(The below article was written for Trade-Media, now InGames, for RepresentMe and is no longer hosted)
Games are a great indicator of social change. What we see, especially from AAA studios, is often a representation of how society perceives things in the wider world. And as such we have seen quite a lot of change over the years, often for good.
However recently I was reminded that what many folks consider normal, can also be considered erasure for others.
The circumstance in question revolved around the inclusion of a non-binary character in a game and the use of they/them pronouns. To one person this was uncalled for. They felt that using the singular pronoun had gone too far and to use it in a game was to strip out all personality from the character, leaving them a “genderless alien”.
To that individual that’s what normal is, hes and shes only and anything else lacks character, personality, and substance.
Their normal is my erasure. It strips out everything I am as an aporagender (gender that is not man or woman, but one that is personally defined) human being. It makes me the “alien” despite me having a firm stance on what my gender is.
In the end the part that strikes deepest in this situation is that the representation they want to see removed, is a form of positive representation that many have fought for them to have in games for their part of the queer community, so that they can see themselves in games without being considered something “alien”. Because if we aren’t there for each other we risk standing alone. Which is something that no-one should have to deal with.
Of course this isn’t the first time folks have pushed for the removal of diversity in games. Harebrained Schemes was hit hard for including pronoun choice in Battletech, and Battlefront was attacked for including women in warzones. Each time the outcry is exactly the same “this isn’t normal”. Maybe this means that normal needs to change.
So how can we change “normal” to mean inclusive?
Simple, encourage diversity. Encourage people to make games that feature characters and elements that aren’t what we see in every game out there, but are inclusive and supportive instead. Positive representation, and the discussions that follow, help to change the status quo into something better. It gives voices to the voiceless and a face to the faceless.
If something isn’t what you’re used to seeing don’t fight it. Ask questions about it. Ask what it means, how it affects people, how you can help make it more accepted. Don’t reject it out of hand without considering that your pushback might hurt someone.
Most importantly we need to stand up against those who make demands that the world never change to include those who have been neglected. If they shout “this isn’t normal” we say right back “yes this is, you just don’t realise it.”.
We need to be the positive force in this world. We need to be the ones saying “normal includes everyone, not just me”.
Normal is what we make it.