E3 2019 Diversity (Deathloop, Wolfenstein Youngblood, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order)

Despite making up around half of the gaming population, women remain underrepresented in video games. More Hispanic and Black people refer to themselves as “gamers” than white people, yet minorities remain a rarity in modern titles. E3, which recently came to a close for another year, is gaming’s largest annual event, demonstrating the interests of the industry. Therefore, the statistics from E3 are a fairly accurate representation of the industry as a whole. OnlySP has broken down five of the main conferences from E3 2019 to see how each publisher represents women and people of colour in the games showcased, as well as their presenters.

Some of the shows from the event—the PC Gaming Show, Kinda Funny Games Showcase, EA Play, and the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference—have been excluded. Previously released games receiving updates or trailers at the event, such as Fallout 76 or Final Fantasy XIV Online, were also excluded from the statistics.

Each conference is broken down into seven categories for gender:

  • Male: where the game features only a male protagonist (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order)
  • Female: where the game features only a female protagonist (Wolfenstein: Youngblood)
  • Player Choice: where the game allows a fully customisable character (The Outer Worlds)
  • Both: where the game allows the player to control both a male and female character, but not customise their preference (Marvel’s Avengers)
  • Ambiguous: where the protagonist’s gender is unclear (Ori and the Will of the Wisps)
  • None: where the game does not feature a gendered character, including racing games (Microsoft Flight Simulator)
  • Unknown: where the game’s protagonist is yet to be revealed (Elden Ring)

The last five categories are repeated for race within games; protagonists whose race is evident are identified as such.

Microsoft

E3 Chart - Microsoft 2

Microsoft kicked off the main press conferences this year with far more games than the conferences to follow. Out of a total of 29 applicable games, almost a third featured only male protagonists. Thankfully, female representation is not totally out of the question—with 24% of Microsoft’s games allowing full character customisation and 10% featuring both male and female protagonists—but only three games with a sole female protagonist is a disappointing statistic.

Unfortunately, representation among the presenters at Microsoft’s conference does not inspire much hope either, with two of nine being women (one of whom appeared alongside a man). This is sadly representative of the company as a whole, with women making up only 26.6 percent of Microsoft’s employees.

In terms of race representation within its games, Microsoft is not achieving great results. While nine of the games showcased featured Caucasian protagonists, only one had an African-American lead. Thankfully, at least, Microsoft is still allowing the player to decide the race of their character in 21% of its games. Microsoft’s presenters were also mostly white—mostly American, with two Brits, one Canadian, and an Australian—with only one African-American presenter.

While Microsoft’s representation at E3 is better than most of the conferences that followed, it still has a long way to go.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Microsoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Microsoft’s conference.

Bethesda

E3 Chart - Bethesda 2

Bethesda’s conference was short on new titles this year, with only six upcoming games showcased, but it had the strongest showing in terms of character representation. Only one of the six titles—Doom Eternal—featured a single male protagonist, and, that aside, the game is shaping up to be something special.

Both of the upcoming Wolfenstein games—Youngblood and Cyberpilot—feature female protagonists, and while two female-centric games is not a hugely impressive statistic, as an overall indicator it is quite impressive when compared to Bethesda’s other games. Two of the six games—Commander Keen and Deathloop—allow the player to select between a pre-determined male or female character; and in the case of Deathloop, both characters are African-American, so Bethesda’s representation expands beyond gender. However, only one title with a confirmed non-white character is not a very impressive statistic.

The same praise cannot be applied to the presenters of Bethesda’s conference, either; only two of the 17 presenters were female—one of whom has become a bit of an icon following the show. Of the 17 presenters, more than half were American, with only two Japanese presenters, two French, one Swedish, and one Puerto Rican–American. Considering Bethesda’s support of women and minorities in the past, seeing such little representation among its staff is a disappointing statistic.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Bethesda

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Bethesda’s conference.

Ubisoft

E3 Chart - Ubisoft 2

In regard to giving the player choice, Ubisoft easily beats the competition, with three of its eight new titles featuring full character customisation and two allowing the player to select between a male and female character. Diversity of representation, however, ends there; Ubisoft did not showcase a single female-led video game during its E3 showcase this year. Of the three games allowing character customisation, two—Rainbow Six Quarantine and Roller Champions—are multiplayer games; and of the two allowing both male and female, one is Watch Dogs Legion, which lets players choose between dozens of characters in their operation. Whether or not such a concept will lead to positive representation is yet to be seen. While no games from Ubisoft star an African-American in the leading role, hopefully the developer can achieve positive diversity by taking notes from its 2017 title Watch Dogs 2.

For its presenters, Ubisoft is better than its competition, with females making up four of the conference’s 14 on-stage personalities, but that statistic is still disappointing. If 29% is the best that the industry can do, it still has a long way to go in the years to come.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Ubisoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Ubisoft’s conference.

Square Enix

E3 Chart - Square Enix 2

Square Enix may have had the most disappointing press conference this year in regard to gender representation. Of its 14 games, not a single had only a female protagonist, while over half centred around males. To the publisher’s credit, several of these games feature, in some segments, playable female characters, but to have so many male-centric games without a single sole female protagonist is incredibly disappointing.

Thankfully, five games shown at Square Enix’s conference allow the player to select between a male or female. However, even in some of these games, representation is not entirely clear—only one of the five main playable characters in Marvel’s Avengers, for example, is female, as is only one of the three in Outriders.

Unfortunately, the disappointment of diversity is only exemplified with the conference’s presenters. Only one of the show’s nine presenters was female, with her appearance taking place at the very end of the show alongside a male presenter. Square Enix has a long way to go with its female representation.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Square Enix

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Square Enix’s conference.

Nintendo

E3 Chart - Nintendo 2

Historically, Nintendo is not known for strong female characters—Princess Peach is the figurehead for the damsel-in-distress trope—but it has made strides in this area with strong characters such as Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, none of these characters have been allowed to represent their own video game, constantly being shadowed by the male protagonist.

While six of the 17 new Nintendo games shown during its Direct this year featured male protagonists, not a single game featured a female protagonist. With three games allowing full customisation and six giving the choice between male and female, not all hope is lost with Nintendo, but diverse representation is better than customised representation. Being forced to take on different perspectives—as females must do when playing 35% of Nintendo’s games—is more beneficial to the player than choosing to play as an undefined character.

Nintendo only had three presenters during its presentation—deputy general manager Yoshiaki Koizumi, president of Nintendo of America Doug Bowser, and general manager Shinya Takahashi—but seeing some more representation of its female staff (as it does rather well during its Nintendo Treehouse live stream later in the show) would be encouraging.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Nintendo

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Nintendo’s conference.


Overall

As a whole, E3 2019 was rather disappointing. While a third of the games showcased at the five conferences above featured only male protagonists, only 7% featured female protagonists. While developers are improving in regard to player choice—allowing either full customisation or the selection of a male or female character—diverse representation is a necessity moving forward, and the industry needs to look at improving.

Presenters Demographic

Demographics of presenters at the five conferences during E3 2019.

In terms of race representation, the statistics are even more abysmal. While an Americanised show is expected due to the location of E3, some diversity would be appreciated; with over half of the presenters being American, the companies are failing to demonstrate their diverse talent. The same can be said about the games; as seen below, 27% of protagonists in games are Caucasian, while 3% (only two games) feature African-Americans as lead characters. As aforementioned, developers are seeing improvement in allowing players to customise or select their characters, but specified diversity is a change that the industry requires.

E3 Chart - Games Demographics

Demographics of protagonists in the games showcased at the five conferences during E3 2019.

The industry has a long way to go.

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Rhain Radford-Burns
Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

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15 Comments

  1. Such unfortunate statistics. Do you have any information on how many women are employed in the construction industry?

    1. In Australia in 2016, approximately 12% of construction industry workers were female. On the other hand, in 2014, women made up approximately 95% of childcare workers.

      1. James: Have you statistics for how many women apply to work in the gaming industry?

        Damien: So despite the fact that men and women actually use housing in equal measure, and far less than 95% of childcare users are female, we still see a disproportionate “representation” of the genders as the people working in the industry. No one seems to cry discrimination over this. Why then is there the claim that women/minorities are underrepresented here? Smells like a double standard

        1. Well here’s the thing, Rhain isn’t crying discrimination in this article. He’s outlining the statistics of non-white, non-male representation on the major stages at E3. His phrasing may be polemical, but feel free to highlight the points where he directly attributes the disproportionate representation of women and minorities to discrimination, sexism, or racism.

          To your main point, you’re conflating representation with participation when those aren’t the same thing. The disproportionate participation in particular industries is attributable to historical attitudes and social structures that create stigma (which, admittedly, is problematic).
          That aside, construction workers (aside from architects, I guess?) don’t have the opportunity to “represent” themselves, their gender, their race in any truly public manner. We live and work in what they create, but we do not “see” them, so the issue doesn’t seem as prominent as it does in the media and particularly the creative media, which is about telling and sharing stories that, it could be argued, should give everyone a chance to recognise themselves. (That’s actually not why I want to see more diverse representation though, but that’s not a point that’s worth discussing right now.)

          As for double standards, well, you’re wrong because there are pushes for more women in construction and more men in childcare. They just don’t get the same level of media attention:
          https://theundercoverrecruiter.com/construction-needs-more-women/
          https://www.mamamia.com.au/men-in-childcare-2/
          https://issr.uq.edu.au/article/2018/04/man-centre-what-are-benefits-male-educators-childcare

          1. There’s no direct accusation of discrimination, I suppose I see this within the term ‘representation’ which implies that a group defined in terms of ctitical theory should be present in media in the same proportions its present in real life. This is advocating for equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity. Furthermore it advocates for looking at people by what group they’re part of rather than seeing them as individuals, whose race or gender doesnt matter. I mean why isnt there an article on the lack of bald, left handed or amish representation in games? While he doesnt accuse them of discrimination, he does mention specific companies as being better or (mostly) worse in this regard. This certainly implies they are to an extent causing this supposed ‘underrepresentation’ to happen, through action or inaction.

            As for participation, the post does describe microsofts gender ratio as sad. Whats so bad about a different number of men wanting to work in an industry than women? Instead of seeing these statistics as wrong, cant we accept that people are individuals who make their own choices about what careers they wish to work in? Trying to push for more women working in gaming means trying to tell someone what career they should work in, based on their gender, so that observers get to see a nice statistic of parity. We shouldnt see someone as a woman who ‘sadly’ might not choose to work in gaming, but as an individual who makes their own darn choice as to what their career will be. We have no right to try and convince women to choose this or that career. So please lets not describe some statistic about only x% women choosing a career as ‘sad’ -people making choices about their own lives is a good thing.

            Saying participation rates are attributable to historical attitudes…can you provide any evidence to back that claim up? Between female only scholarships for stem courses, the whole world cheering that female physicist who got the black hole image, HRC making women going into historically male-dominated proffessions the main point of her campaogn, it is absolutely clear there is no modern day ‘stigma’ against women working in the gaming industry. What you’re saying might have been true, say, in the ’70’s, but if you think it is true in the modern day…I mean do you really think that?

            As for gamers seeing themselves, here you are saying people should see themselves in terms of their gender or racial identity. I had no problem playing tomb raider even though im male, why should the protagonists gender matter? I pity very much the persons whose enjoyment of a game is hampered by something like that.

          2. Your points about outcome vs opportunity and individuality are good ones. I fully agree that the arguments for equal representation/participation are often reductive and don’t take into account individual circumstances. That said, I think the line of thinking is that if you open outcomes for a particular subset of the population, you open opportunities by default. It’s certainly logical, but I don’t think it works in quite that way.
            These debates centre on race and gender because they are identity markers that make people more prone to structural disadvantage, unlike baldness or left-handedness. Religion is a whole other can of worms. The advocacy for women and minority groups stems from the idea that people in those groups see their disadvantage baked into their identity. It’s not universal. Not every Latinx person sees themselves as ‘less than’ because someone says they are all rapists and killers, but that sort of rhetoric, backed up by things early childhood bullying, low socioeconomic status, gentrification does have an effect on how *some* people see themselves.

            As I admitted, the article was polemical. If you’re looking for an ideal of 50/50, then 26.6% is, indeed, sad. Let it be clear though that I have no problem with people not wanting to work in a particular industry. If women don’t want to develop a hernia from lifting bricks all day or whatever, then I’ll support that. And the same goes for the gaming industry. If we have a 26.6% application rate, then Microsoft is bang on the money right now and doing exactly as well as it should right now. But to say it’s good enough right now is also to say that it could be better in the future, which leads well enough to the next talking point.

            There’s a massive push to get women into STEM-based study and workplaces, and society (aside from the humbugs) is celebrating that where possible. It seems great. With all this opportunity and openness, it *should* be about personal choice, but that’s where we run into structural and implicit bias, which, admittedly, is a hugely difficult thing to quantify. But here’s the thing, the effects of historical attitudes are ongoing. Racism shouldn’t exist in an enlightened society, but it does because 200 years ago people of colour were “known” to be less advanced than white people. The rhetoric has changed, but not the core attitudes of “us vs them”—and, speaking of that, that’s actually why it’s important to regard disadvantaged people as members of a group as much as individuals; that’s the approach that the people who seek to keep them downtrodden take, so that’s the approach that the people who want equality should also take. I digress. Things take time. In the last ten years, let’s say, the push to get women into STEM subjects has really taken off. But ten years means that the people graduating today were, what, 12 or 13 when the push started, and they’ve only been getting public figures held up as role models in the past five years maybe? That’s far too late to be showing demonstrable effects right now. Implicit bias comes from a lifetime. It starts early and may be course-correctable, may not be. I don’t know. I don’t have that sort of data. What is clear is that bias against women in STEM is systemic (this chart isn’t the best demonstration, but it sets out some of the main points succinctly enough): https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/OCS_Women_in_STEM_datasheet.pdf
            Which is why I find the rhetoric around it problematic. People want results now, but that’s impossible. It’s going to take at least two generations, forty years or more, to see if gender parity is possible. A first generation to clear the implicit biases in our society and a second generation to allow the spirit of equality to flourish.
            Side note, here’s another link that kind of speaks more to that implicit bias: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-26/girls-just-as-good-at-stem-subjects-unsw-study-shows/10307266
            AND that requires attitudes to change and for people to be more open rather than raging on Twitter every time a woman opens her mouth or flexes her fingers because those statements about how women need to shut up and stay out of the sector are as learnable as positive statements.

            That was a long paragraph… Last one. That’s the thing: you’re male. I’m male. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that we’re dominant in society, so we don’t need to feel seen (though seeing people screaming about how gender equality devalues male activity and endeavour kind of suggests otherwise for some people). Because we enjoy a privileged position, you and I shouldn’t feel as though we need to be represented and shouldn’t be bothered by seeing/embodying other genders, races, or whatever on our screens. I don’t think too many people will say their enjoyment is hampered if the identity of the protagonist doesn’t match their own. After all, a game or a movie is good if the gameplay and story is good at its fundamental level, not because it engages with ideology and gender politics. Hell, I prefer playing as females when given the option. But I’m not saying people *should* see themselves through the lens of their gender or racial identity. I don’t agree with that because I don’t agree with creating any sort of us vs them boundaries. I’m saying that *some* people *do* see themselves, at least in part, as those identities. And, therefore, having role models and people, characters they can look up to and see doing heroic things and contributing to the world in positive, meaningful ways is beneficial.

        2. I also see that the majority of honey is made by bees. What do wasps make?

      2. How could we let this happen? We need quotas, lots of quotas.

    2. I haven’t seen many women applying for jobs in the construction industry.

    3. Indeed. What about coal mines?

      Also, why are male models horribly underpaid compared to their female counterparts? It’s a disgusting travesty! Anyone would think models get paid based on popularity and their ability to sell stuff.

      1. Haha, I’ve thought the same thing when people complain about female athletes not getting as much as male athletes. The private industry should be free to pursue profits without interference from these types. A vocal minority who see everything through the reductivist lense of critical theory. Male and female brains are different, check wikipedia. Trying to blame society for pressuring them to have different interests is ridiculous.

        1. Yeah, to be clear, I’m in agreement with you :)

  2. This article is fucking ridiculous.

  3. This is a very odd article. I wonder whether the writer (Rhain) knows that Astral Chain, Pokemon and No More Heroes 3 all feature Japanese avatars. Nintendo is a Japanese company with a primary audience in Japan. The Japanese are not unknown, other, ambiguous or nonhuman people. Square Enix is also a Japanese company. Ubisoft is French. Why should French and Japanese people be compelled to depict an American minority group in their videogames?

    I wonder if the writer should ask people from different genders and races to write intermittent paragraphs in his next article as to diversify his writing. Perhaps I could ask a left handed elderly Eskimo to read his next article for me.

  4. I think if the author loves stats so much, he should look into actual figures for console/PC gamers, the biggest selling games and the demographics of the main gaming markets in the western world. Then he might understand why his article is so poorly judged and pointlessly pessimistic.

    Also, telling people that choice of characters isn’t good enough and that we ‘require’ ethnic specific protagonists (in an entertainment/hobby/past time product no less) sounds like some kind of North Korean government speak for ‘re-education’ and ‘societal messaging’.

    I mean, the real reason for different protagonists is to let people play characters they can relate to. Character creation/choice allows that. So why the need to ‘force’ certain types of protagonists? Because people like Rhain believe this hobby should be used as a tool for culture politics? No thanks.

    He wouldn’t like it if it went the other way so why not just let games be games and creators create as they see fit?

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