More variety than before, but there’s room for more

More variety than before, but there’s room for more

This article was produced and funded by University of OsloRead more.

Figures from Statistics Norway (ssb.no) shows that nearly half of Norway’s population under the age of 45 plays computer games daily.

In the past 20 years, more and more strange characters have appeared in computer games. But there’s still a long way to go until queer representation reflects the world outside of gaming.

As long as there have been computer games to play, there have also been queer gamers. But this is not reflected in the figures and characters that appear in the games.

“We have been finding queer people in games since around the mid-1980s, but mostly as minor side characters and often stereotyped,” says researcher Joachim Johansen Ostby from the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo.

This was the trend until about 2005. Since then, things have changed. Partly in line with the community outside the gaming world.

Only a vocal minority reacts negatively

-We don’t see a lot of stereotypical treatment anymore. They’ve moved toward more diverse personalities and toward more progressive inclusion, Ostby says.

He has just completed a study on diversity and LGBT inclusion in computer games.

One of the best examples of how the world has changed is The Last of Us Part II. It was launched in 2020. The first game was a smash hit and later became a TV series. The sequel has a lesbian protagonist.

– There were those who reacted negatively, but I don’t think they had much to say. The game sold four million copies in its first weekend of availability.

Love dawns in the characters Ellie and Dina from the game “The Last of Us Part II.”

-I think most people think it’s totally fine or they don’t think about it much. “Then there’s always a vocal minority that makes a lot of noise and thinks it’s ugly,” Ostby says.

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At work on the report Game developers and gamers He has interviewed queer people both among those who make games and those who use them.

It’s important to feel included

For gamers, it’s extremely important that weirdness and diversity are represented in games. Then they can play characters they know and feel included.

– This is important for gay people to be able to express themselves, feel seen and adapt things to their own desires and needs, says Ostby.

There are many ways to be eccentric. This is also reflected in the people he spoke to in interviews. But it’s not always important to them that exactly what their queerness looks like is represented.

-My informants are quite open about what kind of weirdness they want. They seem interested in seeing diversity in this area as well. The constant thing is that they want realistic, accurate stories, Ostby says.

Additionally, both players and developers are concerned that queerness could help counter prejudices and stereotypes among straight people. Then as a normal part of gaming. Ostby hopes that this will also be part of the government’s upcoming computer gaming strategy (regjeringen.no).

Norway is a liberal country, but our gaming industry has not been able to fully keep up. “I hope the report highlights the fact that this is something they can invest in and that Norway can be an essential supplier in this area as well,” he says.

Strangeness is hidden behind freedom of choice

One common way to represent weirdness in games is to include options through which the player can express different degrees of weirdness.

-More and more developers are moving in the direction of offering options that open up more possibilities. This, for example, is common in the role-playing game genre. There, players often get a lot of freedom to choose things themselves. It could be the appearance and gender of the main characters or the choices you can make in the game’s story, Ostby says.

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Joachim Johansen Ostby led the research project for developers and players of exotic games.

Joachim Johansen Ostby led the research project for developers and players of exotic games.

But it also means that straight players who don’t make such choices can play the game without seeing any trace of weirdness.

– This means that you can in many ways avoid interacting with queer characters. There may be many strange stories that they don’t understand because of their personal choices, Ostby says.

He could imagine doing more research for this group of players. How do they feel that weirdness is a part of gaming? Do they get it at all?

– Since many of my LGBT informants worry that representation is important to increase empathy and understanding, it was fun to follow up on that by talking to straight players about how they experience the same kind of representation, he says.

Advice for developers

Although development is moving towards more openness and more exoticism in the gaming world as well, Ostby believes there are significant opportunities for improvement. Based on the interviews in the report, he has several pieces of advice for Norwegian game developers:

-If you are going to develop a queer story, make sure you include some queer people who can contribute to the development. At least if you’re not a stranger, he says and continues:

– In games where the player can choose the character themselves, it is preferable for the player to have more freedom to choose a combination of gender expression, gender, and any pronoun choice where possible.

Developers also don’t have to worry about offending what is traditionally seen as their core audience: white males between the ages of 18 and 30.

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– This was an important slide. This is a group with strong purchasing power that spends a lot of time in games. But in reality, they’re just a subset of everyone who plays, Ostby points out.

He is optimistic and believes he sees signs of change. The industry itself has taken a stand. At least large parts of it.

– Previously, the gaming industry might have been more cautious about speaking out. Now they are more clear and say that they should have diversity in games. It’s important for the developers themselves, and it’s important for players, employees, and the community. “Those who don’t like it just have to learn to live with it,” Ostby says.

reference:

Joachim Johansen Ostby: Game developers and gamers. Diversity and inclusion of LGBT people in computer gaming, game development, and gaming culture. Research report from the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo2023.

About search

Joachim Johansen Ostby is a senior lecturer at the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. He led the research project Game developers and gamers Which ended in September 2023.

The project investigated how LGBT Norwegian game developers and young LGBT gamers experience computer games, game development, and gaming culture.

The goal of the project was, among other things, to explore the opportunities and challenges that queer players face in game content and game culture. Furthermore, the project will provide a better understanding of how LGBT youth in Norway use games to develop and understand identity and reach out to different communities.

The project wanted to contribute relevant information to the government’s computer gaming strategy. Among other things, they will work to confront bias and strive for diversity in games and among players.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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