Game Character Census Consensus: Minorities Under Represented

A university of Southern California researcher has published the results of what has to be the first ever census of videogame characters.

Dmitri Williams and colleagues other universities conducted their research in 2006, though the results were just made available, according to a New Scientist article.

The researchers gathered the top 150 games sold across nine platforms and had gamers play each title for 30 minutes while researchers made a detailed demographic study of each character that appeared on the screen. Character stats were given additional weight based on the sales total of the game they appeared in. Resulting demographics were then matched up with U.S. census data from 2000.

The data showed that white videogame characters were over-represented in games by 7.0% and Asians by 25.0 percent, while African-Americans were under-represented by 13.0 percent and Hispanic/Latinos by 78.0 percent. Females, children and the elderly were also under-represented versus actual census results.

Games produced in Asia could account for some of that group’s over-representation Williams theorized.

He also noted that the games industry may have trouble attracting customers from under-represented segments. Williams added:

For developers this would be a missed opportunity. For players it is a potential source of identity-based problems."

GP: Duplicate story, sorry. Thanks eagle-eyed GP readers.

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  1. SlyFox says:

    Check out the Halo novel Contact Harvest.

    The story is pretty much all about Johnson and his part in humanity’s first contact with the Covenant.


  2. SlyFox says:

    Just for the sake of pointing it out, portraying children in games in often risky.

    If the game is a shooter or any game that allows the player to kill enemies, and the player plays as a child character, then it’s going to be a bad PR move because some will see it as the developer saying that it’s ok for kids to go around killing things.  On the other hand, if the enemies to be killed are children, then it’s pretty much an automatic adult rating (or a ban here in Australia).  If the nuetral NPCs are children, then the game loses what realism and immersion it has as soon as the player tries to go on am in-game killing spree, because developers don’t want to make children killable for the previous reason.  Example: if you’re feeling particularly bored and/or evil in Fallout 3, you can go to a city llike Megaton and just starting slaughtering everyone… until you attempt to take down a child NPC, who will run away undamaged.

    It’s often safer and more or less easier for developers just to leave out children in most cases and stick with the adult characters.

  3. Chamale says:

    When they said that women, children and the elderly are underrepresented in video games, did they think about the fact that they are also unrepresented in the army? Soldiers are very over-represented in video games, for obvious reasons.

    This is a signature virus. Please copy and paste into your signature to help it propagate.

  4. FlakAttack says:

    Oh man, this is a flaming hot issue in some places in Canada, where minority populations are largely racist towards Canadians and other minorities.

  5. FlakAttack says:

    "Comparing characters in the most popular video games in the whole world, as compared to real-life demographics in only the US. Easy to understand, but still obviously bullshit statistics."

    And that’s why this study fails like trying to walk on water with concrete shoes.

  6. chadachada321 says:

    Comparing characters in the most popular video games in the whole world, as compared to real-life demographics in only the US. Easy to understand, but still obviously bullshit statistics.

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  7. chadachada321 says:

    Haha, I made a heated comment up above about this same thing.

    Examples of black non-American characters in recent games:

    Sgt Johnson, Halo 1-3

    Shiva, RE5

    Dom, Gears of War 1-2

    Any others that I’m missing?

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  8. nightwng2000 says:

    While thinking of how you would include children (one of the underrepresented groups mentioned), I actually thought of a few lines from an old Red Sovine song.  Putting it together with a little thoughts on imagry, I thought of an interesting trailer for a game.  It’s an FPA (First Person Action, as there isn’t any Shooting).  Much darker than the old game Alice from years ago.  Obviously of the Horror genre.

    The main character this revolves around is a young girl.  Players could play as the young girl or an opposing force (a game that would offer dual perspective).

    The trailer starts with a photo taken in an external setting like a park or field.  In the photo are a woman and man with the young girl standing in front.  Happy family photo.

    In the background is a section from the old Red Sovine song "Little Rosa".

    And though she’s gone, you see…

    As the lines progress, the daylight in the photo begins to get darker.  The Parents begin to move from smiles to looks of fear.  The girl from a joyful smile to an evil grin.

    …she still means the world to me.

    The Parents have stepped back, then drop to their knees in abject horror.  The girl’s clothes become dark and dirty, the smile even more sinister, her hand coming from behind her back with a nasty butcher’s knife in it.

    That little girl of mine.

    Slowly, we zoom in to her face, and as the song comes to a close, we’ve zoomed in til only her face shows while the image starts to fade to black.

    What?  I like the Horror genre, what can I say?

    Besides, it fulfills the quota of TWO underrepresented groups:  children and females.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  9. MechaTama31 says:

    That’s because only white people can be racist (and, of course, all white people are racist). Didn’t you know?

  10. Pinworm says:

     What I love about this is that if I, a white person, said anything like "I prefer playing white people in games", I’d be dubbed a racist.

    Meanwhile, everyone supports the minorities for basically saying the same thing – that they’d prefer to play their own race, which is underrepresented.

  11. Saxy says:

    Yes, yes, everybody is being racist for NOT including non-whites in games.

    And when they do, they’ll be racist FOR putting them in games.

    Talking like THIS is fun.

  12. GrimCW says:

    i think the only issue is that when trying to represent a minority, even in the proper setting *cough*RE5*cough* someone takes it and turns it into a butt hurt debate on racism.

    even GTASA suffered that just because it involved a black cast as opposed to the usual white cast, and used a suburban setting as compared to the usual urban.

    shit, GTA4 got it from some angles as well saying it misrepresents east europeans in some way.

    GoW anyone? Cole was called a racist character because he used old slang and was black… despite the games not set on earth or anything and our timeline doesn’t effect it and all, that was SOOOOO racist… ummmm right.

    the moment i minority character is cast, its racist. So most dev teams are moreso scared to represent them in any form within their games.

    once people stop getting butt hurt over minor details, or start stepping up and giving real input besides "thats racist!" there may be an actual chance at getting a few good minority main characters.


    Seargant Major Johnson in the Halo games is an awesome character IMHO, though woefully underplayed in the story.

  13. sheppy says:

    This WOULD be a useful change.  As an example, one of my favorite Xmen is Bishop.  Not because Bishop is black but because Bishop isn’t characterized as a cartoon image of black.  As an example, Bishop would not take a full blast from a Sentinel and immediately say, "Damn, yo niggah just done fucked up, boy.  I’m hard shit, niggah, this only juices me, foo."  Obviously taking up three panels of dialogue before he shoots the kinetic energy back.

    The only problem with games is, of course, anytime it is attempted, groups are ready to pounce forward and call it out as racists.  Take the Houstan writer who thought playing as a confederate character in the civil war (Juarez 2) was like equipping the Hitler uniform in WoW.  Of course to reach such a conclusion you have to be willing to fool yourself into thinking the ONLY thing that lead to the Civil War was slavery and the North never did any atrocities in that horribly bloody war at all.

    It’s the mass delusion that sends the message to developers stating simply this.  "Look, make your character white, make him only fight whites, make him talk, walk, play electric guitar like a white, kiss only white people, etc.  This way, sure it’s not ethnically diverse, but it’s safe.  We won’t have to be on Fox News or N’Gai Croals blog in six months defending ourself against NeoNazism."

    Wall of Text Simulation- Insert coin to continue.

  14. Wormdundee says:

    Once again, under represented in games as compared to real life data. It really isn’t too hard to understand.

  15. Wormdundee says:

    It goes the other way around to, how many black people living in the US have ever been to Africa? I hate the phrase ‘African-American’ with a burning passion. I’m glad someone else agrees with me.

  16. Mad_Scientist says:

    I’m not sure weighting things according to sales was a good idea at all. I’d be very interested in the result if things had NOT been weighted by sales.

    Also, the differences between video game demographics and US demographics aren’t that big in many cases.

    80% white in video games, 75.1% in real life in the US.

    10.7% black in video games, 12.3% in real life in the US.

    5.0% percent asians in video games, 4.0% in real life in the US.

    The gap for hispanics was much bigger.

    I think they may have messed up slightly, though, as the 5.0% for asians seems way too low. Perhaps like some have suggested they had trouble telling exactly what race to classify certain characters. Or perhaps it’s a result of the sales adjustment.

  17. DarkSaber says:

    The US IS the world, remember?


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  18. Torven says:

    Just out of curiosity, why are they only doing this study as compared to the US census?  I am fairly certain that US racial demographics are not reflective of the world market for video games.

  19. Chaltab says:

    *shrug* Interesting statistics, but I don’t make the games. I do seem to favor minorities when I get to create characters though.

    IE my Commander Shepard was a female Latina.

    With a very English name. But I digress.

  20. MechaTama31 says:

    He’s right. When I played GTA: San Andreas, it gave me all kinds of identity-based problems. Because CJ, the character I was playing, is black. And I am not black. And this is a hugely important issue to my enjoyment of the game. I simply cannot enjoy a game unless the character I am playing is exactly like me. And by “exactly like me”, I mean “has the same skin color as me”. No other character traits matter, obviously. It is definitely the case that the spread of ethnicities in the populations of creative, virtual, imaginary worlds should exactly match the spread in real life. Because that’s what games are about: being exactly like real life.

    In case your sarcasm detector is broken, this whole post is sarcastic. Well, except this bit. Probably. I can’t tell anymore.

  21. Vordus says:

    African-Americans? Black people, surely, since not all games are set in the United States, and not all black characters are from there.

  22. nightwng2000 says:

    Over/Under represented?  How do you over or under represent a reality where creation is at the click or a few clicks of the button?

    Context is key, and I wonder just how much context was put into this "study".

    Brokenscope pointed out the comparison between real world versus the virtual world.  But therein also lies the contrast.  It IS a virtual world after all.  The overwhelming majority of video/computer games are based on fictional stories whose background could revolve around alternate realities or even future realities.

    Stories, as many teachers will tell you, come from the imagination of the writers.  The writers must be free to develop their stories without manipulation by others or those stories are no longer the creation of the writer.  If you want a different perspective, if you want a different fictional story, then write it.    Sure, you can give suggestions to writers, but just because they don’t see YOUR design as what they want to write, doesn’t automatically make them racist. 

    Context also plays a part in the type of character chosen.  For example the complaint that children and the elderly are "underrepresented".  Can you imagine having an 11 year old kid as the main character in a GTA type game?  How about a 75 year old grandmotherly Lara Croft as the main character in Tomb Raider?

    As to gender, you’ve sown what you reap.  Let’s face it, you’ve lived off of stereotypes even just in the last few decades.  "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", Oprah "I’m every woman" Winfrey, and numerous other segregationist idea that imply that women ARE a different species than men, with less or more capabilities based on gender excuses, rather than individual ability.  Meanwhile, you have organizations CLAIMING that men and women are equal, while fighting for the Rights of one group or the other (when, in fact, ALL have the same Rights, or should).  So, the writer is left with either accepting the popular stereotypes fed into society by popular individuals, including women themselves, and thereby being left with being called sexist and underrepresenting women in certain contexts (even though they are consistent with the accepted stereotype), or the writer breaks the mold, and you get chewed out by those who support the stereotypes claiming that "that’s not how women act!".

    It’s a no-win scenario.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  23. FlakAttack says:

    I’ve played as anthromorphic animals, dwarves, elves, orcs, aliens of various types, robots, a dog (Rise of the Triad lol)… what could possibly be so hard about being black or a woman?

    Somehow, I doubt this problem lies with the majority of gamers, and probably rests on the shoulders of the "OMG RACISM" crowd, like those who said RE5 was racist.

  24. nighstalker160 says:

    Having more variety of characters in a game would certainly be cool. But I take issue with the idea that a lack of minority characters is causing "identity" issues among players. First of all, were these reserachs psychologists qualified to make that kind of assessment? Secondly, what methodology did they use in this study to make that determination. Finally, how stupid do they think people are?

    "Ohhhh the character is white and I’m black I don’t know if I can get into this game!"

    Last time I checked playing as ANIMALS didn’t hurt Star Fox.

  25. FlakAttack says:

    I’d like to bring up an issue with "For players it is a potential source of identity-based problems." as well.

    Players who are having this problem need to broaden their scope and/or stop being racist/sexist.

  26. Zero Beat says:

    Rule of Rose, Bioshock, and Ninety-Nine Nights are three games off the top of my head that have dead kids in them.  Bioshock and N3 don’t show the act itself (I don’t know for sure about Rule of Rose), but if you show a dead kid in a game, that’s basically a guaranteed M in the U.S.  That’s one reason they don’t feature them much if at all in violent games.


    "That’s not ironic. That’s justice."

  27. Joseph4th says:

     They even complained about children being under represented? In most games with any sort of violence, game developers specifically avoid having children in the game because they get yelled at by all the "won’t somebody please think of the children" groups.

  28. chadachada321 says:

    So since black people make up about 14% of America…13% underrepresented would be, what, 11-12% of game characters…? Or does it mean 1% of game characters, or 90-some% underrepresented? The wording is pretty touchy here.

    What defines latinos, anyways?

    Edit: Whoa whoa whoa. "African-Americans"? That seems pretty unfair. How are blacks from other countries/worlds represented? Obviously Seargent Johnson isn’t from the Unites State, so what "race" would he fall under? Does he default to white just because he isn’t "African-American"? Hell, almost every black person in America isn’t even African-American. Just like how I don’t call myself European-American, black people whose ancestors have been here for hundreds of years shouldn’t label themselves as African American. They are Americans of African descent, as I am American of European descent. The exceptions are those that are recently moved here (President Obama, then, could be half-African American, as his dad is Kenyan-native), or those that exhibit much of the same culture and following as their homeland (Polish-Americans living in the Polish sectors of towns and following Polish culture immensely).

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  29. chadachada321 says:

    Many of the most recent and most popular game stars are multi-racial or host a variety of people.

    Gears of War has every type: Blonde-haired white guy, Dark-haired white guy, Black guy, (Latino?) guy. There’s a girl somewhere in the storyline too, I think. Pretty fair representation of races.

    Halo has Master Chief, who is white in the storyline, but the rest of the Spartans are of unknown race. Also, Avery Johnson, who is black. Of the ODST in Halo 3: ODST, one is black and the rookie is unknown. Cortana is female. Pretty good racial makeup, in my opinion.

    Legend of Zelda has elves (hyrulians) instead of humans, so the generally white make-up is pretty understandable for the story. However, if I do recall correctly, there are people of darker color in various spots in the story. (The race that Shiek is?)

    The Mario series…well, there generally aren’t many new characters that are introduced that are human enough to be comparable to "whites" or "blacks," and they couldn’t make any existing characters a different race without being incredibly racist.

    In Resident Evil, the same is true there as with the Mario series. Not many new main characters are introduced, and to make more black/other characters just to fill a "quota" wouldn’t fit into the story and would feel rather fake. However, with the introduction of Shiva in RE5 (and Louis in RE4), we are definitely seeing a broadening of the racial make-up, as would be expected with the locales changing around the world. Up until Code X: Veronica, every game took place in a Midwestern town in the United States, which would be naturally prettyyyy white. Also, though I can’t say for certain, it was said that the first game was made with equipment that couldn’t make a wide variety of skin colors/textures, so most of the characters were just made to be the same shade of white.

    Pokemon…was made in Japan. Takes place in (implied) Japanese-like places. Can’t really expect too many black/brown people in the early games. Most people are all the same shade of white in the top-down view. In the battle-view, in the early game they still had basically the same shade all around. In the newer games, I’m not sure about the racial make-up, but gender has always been fairly represented here.

    Doom…only one character. Not much to say here.

    In Fable II, I know you can choose your gender, but I’m not sure about race. In either case, there are various races in this game if I recall correctly.

    Fallout 3, as we all know, allows you to big your race, as with Oblivion. Same with Star Wars KotOR 1/2.

    Are there any other "big" series that I’m leaving out?

    I personally feel that races are pretty well-represented in most games. To say "we need to include more races to make other people happy" is just wrong. Races are definitely being represented much more fairly, and if a game doesn’t happen to have X race, it doesn’t necessarily signify a problem or racism or a lack of sensitivity.

    EDIT: Oh, 50 Cent: Bulletproof. Right. I find that to be fairly…not racist per-say, but just plain stupid. Why someone would make a game like that is beyond me. But whatever. If people want to represent "gangstas" like that, go for it. The whole concept is retarded. I think that legalizing marijuana and other drugs would help to get rid of this lower class of "people," but other than that the only solution is for them to grow up and quit acting like fools. Learn english, move out of the city, etc etc. (THIS IS NOT A RACIST STATEMENT. "Gangstas"/willingly retarded people come from all races, but is GENERALLY an inner-city problem.)

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  30. Erik says:

    Be careful what you wish for.  I remember when educational media back in the 80s scrambled to get diversity.  What we ended up with was a forced and akward faux diversity even greater than the original Power Rangers.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  31. ChrowX says:

    My thoughts exactly. Any game made to appeal to a specific ethnicity would insult someone and spark controvery because some people would find something they consider rascist… Or not, seeing as these census people seem to think that games are only 30 minutes long and anything beyond that will not give you any more insight into the rest of the game or what other characters will show up.

  32. Icehawk says:

    Figure that the characters represented tend to be the target audience for the title, that and since most games these days seem to be developed in Japan there Are an abundance of Asian characters (well duh).  If the hispanics made or bought more games methinks there would be more hispanic characters.    Its not prejudice its business. 

  33. finaleve says:

    To be honest, its hard to make a game based on some of the demographics without that same demographic whining about being represented wrongly in some way.  There needs to developers out there who just don’t care what some people say when that happens.  Afterall, they are just stories people come up with.

  34. Neeneko says:

    And let us not forget the horrors of the Blaxploitation films. Diversity, good… diversity via bunch of dumpy white guys trying to look diverse.. not so good.

  35. Gardog says:

    You bring up a good point Joran – I’d love to see which games they used for their study. I’d also be interested in seeing their conclusions and what exactly they mean by "For players it is a potential source of identity-based problems." It’s a pretty mildly worded statement that will likely be blown way out of proportion on these forums.

    Personally I think studies like these are great. It’s an acknowledgment by the mainstream that video games have the same kind of cultural influence as TV or movies.


  36. Joran says:

    So, what ethnicity did they select for Jade?  How about Tidus and Yuna?  Ethnicity is pretty hard to tell, especially with Japanese games.

  37. JustChris says:

    I agree. There would have to be more ethnic diversity in the game industry’s workforce which will create a trickle down effect in the content they create.

  38. Monte says:

    That explanation for asian’s overrepresentation can apply to most of them really… how many women versus men work in video games? How many of those various minorities? In the west, i’d say the typical developer is white male… and people have a tendancy to write what they know, and as such you get more white males (over representation), then anything else out of the west; paricually when it comes to overshadowing minorities.

    of course target audience counts for much of it aswell… Kids are only gonna appear in games targeted at children, where as most games go for a much broader audience… and the female gamer is generally not counted as common as the male gamer, hence the lean towards focusing on male characters more…

    And one thing might count sometimes is the free of being considered "offensive"… nice thing about white characters is that no matter how you portray them, you won’t hear any whining… You touch the minorites however, and you run the risk of pissing them off with how you portray them; i’m sure there are plenty of developers who would rather take the safe route rather than risk some faux controversy. Kinda makes me think of Disney’s next 2D film; sparked a bit of controversy over some of the characters that would not pop up if the characters did not have such ethnicity.

  39. DarkSaber says:

    No shit. Looks like not a lot has change in the 3-4 weeks since the LAST time some group said this.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  40. Kincyr says:

    under-represented? no offence, but isn’t that what makes them minorities?

    岩「…Where do masochists go when they die?」

  41. Lou says:

    Wow, I’m not amazed at the under representation of minority groups on video game but I am amazed that a Census for video game characters actually exists.

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