Some of the most impactful moments of gaming showcasing diversity are in it’s smallest details. There are games and genres that can get away with not deviating from the standard and nobody will really notice. Racing games are my biggest example of these moments and details. In most racing games all you see are the car or a set of hands in holding a steering wheel. Most games just show a pair of white hands holding the wheel. It’s not a big deal and most people don’t notice. It’s the type of thing that if I were to complain about it publicly I would be shouted down for being an SJW or for being mad about something that “doesn’t matter.” It does matter. The normalization of diverse people in different roles is critical to breaking down stereotypes for people of color and people of diverse identities. It matters.
That’s why it’s so awesome when Forza Horizon 4 allowed me to have a character whose racial identity I could choose. I was able to make the hands look like mine and it really helped my immersion in the game. I was trying a demo for a racing game called Inertial Drift and each car has a character associated with it and both characters were black. One was a woman and one was a man. The characters seem to have zero effect on the game play or car’s behavior but the game studio made the characters diverse anyways. They didn’t have to. Nobody would have noticed if both characters looked like Paul Walker, so it’s really heartening to see them deviate from the norm. These moments create a new normal. Someday I won’t notice that the hands on the steering look like mine because they have for so long. Test Drive Unlimited was not a great racing game but I really fell in love with it because I had agency over what the driver looked like and it was one of the first times I remember making a driving game character look like me.
Sports games have always been really solid about allowing the player to create coaches and players that look different than the norm. I was playing NCAA Basketball 10 for Xbox 360 the other day and made the coach of the Richmond Spiders look like my Dad. I am able to have way more Division I coaches of color in the NCAA game than the sport has in real life (especially for the NCAA Football games…). It’s a small touch but it has larger ramifications. These moments help change the idea of what a great coach can look like. I’ll never forget seeing cornrows in video games for the first time playing NBA 2K. Frankly, I think I was always drawn to sports games for this reason. I don’t look like Mario or the guy from Pit Fall but I absolutely looked like Buster or Bruiser in Basketbrawl on the Atari 7800.
It’s been really fun watching Pokemon games start adding high-top fades and real black hair styles to their games. I tried out Ninjala on the Switch and my character has some fire dreads that I would never see in a game like that 5 years ago. I am excited to see what the next generation of consoles brings in terms of these small moments of diversity in games. It’s getting better all the time. Let me know if you have any of these small moments you’ve noticed while gaming in the comments. Thanks!