Thursday, 10 July 2014

Working Towards Diversity

PowerFrame uses a set of four Game Helper characters, who act as the subjects of rules examples. They are kind of "iconic" characters, although given it's a universal game they tend to dress up as lots of different characters.

Here is the first group I came up with:

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower left)
In the interests of diversity, I included one male, one female, and one androgyne. I included one Caucasian, one Asian, and one dark-skinned person. I mixed up gender assumptions a little by having the male with long hair and the female with short hair. All of the Game Helpers also have names that could be either male or female. The fourth Game Helper, Soggy, is a shapechanging blob that takes on the roles of monsters and adversaries in the examples.

Personality-wise, Chris likes strong and straightforward characters, Sandy likes playing support characters, and Alex likes playing mysterious characters and using the more complex optional rules.

These have been the Game Helpers for a few years now, but I recently looked at them critically and noticed I was playing into certain stereotypes and cultural assumptions.

  • Chris - the 'main' character - is a white male. He's also forthright and direct, preferring 'power' options in the game.
  • Sandy, while dark-skinned, has blonde hair. While this is pretty common in anime (and also reflected in Japan's 'Ganguro Girl' style), it's a form of exotification. She's also gentle, prefers playing support roles, and likes the simple parts of the system.
  • Alex is an androgynous and inscrutable Asian who likes complex rules. That pretty much speaks for itself.


Realising that some of these elements were as problematic as the issues the group was meant to address, I went back to the drawing board and designed a new group.

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower right)

  • The leading character, Chris, is now a black female who likes to kick butt and take charge. Given I'm from Australia, her look is inspired by Australian Aborigines.
  • Alex is now a male Asian, who likes to take on social roles and be the party negotiator. This is a subtle shift from the 'support character' personality that used to be in this slot.
  • Sandy is now a Caucasian androgyne who likes playing mysterious characters and engaging with the advanced rules. Ze also now has a fuller body-type and glasses.


Are there still issues? Certainly there are some, but with only three characters there's limited conceptual space to be much more inclusive. Sandy could be seen as a 'sexless fat nerd' stereotype, or as a being inclusive of people with different body-types. The only disability represented is Sandy's glasses, which is a pretty minor thing.

I hope that this second group is a better example of diversity and representation than the first. If you have any suggestions as to how I might improve the situation, I'd love to hear some feedback!