Feb 19 2014

Game Development, Equality and Crusades

One of the things that has gone around in game development circles for at least the last several years, and likely longer, is the concept of "equality" — almost especially for women (or at least, most loudly for women), but also for non-Caucasians and for those who are handicapped. The concept is not so much about equal time, but for equal representation: if white men are going to be shown as strong, capable, smart, brave, etc., etc., then so should everyone else (and they should be fully dressed, at that). In addition, there has been a groundswell of effort to get more women (specifically) into positions in the gaming industry, and to recognize women as serious gamers, equal in skill and competitiveness with their male counterparts.

We applaud the female gamers for stepping forward and wish them luck. We also wish the male gamers luck, and honestly hope that, in whatever games they play, the person with the best skills and strategy wins. Very few of our games will ever likely have a lot of directly competitive game-play; while there will be some games with Player vs. Player aspects, that's not our focus.

Encouraging more women to get into the gaming industry will only happen as the gaming industry itself changes and matures. This is a slow process, but it's an inevitable one; the smaller companies (such as Ætheric), many of which have a large percentage of women in them, are coming in under the feet of the giants, and are encouraging that change simply by existing. Every time the small companies succeed, even in some small way, the industry is irrevocably marked. The people that want the changes to happen faster need to figure out how to support the small changes that are made so that they can go "upstream" (up into the larger companies) and become part of the accepted makeup of the industry. This is how any industry matures; this is how we'll grow, too.

That being said, Ætheric Worlds is a company. We're here to make games that people enjoy. While we do want to encourage the gaming industry to mature and we're going to behave the way we want the industry to be, we're not here to take on any crusades — and that includes the one of equality.

We have women in places of authority, not because they're women but because they're the right person to have in that position. We have men in positions of equal authority for that same reason. I am partially handicapped, but that's not why I'm president; I'm president because I'm the one who had the idea and drive to start the company. When it comes to hiring people, their gender, their age, the color of their skin, and whether or not they need some sort of accommodation is completely irrelevant; the relevant parts are Can they do the job we want them to do? and Will they fit with the company in such a way as to become an integral part of our team? If the answer to both of those questions are yes, then that's the right point to start from.

So that's all grand, but what about inside the games? Males, especially beefy white guys, are the most abundant character. While there are notable exceptions, women are most often sidekicks, or afterthoughts, or have ... well, let's just call it "the +5 armor of distraction."

With NEXUS, it's pretty obvious that we have a larger game in mind down the road. Tyanaphos is too large of a world to be used simply for a card game — there's detail there that hints to much more. It's a fantasy world with non-human races, and as such, it's easy to balance the races, to be 'fair' about representation. The thing is, there's humans there, too. When you start adding in the sheer variety of humans to the non-human races available, balancing what people see becomes more complicated.

Balancing the variety of male vs. female, making sure there's fair representation of age, ability, and preferences... it's not going to happen. In the end they're not all going to be equal, and there's no way to make them be. The NPCs are going to be what the story demands them to be.

However, what we can, and will, do is make it so that the players have as much fair representation as we can. We can leave as much choice in the hands of the players about who and what they want to play as we can. There will be, granted, some choices we can't or won't offer at times — if we're writing a sword and sorcery adventure game about fighting off invading hordes, chances are pretty good we're not going to offer the option of playing a person in a wheelchair [1]. There's absolutely no reason not to offer the choice of a female in full plate armor, however. Or a male in "+5 armor of distraction", for that matter (hey, some people like different sorts of fan-service!).

We're not crusading, although we understand the crusades out there, and why they're there. We are about equality. We believe that change and growth can happen, and that they have to happen, for the health and well-being of our industry, our workers, and even our players. We hope to provide a place both in our games and in our company for that equality to flourish, and act as an example for others to follow.

[1]If you have thoughts about how to be a person in a wheelchair fighting off invading hordes during a "sword and sorcery" adventure game, please keep this thought until we open our forums and then start a discussion thread. We'd like to see it.

Have something to say related to this blog entry? We'd love to see it, and so would others. Go here and share your thoughts.