Gaming seems to be getting better about diversity one title at a time. We’re getting more non-white, non-male leads in games instead of the usual gruff and buff, grizzled white dude who saves the day. We’re getting more black men as protagonists, and more women as leads. Some of the most exciting of these games are still coming soon, though; what will we play in the meantime?
You’re in luck: I come bearing a handy list of nine games that are doing diversity right, and can fill the time as we wait for Mafia III, Dishonored 2 and other diverse titles.
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate joined the AC family in October 2015, introducing Evie Frye along with her brother Jacob as one of two characters you could control throughout Victorian England. While she’s not the first female assassin we’ve been able to play as (Aveline De Grandpre was introduced in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation in 2012, and the multiplayer mode in Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood and Revelations included female characters), Evie is the first playable female assassin throughout the story of a full AC game. She’s a breath of fresh air after the previous year’s “unable to animate women” faux pas that tarnished the franchise’s image for a lot of people. We hope that Evie is just the start of more women in the franchise.
Midboss’s first title Read Only Memories hits a lot of the right notes when it comes to representation. You’re an intrepid reporter trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, aided by Turing, a cute little ROM that’s got a personal investment in your continued safety along with theirs.
Your character can have any gender identity, or, if you wish, none at all. You can choose your pronouns and Turing will respond accordingly. There’s a wide representation of orientations, gender and racial diversity in the game, which earns it a spot on this list.
Disclosure: One of Paste’s games editors is in a relationship with one of the creators of Read Only Memories. That editor has not worked on or had any input into this piece.
The follow up to Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II brings more women to the story, and a trans character. While Mizhena has a minor role, her existence is another sign that developers are realizing that representation matters. The fact that her being trans wasn’t hidden or used as a joke is a step forward, one I hope continues in all game genres. The world we live in doesn’t exist on a binary, and our fantasy realms shouldn’t either.
Fragments of Him by Sassybot Studios and Mata Haggis is a story of loss and mourning. That in itself makes the game stand out among the games gracing us this year. What makes the game different is that the character we meet and lose immediately is a young gay man pondering a life decision. We get to see how he’s affected those he’s touched, and in the case of one relative, we see how her bi-phobia caused her to miss out on a lot of his life. Fragments makes the list for not just queer content but for an openly bisexual character that isn’t reduced to a trope or a stereotype, which we rarely see in games.
Bioware is always noted as a studio that makes the mark for diversity in their titles. Inquisition hit a few points with Cremesius Acclasi, or Krem, who is Dragon Age’s first well done transgender character. It also gave us gay party members in Dorian Pavus and Sera, and more characters of color as part of our party and the various characters we meet along the way, including Vivienne de Fer, Ser Delwin Barris, Horsemaster Dennett & his family, Bron, Dorian and Halward Pavus, and many NPCs we come across as we form the Inquisition. It’s heartening to see more brown faces in Thedas, and hopefully we’ll get a lot more in the future.
The Sims 4 might be a surprise for some reading this list, because these games have been around for so long. There’s already a lot of options for same-sex relationships in your Sim land, along with racial diversity, and the increased body diversity that came along with the fourth game in the series. What landed it a spot on this list is the recent removal of gender restrictions on attire. Style has always been a way to explore, build and have a simulated life, but now our pixel people can better mirror many of our lives with no restriction.
Telltale Games’ latest Walking Dead title with Michonne as the lead earns a spot not just for having a black woman protagonist, but for having other diversity among the characters. Michonne is not the lone black person we get to know, and not the only woman we meet. A note for the easily squicked out, this game is true to the gore found in The Walking Dead TV show and comic, so you might want to brace for blood, guts and viscera before sitting down with this title. That said, this game is another hit in a long list of narrative driven, episodic series from Telltale.
Firaxis’ sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a shining example of global diversity done well, especially for a game where aliens are part and parcel of your squad’s daily life. Soldiers come from all corners of the globe, along with voice acting that matches the soldier’s country of origin. It also scores points for having good, natural hair options. Any game that gives me locs, other natural hair options, and braids that don’t look like yarn or steel wool scores high. I would have been remiss in leaving this turn-based strategy game off the list, especially after I covered the diversity we’ve come to know, expect and love from this title for Paste Games before it was released.
Dragon’s Dogma is another classic that made the list for a couple reasons. See my Arisen? She has nice, well done natural hair. It’s an older game that managed to handle natural hair well, and the character creator allows a lot more depth than newer titles designed for next-gen systems. There’s also NPC diversity that doesn’t come off as forced, or the usual ham-handed approach to using monstrous races as stand-ins for people of color in a fantasy setting. Monsters are just that, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a solid game, with a new HD remaster out on PC that revived interest in a game that I’d always loved on the XBox 360
Assassin’s Creed: Maharaja – Man of Color as a major character
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation – Woman of Color protagonist
Remember Me – Woman of Color protagonist
Gone Home – LGBT centric story, young adult woman lead
Life is Strange – Two young adult women as leads in the game
Tanya DePass is a lifelong Chicagoan who loves everything about gaming and wants to make it better and more inclusive for everyone. She’s the #INeedDiverseGames spawn point, founder and EIC of @OutofTokensCast, the Diversity Liaison for GaymerX and is part of the Chromatic Life Podcast.