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Microsoft Narrative Designer Champions Benefits of Character Diversity

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Posted on March 27, 2013 AT 01:54pm

During a GDC panel about ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and general character diversity, Microsoft Studios narrative designer Tom Abernathy stood by the notion that character diversity breeds better games.

“Our audience is leaving us behind,” said Abernathy. “The world is changing, it has already changed, and we have not been doing a very good job of keeping up with it.”

According to Abernathy, there are three reasons for character diversity in game development. For starters, Abernarthy said it’s morally “the right thing to do.” There’s just no good reason not to feature more people of color in games, or include more female protagonists or varied sexuality. Abernathy says that, creatively, such diversity “makes your narrative juicy.”

Abernathy’s third reason for character diversity is that it’s “smart business.” Diversity, he says, can only ever attract more players (since there’d be an increase in characters they can relate to and the whole experience wouldn’t feel so overwhelmingly whitewashed and alienating to anyone who isn’t a white heterosexual male.

“Nobody in the room admits to being against making characters female or nonwhite,” said Abernathy. “But they’re scared because they don’t know how to defend that choice to their bosses.”

The Microsoft Studios narrative designer wrapped up his discussion by returning to his “smart business” point, noting the very obvious truth that people like to see characters they can relate to in games, and the more relatable games are, the more audience opens up. Abernathy used his daughter as an example, pointing out how she prefers females singers or films with female protagonists than ones with male.

“I don’t think that’s a radical notion,” Abernathy said about diversity making games more accessible for a wider audience.

Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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