Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dev Diary Questioning Gaming Maturity

Dontnod Entertainment partnered up with Square to publish their latest game Life Is Strange, an episodic series set to release starting January 30th on PC and consoles. In their first Developer's Diary on YouTube, they're stirring the pot, calling out other publishers who denied their game because the lead character was female, and praising Square for allowing them to keep the game as it stood.

"Square is basically the only publisher that didn't want to change a single thing about the game," said creative director Jean-Maxime Moris. "We had other publishers telling us 'Make it a male lead character,' and Square didn't even question that once."

This isn't the first time Dontnod experienced this. Their first game Remember Me, which critics enjoyed and has one of the most sensible female characters I've seen in decades, went through the same tribulations. Publishers wanted the lead character to be male, and to remove a kissing scene because "now it involves 2 men and we can't have that."

"You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward."

Capcom eventually published the product for the PS3.

We're all fully aware that anyone who isn't a white, straight, male is not going to be on the cover art for a video game. But to hear a developer being told to change their character's gender, therefore changing the content and context of their entire product, is, well, shocking. Knowing it versus hearing it are different things. According to EEDAR, a private consulting group, male-only hero games sold 25% better then a female options, and 75% better when there was only a female hero. 

Some news publications such as Tech Times say we should support companies like Square for providing more variety in the marketplace.

I think Tech Times forgot about the alterations to Lightning from FF13 to give her a bigger bust and slimmer waist, as well as the all male cast of FF15 including a very chesty/low clothing option female Cid. Mad Moxxi in her "hoodrat" mechanic clothing is covered up a lot by comparison, and she oozes sexuality.

In their video, Dontnod makes a very valid point that the industry will never mature if we keep placing games into a box and ask developers to not move outside of those confines."The only games that will sell are white, male heroes." Much like Hollywood, games are stuck in the old methods of development - the same ones that caused the bust in the 1980's, and we really don't want that to happen again. (Or maybe we do. Imagine a sea of Call of Duty games being buried in the dirt.)

While there have been a few games here and there with female leads, such as Beyond Good and Evil, they make up the tiniest margins of the gaming pool. It makes me wonder if the EEDAR research is even valid. Because the market is saturated with one type of hero, it's what we are accustomed to and would default to that based on our past experiences. The other options are almost always never available. If you want to be a different race? Best pick up a football game, because the options are limited. That's sad when you think about it. There's an inherit bias in the research.

I honestly don't know what it'll take to get publishers and developers to wake up and realize all of the content they are missing out on by limiting their scope of who should play the hero. Maybe it will require another video game bust to make it happen? None of us want that, but sometimes hitting the bottom of the well can bring clarity within the tight space.


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