Manveer Heir, gameplay designer on a new, currently untitled Mass Effect game, has used a speech at the Game Developers Conference 2014 to call on developers to reject character stereotypes in order to avoid "creative stagnation" in the industry, and as a "social reponsibility to mankind."
In his talk - titled Misogyny, Racism and Homophobia: Where do video games stand? - Heir called on game developers to speak up about problematic issues in development and to be more willing to create games that address societal prejudices head on.
"If we want to start making games that tackle race, gender and sexual orientation and everything else in positive ways instead of falling into stereotypical, problematic ways then we have to step our collective games up. This, to me, is one of the biggest areas of growth in this industry. It's where I see so much promise. But I'll be honest - I think we're going to make a lot of missteps along the way but I don't think that means the path is wrong. It just means we need to watch where we're going and try harder," he said.
Heir stressed that he wasn't trying to "play the blame game," and that stereotypical characters do not make a developer racist, sexist, or homophobic. However, he did say that content creators have a "social reponsibility to mankind" to move away from cliche portrayals, citing a number of studies on the impacts of media representation on minority groups.
"Why should we reject stereotypes? Not only is it lazy, but it's fairly boring. We play so many games that use the same stereotypes. I get fed up with the same old story and characters in every game. I know there are others like me, I talk to them all the time. For me, these stereotypes are contributing to the creative stagnation in our industry. But I also believe we need to reject stereotypes as a social responsibility to mankind," he continued.
Heir rejected the common argument that stereotyped representations are realistic. "We shouldn't use realism as an excuse... because most of our games aren't anywhere near realistic," he said. "The premise of the games we make is so fantastical that to call it realistic is beyond laughable... If we want to make meaningful games, if we want to avoid turning away a significant portion of our potential audience, if we want to be a successful medium that is grown-up and not stuck in adolescence, then we need to stop falling back on the realism excuse and use realism responsibly and not as a default."
Heir ended his talk, to a standing ovation, by challenging developers to be agents of change. "Wherever we stand today as an industry, I am confident that we will stand somewhere far better tomorrow as long as you right here are willing to be an agent of change."
Source: GamesIndustry International
Image credit: Dennis Scimeca / GamesBeat