It is very rare to find a non-white female character as the main character in video games. Many studies of triple A titles (big budget games) have shown that women are rarely the mainly character (20% or less) and that when they are the main character, they are either portrayed in a very sexual manner or as a submissive person that needs to be saved.
Casual games are very different in that women are the main character about 50-60% of the time and that male-female duos account for about 10%. That is a far larger proportion of games that have female characters as the protagonists, compared to the big-budget games. Also, women are not portrayed in a sexual manner, nor are they confined to gender stereotypes. There are a lot of games in which women take on very assertive qualities, some of which would be traditionally considered “masculine.” Women are also portrayed in a lot of different occupations that are not limited to gender stereotypes. Of course, you see the cake maker, the fashion designer, etc., but women are also shown as mechanics, real estate tycoons, crime investigators, and pilots.
Casual games may have overcome the “gender” barrier, but race is still non-representative of what society is really like. For example, a random sample of 200 games showed that more than 90% of the human characters were white. The few games that did have non-white races were American Indian, Pacific Islander, and Latino. But recently I came across Garden Dash, from the makers of the famous Diner Dash series, which features a Black female main character.
It is very interesting how this character is depicted. She is shown as a workaholic businesswoman who loves her job too much and is highly stressed out. Her colleagues urge her to take a vacation, and she sobbingly complains to Flo (waitress at the diner) that she is on “vacation,” saying it as if it is a dirty word. She decides to garden to reduce her stress levels, but at the same time, her competitive, business-oriented mind is tickled by the idea of building a gardening business in the city.
Compared to Flo, who is really laid back, Barbara (the main character) has a lot of negative personality qualities, such as work obsession and high anxiety, but there are also positive qualities, such as professionalism and passion. I don’t know if the designers were deliberately trying to counter the negative racial stereotype of black people being lazy, but it is certainly very intriguing that they chose to make this character more industrious and driven than the norm.
If there is any truth to the studies that try to demonstrate the effects of playing video games, perhaps this game will make people rethink, or unconsciously adjust negative racial stereotypes related to black people. A lot of research on stereotypes have shown that it is not a conscious decision but an image that related with automatic processes in the brain. Given that the majority of people who play casual games are older women, that is certainly a good place to start with. If this game could at all make people alter people’s perception of what black women are like, it could have an interesting cultural impact. And for black women who are actually playing the game, perhaps seeing a black female character in such an empowering role could boost self-esteem and even encourage them to be more proactive with their lives.
But this is not just a post about black women. It so happened that this recently-released game had a minority race as the main character. Whether it be Asian, Latino, multi-racial, or whatever, I think it is important to show diversity in the race of the character. Although I am not black, I still enjoyed playing the game. It was also refreshing to see a different type of character. To be frank, I was getting somewhat tired of seeing only white women. Even if designers don’t care a funk about psychological effects of race representation, they should still consider diversity from the aspect of content diversity. There are so many casual games coming out (at least one or two every day) racial diversity could actually make the game stand out from other games.
(Cross-posted on Play As Life)