By Emma Nelson, Staff Writer
Last Wednesday, Dr. Adrienne Shaw, an assistant professor at Temple University, gave a lecture in Chase Hall on Haverford campus entitled “Representation Matters. Reframing Arguments for Diversity in Digital Games.” After a short introduction from representatives of the college’s Distinguished Visitor and the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program – a sponsor of the lecture – Dr. Shaw began her presentation.
Shaw’s talk was heavily based around research done for her book, Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture, published in 2015. This research consisted of interviews with individuals within the gaming community, during which Shaw asked the participants about representation in video games. From this method of information gathering, Shaw said she became aware that gamers considered representation “nice when it happens.”
“Representation,” in this context, refers to the inclusion of characters or situations that replicate the experiences of groups that are typically less visible in media: for example, women and girls, persons of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Aware of this trend, Dr. Shaw framed her goal in relation to addressing the problem-fraught issue of representation in gaming: more and better representation can be achieved by looking at the areas where there is no need for it. To emphasize this idea, Dr. Shaw presented evidence collected by Rosalind Wiseman and Ashly Burch, presented at the Game Developers Conference in 2015. In a study of children, male and female, young and adolescent, they found that kids don’t have strong preferences for the gender of the character they select in-game.
So why push the gaming industry for better representation? As Adrienne Shaw explains it, this movement is fourth-wave feminism. Also known as cyberfeminism and occasionally post-feminism, fourth-wave feminism has emerged in response to post-World War Two shifts from female to male computer operators. As men returned from war and took over jobs in the computing field, they were set on the path to dominance in the gaming industry, which emerged in the 1970s. Studies of those employed in said industry show that games are made by overwhelming majorities of white heterosexual males. Fourth-wave feminism presents itself in “Women in Games” efforts, popular especially in the early 2010s.
Dr. Shaw accepts that “change takes time,” and compared the current “wave” of feminism to a slow but powerful eroding force which will continue to challenge game-makers to push themselves toward greater representation of minorities in games. Her current work involves a longitudinal study of LGBTQ+ inclusion in games, spanning the last three decades. After a handful of concluding questions from the audience, Dr. Shaw wrapped up her presentation with a warning: the gaming industry will need a structural renovation before it embraces the diversity of gamers.