also a mother would be able to capture the setting and the horror even better than I. If you fit that bill, I’d encourage you to make a similar game! Because of the current climate in the game industry, I worry about what that abuse that developer might have to face. It seems ridiculous that I get a free pass to make Devastated Dreams because of my ethnicity and gender where as someone better equipped to capture its themes would be subject to harassment.
I strongly feel that our medium benefits from diversity in subject matter and characters, and that is one of the exciting things to me about working on a game taking place in The Philippines. Wouldn’t the medium benefit even more from diversity in creators’ voices? Why do some gamers work hard to silence certain groups in our industry? Harassment is time consuming, so wouldn’t it be better to just ignore someone if you aren’t a fan of her work?
No matter how inclusive and diverse the game industry is, there will always be games starring white males. I don’t think that’s going away – nor should it. As a white male, I find it kind of boring though. If I am escaping to a video game, I think being able to play as different types of characters and have totally different experiences is an amazing thing. That is the magic of our medium! Rather than passively watching what happens to a player character, you can become that person and see the world through her eyes gaining a new perspective. If you aren’t interested in that, it’s understandable, but why try to prevent the existence of those experiences?
If you are interested in learning more about Devastated Dreams and my attempt to capture the fears and struggles of being a pregnant woman, we have more information on our kickstarter as well as downloadable demo, so you can experience the world through the eyes of a character different from yourself.