Developing Diversity

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.

Posted in Dev Advice, Devastated Dreams
11 comments on “Developing Diversity
  1. Hatter says:

    It is sad that you condemn extremists and express extreme views at the same time.

    Yes, the answer IS simple. Because the people who harass people are vocal minority who wants to be heard by throwing profanities at controversial topics. They are cowardly morons who hide behind the anonymity.

    It has nothing to do with you being white heterosexual male. Your conclusion couldn’t possibly make sense because many ‘white heterosexual males’ have been harassed like Joss Whedon, Total Biscuit, and Matt Tyler.

  2. Commenter says:

    I’m commenting here, rather than on kickstarter because, hey, kickstarter’s got my real name on it, and you’re not the only one who fears backlashes.

    The tenor of debate around these sort of issues, is of course awful, and I don’t dispute anything you’re saying here, except for one thing: the reason you’re not being harrassed.

    I suspect it’s not because you’re a white man, but because of the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing: ” 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”.

    Making games because you want to tell a fascinating (and frightening) story, involving well-thought out treatments of myth and folklore and a realistic portrayal of an interesting protagonist is all the reason you need, and it shows in how much you love the project. If you had sat down saying “I need to make a diverse game. No white men. The protagonist has to be a woman. But white women are just too priveliged, let’s look for some unrepresented ethnicity. Ooh, Filipinos! They’re so delightfully unrepresented! And we’ll make the main character pregnant, because no-one’s ever made a game about a pregnant main character! It’ll be so diverse!”, then the whole thing would feel shallow and desparate.

    You wanted to make a piece of art that expressed your feelings. That’s all that matters.

    Most of the people you see objecting to diversity aren’t objecting to the presence of women of people who aren’t white. They’re objecting to those characters being shoe-horned in to achieve diversity. “Diversity” shouldn’t be an end in and of itself, because otherwise you end up with shallow characters and artists deciding not to make the art they want, but the art they feel they have to make.

  3. Hatter – While anyone is the subject to abuse on the internet, I think women specifically have a harder time – especially when they are outspoken about creating women characters in games that don’t fall into the male fantasy. There is also the concept of the “fake gamer girl” where women have to “prove” that they genuinely like games is unfair and ridiculous. The real conclusion I was trying to make is that people speaking out for diversity (often women, LGBT, etc) are sometimes targeted and subject to cruelty. That is what I’m speaking out against. I can’t prove that I’m not being harassed that there is no outrage because I’m a white male, I think the greater issue is the harassment in general.

    Commenter – I’m not sure that’s the case. I don’t really follow these things too closely, but Brianna Wu was interviewed in the John Oliver segment. I don’t know her personally, but at least by looking at Wikipedia, it seems like all she did was to speak out in favor of having more women developers and created a game with female protagonists. Maybe she said something more inflammatory, but it seems like she just wants more diversity of developers, which is a good thing, right?

    • Hatter says:

      I am not saying women in the game industry are not getting harassed. However, your statement that states ‘because I am a white heterosexual male’ is extreme and ignores reality.

      Phil Fish, Notch, TotalBiscuit, Tim Shafer, etc. received constant harassment due to being controversial figures in the game industry.

      As I have stated before, the harassers will go for controversial topics/figures/etc because that is where their non-sense is more likely heard. They are extremely vocal minority and do not represent gamers in anyway.

    • Hurin says:

      Brianna Wu is a) Not a woman. b) Literally turned being a victim into a living.

      I would take anything Wu says, including being forced from his home, with several grains of salt.

    • Techni says:

      ” but at least by looking at Wikipedia, it seems like all she did was ”

      That’s the wrong place to check as editors have said its more biased than the article on Hitler.

      According to Brianna wus coworkers, she got harassed because she wanted to, she harassed gamers until they fought back
      https://archive.today/uJ0rk

      She doesn’t want diversity, she’s fought for the exact opposite.

  4. Commenter says:

    Anyone who says anything on the internet is subject to harrassment. From the statistics I’ve read, it seems that women certainly receive more harrassment of the sexual variety, but men receive more of other kinds. Not saying it’s alright in any way, just saying it’s not something unique to women or LGBT people or non-white people, or whatever background.

    With regards to Brianna Wu specifically, my memory of the events were that she inserted herself into the Gamergate shitstorm. As things were unfolding, she made a bunch of anti-gamergate memes, which got spread a little, people in Gamergate responded, she responded back, and things just escalated from there. She proved to be a very entertaining adversary, especially when people realised she was on the side objecting to objectification of women, when the women in her game are all massively sexualised, and complaining about other people with “privelige” when she’s from a massively wealthy family who gave her things like $200,000 to start an animation studio. Some of the criticism levelled at her was unwarranted, of course, especially the transphobic stuff, but she was basically a non-entity who’d made one not-very-good mobile game.

    A lot of this probably sounds like I’m exactly the kind of person you were worried about. I’m not, but I’m at least sympathetic to some of the objections to Social Justice Warrior-ing, which I’d define not as advocating more diveristy, but instead advocating diversity by attacking anyone who doesn’t comply. Regardless, thanks for responding, even if we disagree.

  5. Perhaps my viewpoint is wrong, but I’ve talked to women in the game industry who definitely seem to have it tougher than I in terms of online abuse. I don’t mean actual GamerGate targets but just regular women. I can’t think of men that have gotten the level of abuse that women can be subjected to. Maybe it is the sexual nature that makes it worse? I don’t know.

    I guess I agree with you on some points. I think it is totally okay if they want to make the Witcher 3 only have white people. However, I worry that the abuse of outspoken people (as well as women who just find themselves in the crosshairs) will discourage people from entering/staying the industry, which is sad. I don’t think abusing anyone on the internet is okay for any reason – even if they are trying to stir up trouble. That’s my two cents anyway. Thank you for remaining civil! 🙂

  6. Techni says:

    “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. ”

    Because that “female lead” is a habitual liar, and isn’t a lead either. She’s been making ignorant bigoted claims about gamers for a year now. It’s not cause you’re white, its simpler than that. It’s cause she’s wrong.

    “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”

    The fact that there’s no evidence should tell you something (don’t make the claim if you can’t back it up. THATS what gets labeled as SJW, a lack of fact checking)

    I do have evidence, and its men that get more harassment.
    http://www.reaxxion.com/5149/women-in-gaming-receive-more-praise-and-privilege-than-men

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/04/men-are-harassed-more-than-women-online.html

    “there will always be games starring white males. I don’t think that’s going away – nor should it.”

    That female lead you mentioned however IS advocating for that.
    And to say playing as white male is boring sounds very racist to me. How much fun a game is, is not a product of the race of the protagonist!

    ” then the whole thing would feel shallow and desparate.”

    And you finally got to the point. That’s exactly how the people that female lead has been attacking for months (yes, she’s been attacking them) feel. That’s why they accepted your game. They agree with you. Not her

  7. Jon says:

    Matt, whether you decide to publish my comment, or not, at least have a look at this letter published a few days ago:
    https://saraarahman.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/biased-cyberhate-researcher-my-response/

  8. Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for remaining civil. I have a few points of clarification:
    1) I don’t know Brenna Wu. I’ve never met her, and I don’t really know her story. Bringing up her name was probably a bad idea since I am not very informed on the subject. However, I do feel like even if she kicked a hornets nest or baited trolls or even said nasty things, she shouldn’t have to fear for her safety. Can we all agree that death threats or threats of sexual assault aren’t cool – no matter what she said online?
    2) The friend of mine is someone totally not controversial and doesn’t speak out for women representation. It is not my place to speak about her experience other than to say that the way she was treated unfairly for being a woman made me really think about the game industry and how it can be for people who aren’t male…
    3) Depending on how you collect statistics, you can use them to prove anything (as was the complaint in the biased cyberhate blog post) To my knowledge, none of the links address the severity or the emotional toll of threats. I don’t think Phil Fish was threatened with sexual violence for example. That would upset me more than curse words. “Commenter” agreed that women get more harassment of the sexual variety, which I would say is worse.

    In the end, all I am trying to say is that everyone should be treated decently regardless of their opinion, gender, ethnicity, and background. I suppose I muddled the issue by stating my opinion on Devastated Dreams’ reaction (or lack there of), but that wasn’t really the main point I was trying to make. Why should we make people feel unwelcome to make games because of opinions they have? For example, if people we unwelcoming to Scott Cawthorn for his Christian opinions and games, and he gave up (and in reading interviews with him, it sounds like he almost did), then we wouldn’t have Five Nights at Freddy’s. Whether you like that game or not, I think it has brought joy and scares to millions. My concern is that negativity/harassment will push people out of the industry and the medium will be worse for it, and I suppose that doesn’t just apply to women. The opinions of the developer doesn’t mean the game can’t be great. Phil Fish is pretty abrasive on twitter, but Fez is still an amazing work of art. Notch made it pretty clear that he sold Mojang because he didn’t want to be the public face of Minecraft (and the scrutiny that entails). Do we gain anything by pushing developers away? I think we lose a lot. I feel that women are being scared away more, but that doesn’t really matter. We should treat everyone online as people – because they are.

    I think this comment is a much better post than my original one, so thank you for pointing out the holes in what I wrote.

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