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Why Aren't We Seeing More Diverse Content and Positive Representations in Gaming for Kids?

As the gaming industry grows, kids and teens need more quality games with authentic characters and stories.

Topics: Quality Media
Young girl using a gaming console

We know the gaming industry is a huge part of kids' and teens' day-to-day lives. So it's incredibly important that families have access to high-quality content in this growing industry. The increasing popularity of games like The Last of Us, which inspired HBO's hit TV series, showcases how realistic representation can be done well. This epic game portrays diverse characters in an authentic and positive way, which broadens its audience and provides players with an accessible, inclusive experience.

It's good for kids to see diversity when they play video games.

Our own research has shown that positive, authentic portrayals of their culture or race makes kids everywhere feel included and celebrated. When kids see their own cultural backgrounds and values represented, it has a positive effect on their mental well-being. That's why we've used that research to add a section to our media reviews for rating the diversity of representations in media.

Gamers want to see characters they can identify with and whom they might encounter in their everyday world or IRL (in real life). It's important for developers to include options that let kids play as characters that reflect who they are. According to a recent study at the University of Saskatchewan by Cale Passmore, the lack of diversity in video games can leave players feeling "the same long-term effects of depression, detachment, disengagement, low self-worth…as you would see in everyday, daily racism."

There's a lack of diversity in the gaming industry as a whole.

There's a vicious cycle when it comes to the lack of diversity in gaming, with limited representation in both the products and the industry itself. According to a 2021 study from the International Game Developers Association, only 10% of developers are of Latino or Hispanic background, and only 4% are Black. And while 32% of developers surveyed indicated that they were LGBTQ+, systemic unconscious bias and homogeneity within the workforce are seen as the biggest problems related to diversity in the gaming industry. Even worse, people of color and women are predominantly working as part-time, contract, or freelance employees, instead of having full-time positions where they can more comprehensively impact and direct game production.

It's little wonder that games featuring people of color, LGBTQ+ stories, or female-led narratives have harder times being made or promoted, if the voices in control lean away from telling them—or decide they can tell those stories without authentic lived experiences. The furor that erupted around Forspoken's team of acclaimed but all-White writers telling the story of a Black woman from New York who's transported to a fantasy land is a perfect example of this. More underrepresented groups need to be present in gaming companies so stories like these can be told authentically.

Independent content producers are leading the way on diversity.

Kids and teens would also benefit from greater access to and promotion of indie games and spaces, where diverse titles are produced and celebrated without watering down their content or smothering them with big industry advertising. Studios like Outerloop Games, MidBoss, and Humble Games frequently tell underrepresented tales, but they have to go up against games with larger budgets and significantly more buzz. Larger publishers do provide some space for indies: EA has EA Originals, Microsoft has ID @ Xbox, and Nintendo has Indie World. But too frequently, the titles they release are blips on the radar compared to the massive pushes and promotions associated with AAA games.

Only a few indies escape the "hidden gem" cult status that plagues this segment of the industry, meaning that most of these diverse tales will languish in obscurity. And because independent producers don't get a ton of attention, people then falsely believe that indies aren't worth investing in. It's a vicious cycle.

Some gaming developers are moving in the right direction.

Still, some positive examples from 2022 show that developers are taking a step in the right direction. For instance, Don't Nod's Gerda: A Flame in Winter was inspired by a real-life story of the Danish resistance. The game focuses on a Danish nurse whose life is turned upside down when the Nazis take over her small town. It's set against the backdrop of war, where there are no perfect answers or absolutes for everyday citizens who are simply trying to survive. The cultural nuances of Denmark are proudly displayed, and the game even goes out of its way to offer facts about Danish culture and customs.

Team OFK's We Are OFK deals with the struggles of young LGBTQ+ 20-somethings in Los Angeles as they try to pursue their dreams of making music while unpacking their own personal baggage and drama. The game's themes—which range from relationship issues and attachment to familial expectations and hopes—are ones that people can understand and empathize with.

And Naughty Dog's release of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy in 2022 proved that two female leads could anchor a blockbuster franchise, with Chloe and Nadine picking the treasure-hunting mantle up from Nathan Drake and embarking on an adventure anchored in Indian mythology. Both of the lead characters are strong women who are just as clever and capable as the men they fight, and the story has strong themes of friendship and loyalty.

These games are great examples of diversity and positive, authentic representation. We need to see more options like this to improve the state of gaming for our kids. It's only by engaging gamers from all demographics that the industry can truly reach audiences in a more meaningful way.

Jeff Haynes

As Common Sense's senior editor, head of games and digital Jeff Haynes spends his time doing things like blasting aliens, winning sports championships, and creating digital worlds to tell kids and parents about the best gaming and website experiences available. Having covered the gaming and technology industries for more than 15 years, Jeff previously worked at Entertainment Tonight, Game-Over Online, Inside Kung-Fu, MXB and other magazines, as well as IGN and TechBargains. His technology expertise has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo, MSN and many other websites, newspapers, and magazines. When he's not playing games, he fights ninja and pirates (on alternating Thursdays); debates the methods, merits, and madness of shows like Top Gear, Chopped, and MythBusters, tinkers with technology of all shapes and sizes, embraces his inner audiophile, and absorbs horror writing and movies of all kinds when his child is tucked safely in bed at night.