Before going into this topic, I acknowledge my privilege as a white, straight, cisgender male, and how it may not be my place to say which games do or do not represent women, people of colour or non-heteronormative people.
Diversity is something that games tend to struggle with. Ever since the 80s, games have been primarily marketed (almost randomly) towards boys, and while progress has definitely been made, there’s still a significant imbalance in the kinds of people represented in games.
So, to celebrate our diversity issue, I will be looking at a few games that portray different groups of people thoughtfully and intelligently. If you feel like you don’t see people like yourself represented in games nearly enough, take a look at the list below and see if any of them catch your eye.
Saints Row 3 and 4
When it comes to representation, character creation tools are both a huge advantage and a grave risk that games have over other mediums. On one hand, you can create an avatar that looks just like you! How much more represented can you be when you’re in the game world itself. But on the other hand, these options are limited by what the developers put in. What if your skin tone isn’t one of the options? What does a non-binary person do when the only options they’re given are male or female bodies? Is it fair that your avatar can only romance characters of the opposite sex even if that’s not what you’re into?
This is where both Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 excel. While there are male and female body and voice presets (making them not truly non-binary), both can be manipulated to be as masculine, feminine, or both as you desire. You can make your character whatever colour you want, from black to white to red to blue, whatever you prefer. Not only that, but throughout Saints Row 4, you are referred to by “they/them” pronouns, and called by the gender neutral term “Chief” (y’know, since you’re the president of the United States.) Both games are all about watching yourself be a badass, whether as a gang leader or the superpowered leader of the free world.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Character creation is one thing, but it’s nothing compared to seeing a fleshed out character that was designed to be the way that they are. Despite its reputation as a glorified crime simulator, the Grand Theft Auto series repeatedly gives us interesting shoes for players to step in, from many different backgrounds and cultures. In fact, there’s enough good examples that I could recommend multiple entries, including GTA IV for its portrayal of Niko, an immigrant trying to get by in America, and GTA V, for the surprisingly nuanced Franklin, who stands out as the most fleshed-out and realistic protagonist against two white caricatures. However, if you’re looking for good representation, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas takes the cake. While the protagonist, CJ, might deal with problems regarding his race and his upbringing (having been a member of a gang in a poor Los Santos neighbourhood), he’s far from a stereotype. Place him in any other story, and he’d be just as interesting to play as. On top of that, he doesn’t share the limelight with a white protagonist, so the story of San Andreas is entirely his own. Part of the reason the game is so well-regarded over fifteen years after its release is how CJ resonated with people.
Horizon Zero Dawn
The video games industry has a weird relationship with women. While all the evidence suggests that an equal proportion of men and women enjoy gaming, it seems many developers refuse to cater to women. In a sea of burly white dudes posing on the cover of your favourite games, only a select few women would stand among them, and even then, they’d usually either be hyper-sexualised or a Mary Sue (I’m looking at you, OG Lara Croft). Thankfully, if you’re looking for a fantastic game with one of the best female protagonists in the history of gaming, you need look no further than Horizon Zero Dawn.
Aloy is confident, but also arrogant. She’s skilled, but headstrong. She’s kind, but can be abrasive. She’s smart, but often lacks caution. She’s optimistic, but can fold under too much pressure. She acknowledges her disadvantages, but rarely her privileges.
While she has a very defined personality, Aloy is far from just one thing. She has many good and bad qualities that shift and grow throughout the game. She’s interesting from beginning to end, and every moment in between. In short; she’s a protagonist written with the same care and attention usually given to male protagonists. It’s concerning that there aren’t nearly as many female protagonists given the same amount of love, but if you’re looking for one, then Horizon Zero Dawn is definitely for you!