The year is 1986, and there is a commercial for a new video game. As the trailer goes on, you realize that you have been left out.
In 1986, “The Legend of Zelda” was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The trailer showed two white boys playing the game and having a good time, but what about people of color or girls? Why are they not in the commercial, too?
Representation in video games and the gaming scene has always been an issue. For the longest time, games were seen exclusively for a male audience. The lack of inclusivity in early video games did not help this trend. Think about the most popular video games of the early years and what happens in them. Mario saves Princess Peach and Link saves Zelda.
Never is there a time that Zelda goes on a wild adventure to save Link. Granted this was during the early age of gaming where it was harder to craft a complicated story because of the limited hardware, but the artwork portrayed exactly what was supposed to be shown through the game. The changes to this started to slowly occur in the late 1990s.
In 1997, a game was released that changed the formula for the role-playing game (RPG) genre. The game was the wildly successful. “Final Fantasy VII” followed Cloud Strife and his team, consisting of Tifa Lockhart, Aerith Gainsborough, Barrett Wallace, Cid Highwind, Cait Sith, Yuffie Kisaragi, Vincent Valentine and Red XIII as they attempt to stop the evil Sephiroth from destroying the planet.
The game featured a rather diverse cast considering the time it was made in. While Cloud was the white male lead character, his supporting characters consisted of both women and people of color that were generally more powerful than Cloud depending on the situation in the game.
“Final Fantasy VII” was not the only game to feature a leap forward in representation. In 1998, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” was released. It featured one of the biggest plot twists in video game history, that being that the mysterious masked fighter Sheik, who aids Link during the course of the game, is revealed to be Princess Zelda the whole time.
That may not seem big now, but imagine the feeling in 1998. Seeing that Zelda is capable of doing what Link does, and in some cases is more experienced as a fighter, showed that women were and are just as capable as men are whether in a video game world or behind the controller.
With the step into the 2000s, more and more representation slowly started to unfold. Whether it is the female lead Shanoa in the game “Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia” from the predominately male Castlevania series, or Iris from “Pokemon: Black and White,” from that point, representation grew in its diversity.
With more people represented with video games in general, changes then needed to be taken on by the larger gaming community. While there are plenty of ways for this change to have happened, there is one thing in particular that fostered a lot of advancements: Twitch.
Twitch allows anyone to livestream and find their audience. This has enabled minority creators to find their audience and become massively successful. For every white male streamer like jschlatt, Ludwig and MoistCr1tikal, there are streamers like Pokimane, EsfandTV, Justaminx, Valkyrae and HasanAbi.
Twitch has allowed everyone regardless of their gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation to find their audience and become popular doing what they enjoy doing, which in most cases is simply having a good time with good games.
It has become even easier for creators to get big with the introduction of gaming organizations for livestreaming, like OfflineTV and OTK, as well as sponsorship deals from companies like Coinbase, G Fuel and Mountain Dew: Game Fuel.
Despite the heaps of development that have occurred from the birth of video games to the modern day, there is still a lot that needs to change.
For one thing, there are still subsets of gaming that are very toxic. Take online games like “Overwatch” or “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” While these games are fun to play, especially with a group of friends, playing with a randomly generated team can lead one towards the sexism and racism that still exist in the gaming world.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to stop these people. Most likely they are just saying what they say because they are under the cover of an in-game name, so nobody will ever know them personally. There have been attempts to block this behavior with changes to terms of service, and most games have a report feature for toxic players.
Regardless of the harmful behavior in these communities, video games are made for everyone. The world is at a rather high note with representation in games, and it will likely only keep growing which will lead to more people playing games and fostering change and representation that will help to make the gaming community a better place for everyone that wishes to be part of it.