As you can guess, the past couple of weeks have mostly been filled with playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Sure, I took time off to do things like go to work, eat meals, sleep, and spend time with my family and friends at various gatherings. For the most part, however, I’ve been playing the game. If you want to know how much time and attention I’ve devoted to it, I’m just going to let you know that I’ve been sorely neglecting Tumblr too. That’s a huge deal. I get some great inspiration from my Tumblr dashboard like today’s blog post idea. Today, we’re going to be talking about diversity.
See, I was in the shower where I get my best ideas and an old post I’d seen floating around Tumblr came back to me. The person had been pointing out how white fantasy films and shows tend to be. I think they said something to the effect of the fact that people can suspend their disbelief when it comes to seeing elves and dwarves on the screen, but somehow a brown person on screen just ruins the illusion. They put their thought more eloquently than that, but it got me thinking.
Like most genres, fantasy and sci-fi have a diversity problem. Unlike most genres, it sometimes feels as if we’ve almost found a way to overcompensate for it. Fantasy and sci-fi are filled with all kinds of fantastical creatures from dragons to aliens. When you have such varieties in species, it’s easier to ignore the obvious. How can you complain about diversity when one guy has pointy ears and the others don’t? See? That’s totally diversity.
To a certain extent, they’re right. Yes, there’s diversity in that regard. We’ve used aliens and elves to tell stories about the experience of being considered “other” by society. Look at Spock in the original “Star Trek.” One of the problems he faced was the fact that he had a Vulcan father and a human mother. As the reboot Star Trek points out less subtly, he’s considered neither. He’s too Vulcan for humans and too human for Vulcans. There are a great many people worldwide who can relate to that experience without the species divide to bridge.
While we’ve told some of those stories using dryads and dwarves, it makes no sense why their faces have to continue to be white. Before you object, I’m going to point out that I’m just going by what I’ve experienced as a consumer of predominantly Western media. I was going through a mental catalog of the movies I’ve seen and the games I’ve played throughout my life and found a disturbing trend. Most of the protagonists have been of European or European-ish origin. A number of the antagonists have been of different ethnic origins. That’s, well, not good. We can do so much better.
Over a decade ago, Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings films were released. I can’t recall a single not-white face in the sea of extras. Don’t mention orcs and ents to me. Let’s look at the world of men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves. They’re all white people. When The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug came out last year, there actually were a few not-white individuals in Lake-Town. Progress? Yes, that is a bit of progress, but they’re just faces in the background. Set dressing doesn’t count as a giant leap forward.
You’d think we’d be a lot farther along than we are right now. Yes, I’ll happily applaud the progress that we have made, but I’m not going to let people off the hook for not yet going far enough. We’re doing everyone a disservice by clinging to this more homogeneous vision. We’re particularly doing the underrepresented folks a terrible disservice. Everyone deserves to see someone who looks like them on screen. They deserve to see themselves as the stars with speaking roles instead of extras, villains, or comedic relief.
On top of seeing more chromatic diversity, I’d love to see some more diversity of other kinds. I’d love to see more differently-abled individuals, a greater array of sexualities and genders, and everything under the sun. There’s so much wonderful variety in the world. Why must the idea of showcasing that in our fiction seem so revolutionary? It shouldn’t be.
This brings me back to the world of Thedas in Dragon Age. Bioware has been known to push boundaries with their thematic elements and embracing different kinds of love and romance. I’ve mentioned that time and again. It’s one of the reasons why I love the company.
I didn’t really think about it until I was driving home from rehearsal tonight, but Dragon Age: Inquisition is the first game in that franchise to include a companion of a different race (I’m not sure where Isabela falls on the ethnicity spectrum). I’m not going to count the dwarves, elves, golems, or Qunari. That’s just cheating. In any event, your Inquisitor gets to acquire the talented mage, Vivienne, for their Inquisition. She’s black. I can also recall seeing other faces in the crowd and even minor characters with major speaking roles that haven’t been white.
While it’s great to see things moving forward in that regard, the pace is still disturbingly glacial and there’s still a great deal of backlash against those who seek to disrupt the status quo. It’s the 21st century. I’m just eagerly anticipating the day when I’ll be seeing a greater variety of faces among the aliens, elves, and dragons.