So about a week ago, I showed our company’s mission statement, and I thought maybe I should help give you an idea of what we’re talking about when it comes to representation.
It’s the difference between tokenism and actual representation. There are many companies that practice tokenism (not naming names). They hire one or two people who fit into neat little boxes and go ‘See how we’re all inclusive here’ and then more or less shut up about it. Or they’ll go ‘hey, we’re going to make one minor person in this game different, that counts, right?’
Of course it doesn’t count. What are you giving to the community? What are you letting them give to the community? And this is what we mean when we’re talking about wanting representation. It’s a lot more than saying ‘hey, we hired this black guy or this woman or this non-binary person’. It’s a lot more than saying ‘by the way, we dropped an NPC into a game who’s trans’. That’s called a first step.
What we want to do, what we’re trying to do, is to let these people work for us and tell their stories. Not just ‘work for us on what we want’, but work on the stories that they want to tell. To make the games that matter to them. For characters, we want to be inclusive. No single one token, but example characters that don’t fit into nice little boxes, with personalities and quirks that help to change things up. To show that there are more people out there than anyone might comprehend.
We want our writers to explore and talk about their cultures, their heritages, their communities. Our VP has often complained that many fantasy games use Middle-Ages European culture-ish as their main go-to. He’s been told many times ‘well, that’s what people buy’. Sure. If you go to a burger joint and they have twenty different types of hamburger, and one chicken burger, what gets bought more?
So, we’re putting our own money where our mouth is. We’re looking for writers from different countries and backgrounds to write games about their cultures. We want games set in a fantasy ancient Brazil, or how about one exploring early Mexico? Let’s go with an India that was never colonized and led the way for civilization into the modern age or the future? How about Muslem holy warriors fighting hidden horrors that others simply do not see with prayer and investigation, because weapons simply don’t work?
Or, in our flagship product, among the sample characters is a guy who’s possessed by his sister, taking turns using the body they have to share? Another is a shape-shifting robot that’s genderfluid, and can change between a male form and a female form and goes by ‘them’, rather than he or her. If we dropped them in as NPCs, it wouldn’t feel right. These are front-and-center characters a player could pick up and run with, given a background and details to show they’re people.
Or, in our upcoming game, Keepsakes (formerly Widdershins), the characters are sexless. They can be male or female or neither, because in this case, gender doesn’t matter. They’re toys and dolls, plastic figures and mannequins. They can present how they want to present, and put as much importance into that as they wish.
And this isn’t about being “woke” or being a “Social Justice Warrior”. This is about accepting that there are people out there who don’t see themselves in gaming, in television, in books, in movies. The world just doesn’t acknowledge them.
We do. We see you out there, because some of us here are one of you. We want to hear your voice, amplify it, and show the world that your thoughts, opinions, and very existence matter.
And here’s the thing. The difference between tokenism and inclusiveness? It isn’t a one and done. It is a process, and it never ends. It is something you do, and you keep doing, and you hope that you’re doing right. And if you do it wrong? You apologize. You sincerely apologize. Then you try to correct your mistake if you can, and you try to do better next time.
If you make a mistake or do something wrong, you don’t stop. You don’t justify it. You don’t quit and you don’t back away. You admit your fault, you listen to the people you are trying to represent, you learn from your mistakes, and you push forward. You ignore the people who hate you and want to tear you down for not making it all about them, and you focus on the people who need to be heard.
That is inclusiveness. That is representation.
That is how you show respect to those who have been disrespected for generations.
And you will make enemies. Most enemies will be from people who already have all the representation they would ever need and more. And some enemies may be people you truly want to include. It happens. But if you really want to be a force of change, you have to accept this and press forward. Because it’s the right thing to do, and for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do.
So that’s it then. Hopefully next time I’ll talk to you about some of the games they’re working on in the company, and I’ll give you a sneak peek into what they’re about. See everyone later!