Lack Of Diversity In Video Games Is Like Experiencing ‘Everyday’ Racism, Claims Canadian Study

Ian Miles Cheong Contributor
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A study conducted at the University of Saskatchewan claims that a lack of diversity in video games has a negative effect on players that’s akin to facing “everyday” racism.

CBC reported on Sunday that Cale Passmore, a researcher at the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab in Saskatoon, believes that a “lack of diversity” in racial and ethnic representation in video games has a negative impact on players. To that end, he released a 92-question survey to “almost 300 Americans” to solicit feedback for his study.

Oddly, Passmore excluded details about the survey in his interview, whether it was done in person or line, as well as the demographic backgrounds of the subjects. A more detailed look at the paper itself reveals that the survey was conducted online.

Passmore claims that discussion surrounding racial diversity in video games was usually limited to just one or two games.

“That one game where there is a Hispanic protagonist … those sorts of tokenizing examples just don’t match up with the actual data we’re seeing,” he said.

“We started out talking to friends, people of color, we created a survey that asked the types of questions that are on people’s minds but get buried or not approached,” Passmore continued, adding that the results “showed that the lack of diversity affected people in different ways depending on their own experiences.”

He stated that “the same long-term effects of depression, detachment, disengagement, low self-worth are present as outcomes, as you would see in everyday, daily racism.”

The researcher added that his research found that “color-blindness” on part of the developers contributes to the lack of diversity, stating that games with skin-tone options were typically given to characters with Caucasian features. He claims this is akin to seeing a character in “black face.”

Of the 300 or so people surveyed by Passmore, most of them said that they would want to play a character that reflected themselves in the real world.

CBC reports:

Most of the people surveyed, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, agreed that most video game characters are white and that most non-white characters are stereotypes.

But when it came to assessing the extent of the problem, Passmore said the observations of participants who identified as being a person of colour were more accurate when compared to the actual data on the lack of diversity.

The survey participants were also asked how they think the United States would respond to greater ethnic and racial diversity in games, and Passmore said the respondents were divided.

Passmore says that game developers can “do better” by allowing critics to “influence and create, to give feedback” on their character designs and development decisions by hiring them.

“You can go through all the data, all the science to try to create an accurate character that is different to yourself, or you can just bring in the type of people that you’re wishing to represent,” said Passmore.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.