Video game landscape becoming more diverse, says Sudbury prof

While all kinds of people play video games today, those people don’t always see themselves represented in games. But that’s starting to change, according to Laurentian University professor Aaron Langille.

Diverse characters historically left out in video game industry

Video games like Overwatch are making strides when it comes to portraying diverse characters. Left to right: Farah, Tracer, Zarya and Mercy, 4 of the playable characters from Overwatch. (Blizzard Entertainment)

While all kinds of people play video games today, those people don't always see themselves represented in the games.

But that's starting to change, according to Laurentian University professor Aaron Langille.

Langille, who teaches video game design and computer science, says diverse characters have historically been left out of the video game landscape.

"If anyone's sort of taking a look at who's in the video games, whether they're playable characters or even non-playable characters, you don't see a lot of people of colour," he says.

"There's very little representation for LGBTQ communities."

Langille says it's easy to list video games that only have male protagonists, with little to no female secondary characters.

Often those female characters are relegated to the role of damsel — or princess — in distress.

Do you see yourself reflected in the video games you play? We look at the issue of representation in video games with our Technology Matters columnist Aaron Langille. 8:04

'Systemic underrepresentation'

One of the reasons for this lack of representation, Langille explains, is that video games are often marketed to a narrow demographic of straight, white, middle class men.

"Through catering to that group they've ignored a lot of other groups that are playing video games, so you have a lot of systemic underrepresentation in video games," he says.

Although underrepresentation has been ingrained in the video game industry, Langille says designers and developers are starting to make strides when it comes to diversity.

He points to Overwatch, a popular multiplayer first-person shooter game that offers "extremely diverse array of playable characters."

"They have really gone out of their way to say 'Look, come and play our game. You will find yourself represented at some level, somewhere.'"

Aaron Langille is a professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

A tool for social change?

Diversity is also being reflected in the independent game industry in Canada.

Langille cites the Indie Game House, a now defunct co-operative of developers in Vancouver, as an example of a group that has consciously designed games that reflect the people who play them.

"It's important to remember that no matter who you see on the screen, everybody's playing video games. People from all walks of life, all ages are playing these games," he says.

"I think video games are a tool for social change, whether we're using them specifically for that or not."