Study: Minorities underrepresented in games

USC researcher surveys 150 best-selling games, finds zero Hispanic or Native American protagonists; women, children, and the elderly also disproportionately rare.

Recent years have seen the explosive growth of games into previously untapped demographics. And while publishers have pursued these new markets by focusing on accessibility and games in nontraditional genres, they're missing an opportunity to open the field up even further, according to one University of Southern California researcher.

Black characters are underrepresented outside the sports genre, with Williams saying games often portray them as "gangsters and street people."

A study published last month in the journal New Media & Society surveyed the 150 best-selling games from March 2005 through February 2006 (which accounted for more than 95 percent of game sales over that span) and tallied up the race, gender, and ages of the characters within. The study, conducted by Dmitri Williams, an assistant professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, found that adults, whites, and men are disproportionately represented in games, to the detriment of nearly all other demographics.

"The results show a systematic overrepresentation of males, white and adults and a systematic underrepresentation of females, Hispanics, Native Americans, children and the elderly," Williams concluded.

As might have been expected, men were grossly overrepresented in games. While they make up slightly more than half the US population, men account for more than 85 percent of game characters. As far as age groups go, adults were overrepresented (nearly 87 percent of game characters compared to 59 percent of the US population), at the expense of children (less than 4 percent of game characters but 21 percent of the country) and the elderly (less than 2 percent in games, but more than 12 percent of the population).

The study also found that white people make up about 80 percent of game characters, compared to 75 percent of the US population. Asian/Pacific populations were the only other race category to be overrepresented (5 percent in games compared to 4 percent in the US), with Hispanics and Native Americans both significantly underrepresented.

Hispanics make up less than 3 percent of game characters, but more than 12 percent of the population, while Native Americans represent less than 1 percent of the country and make up less than 0.1 percent of game characters. On top of that, the two groups appeared solely as supporting characters in games, with the researchers recording no Hispanic or Native American protagonists in their study.

Williams said the underrepresentation could be interpreted by players as a message that the missing minorities are "relatively unimportant and powerless compared to more heavily present groups." He went on to express concern that Latinos and other groups could be turned off to games by their lack of representation, and "subsequently, they may have less interest in technology and its opportunities for class advancement. Ironically, they would be less likely to become game makers themselves, helping to perpetuate the cycle."

Interestingly, the breakdown of gender and race representation in games closely mirrors that of US game developers as a whole, with one exception. Williams said black characters are overrepresented compared to the number of black developers in the workforce.

Portrayals of Native Americans are rare in games. Prey and Brave have come out since the study was conducted, but examples are still few and far between.

The researchers looked at the numbers for player-controlled characters, as well as supporting characters, and weighted the results according to sales. As explained in the article, "when the most popular game (Madden 06) sells over 6 million copies and the least popular (game #150 in the present study's sampling frame, BeyBlade) 15,000 copies, it is safe to assume that one game will be played significantly more than another. Thus, if the goal is to measure what the public is actually consuming, content from the two should not be given equal weight in the analysis."

There are other factors acknowledged by Williams that should be taken into account. The researchers only considered human characters in compiling their numbers. Data was obtained for quasihuman and nonhuman characters as well, but not incorporated in the paper on age, race, and gender portrayal. The popularity of sports games influenced the survey's gender results, as there are an abundance of games like Madden NFL and the WWE SmackDown titles, but no games for women's professional sports.

Finally, Williams said there was a "striking similarity" between his findings and similar analyses performed on television programs. He suggested that Latinos and Native Americans are systematically underrepresented in many forms of media and expressed surprise that the situation persists despite the growing Latino population in the country.

Williams told GameSpot that he has another article that will soon be published looking at body shapes of game characters versus the body shapes of real people. He also previously studied the amount of profanity in games (and determined there wasn't a whole lot of it).

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Discussion

196 comments
AlexVanHalen
AlexVanHalen

I think many of you should actually try reading the full journal article before making knee jerk responses. Here is a pdf link to it that I found http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/11/5/815 Its a pretty long journal article but many of the criticisms displayed in previous posts are addressed, like what is the point of the study? The authors are actually comparing videogames as a mass market media outlet to other mass market medias, ie TELEVISION. They claim that the videogame market has become so big (they claim 40% of Americans play them) that they should be compared and studied much like the television audience. They found some very interesting correlating data that the videogame market is much like the television market. This was their point. So who cares right? Well, that's debatable. For the gaming industry as a whole it's a sign of respect. No longer a niche thing that only nerds do, videogames have reached and influenced such a broad spectrum of society that academia has found it necessary to study them to get a pulse on society. Will this study result in better games?, probably not, but that wasn't the aim of the article. As a side note, I actually despise USC being a cornhuskers fan but USC is a privately funded university, no state money goes to them. Any money that went to fund the study was probably from a donor, maybe even a fellow gamer?

FF_fan2004
FF_fan2004

Lack of latinos in gaming? Well if anyone has ideas such as having good story plots, gameplay etc that they can integrate ethnic minorities, then go ahead. Just make sure that the games are good.

FF_fan2004
FF_fan2004

I agree with Carnas. There are more important issues: Global warming, Iranian Nukes, poverty, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Ladin, Afghanistan, North Korea, HIV, Swine Flu, and the list goes on. Instead USC has probably waste research dollars which may I assume that it may have come from you as taxpayers, on something as pointless and ineffective as the lack of ethnic minorities on video games. May I point out that video games are a luxury that not all people can actually afford. It's really down to the individuals be it white or black to make their own decisions in life on whether they do want to work as game developers, politicians, doctors etc.

Carnas
Carnas

I'm sure that there are more pressing issues in this world. Glad to see USC wastes their research dollars on idiots like him.

FF_fan2004
FF_fan2004

Good point, he really should look at the rest of the world. More specifically other countries that are above the Brandtz Line (i.e. the developed countries whose population that can afford this luxury). You have to look at games like Assassin's Creed that has a good diversity of its developers with different religious beliefs and are not all caucasian.

Foolishledgend
Foolishledgend

Don't think anyone's commented on this yet so.. The main reason this study sucks is that it isn't representative itself. From the looks of it, Williams is comparing the trends of a global market to the demographics of solely the US. Not good

ADM123
ADM123

I feel that eggplant and cantalope are grossly under represented. Come to think of it sweaty large breasted lesbian locker room sex is also grossly under represented.

NearlyPrescient
NearlyPrescient

@ fishnkill4 because certainly the blacks and hispanics were the ones doing the research and they are certainly up in arms over this under-representation. nobody's playing the race card but you, bud. your comment makes you look extremely ignorant and racist to boot; people have no right to complain about representation in something unless they make it? we shouldn't expect black people in games made by white people? I mean, I really hope you realize how clearly and completely ignorant that is because I just can't make it any clearer. you sound like one of those white people that says they're not racist but clearly feels threatened by minorities and expresses their closeted racism by lashing out via accusing minorities of playing the race card constantly. i mean, i don't know you, and you don't know me, but that's how you sound to me. open your mind.

jrxbond
jrxbond

I don't have fact in hand, diagrams and such, but maybe its because minorities in the U.S. have real jobs.

majere613
majere613

The wheels of academia sure turn slowly- 2005 data seems pretty irrelevant now. Anyway, by this rationale Tekken is the greatest game ever- characters are black, white, straight, gay (Paul), fat (Ganryu), Native American (Michelle/Julia are half NA, half Chinese), young (Xiayou 15 iirc) and old (Wang, 108 at last count)- not to mention robots, maybe-undead (Yoshimitsu) and er, bears. Of course, they celebrate this great diversity by knocking seven bells out of each other. Which conclusively proves something. Conclusively.

fishnkill4
fishnkill4

Gosh, this is seriously playing the race card too far. Let's look at who actually develops video games. Japan: Japanese developers are naturally gonna be thinking about themselves, hence a majority of Asian characters in their video games. Same goes for American companies whose majority of developers are white. Unless Blacks and Hispanics begin making video games, they shouldn't be complaining about anything video game related.

ThisIsntLeonard
ThisIsntLeonard

Well, consider what games ARE out there? Some of the best games involve the protagonist killing tons of people, and doing what most would consider immoral acts. Then it would come down to, "Oh, why is the HISPANIC mowing down people with their machine gun, huh!?" If you don't like it, opt for games that allow you to choose your own character, ie. Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead.

Triton
Triton

Why we do we care about this? Life is tough and not fare. Learn it early in life and you will do just fine.

FF_fan2004
FF_fan2004

It's really down to the players' opinions whether it should matter. I'm female, asian and born in Britain. I certainly don't really care too much about race in video games because I see games, characters etc as part of entertainment to ease oneself from the daily grind of work from now and again. To be fair, there have been games which allowed character creation to your liking. Games such as Mass Effect, Saints Row 2 etc, are great for myself to create my very own protagonist. And guess what, it's obviously female, but blonded hair and green-eyes. And that's just my fantasy representation of who I want to be. It's really a matter of taste at the end of the day. People really shouldn't take race in games too seriously. Race, age and gender discrimination should be taken seriously in everyday life of reality from the moment you walk out of the door.

008Zulu
008Zulu

Is race that really big of an issue in games?

LOXO7
LOXO7

Ah so many things I wanted to say about this article. Like "haha USC study! Do more minorities play video games? USC racism stats." But Williams graduated from U of M and I'm currently wearing a shirt from that school..But Williams is only feeding the fire to why people are afraid of videogames. They relate too much of it to real life. Please don't! It's not real life!!!

pwnzord
pwnzord

As with the many other users on this article who have posted the numerous games that have come out after the study almost serves to render this entire study useless. With games such as Prey and GTA4 that have been released recently there is little doubt that the demographic has changed as well. If you're going to sit on the data for 3 years you might as well forget about it; in video games, that is a long time.

Lach0121
Lach0121

please people, dont let this article be a "reason" for you all to bicker and generate hate amongst each other... (cause thats mostly what it has done so far, as opposed to actually spreading logic.) so people do not take this article so personally. i think there should be equality, and people have preached for so long about it, but we still arent really seeing it, each "race" "gender" gets its lenience's and double standards, and own personal tragic history.. but this is used as a way for one "race" "gender" to "seek revenge on another", or "keep things the way SOME think they should be." as opposed to actually being equal. (true equality really cant be achieved anyway in the current systems we have in place today, and throughout most of our "history") but i think a new age of knowledge is coming. and hopefully we can get past some of these things that have been holding us back.

lathan94
lathan94

A good portion of gamers and developers are white males. Certain settings and time periods mean minoritys or in some cases white people wouldnt fit in. In world war 2 games for instance whites were separate from minorities and whites vastly outnumbered minorities, so white soldiers are the most common in a game involving a war before WW2. Overall i think the industry could use some racial diversity so more people can relate to the game better.

ScionofEntropy
ScionofEntropy

At least no one's complaining about the left-handed demographic being underrepresented. (Oh wait, yes, they are!) No one understands their struggle of... having to use their left hand instead of their right. So hard...

EB1089
EB1089

To everyone who's a gamer and cares about this topic, you're barking up the wrong tree with most -- not all -- of the people in this forum. White people can afford to be ignorant and make ignorant statements when they're not in the minority. Life experiences are a lot different from the other side of the fence.

omegasptrm
omegasptrm

To the ignorant people who said "who cares" or anything like, here's your answer: me! And I know that there are many more out there who enjoy video games but grimmace over the fact that ur race and other minorities are unequally and often time mis represented (stereotypes- every black person isn't a gangster or into rap).Let me break things down for the uninitiated; I've been a gamer for a long time and just happen to be african american,(btw Zelda is my favorite game) and I'm disturbed by the trend of our gaming industry when compared w/the movie industry which is alot more consistent w/minority representation. Me and my family and friends after playing a game joke about the "white boy cast" after a while the joke gets stale and becomes depressing. We have a black president so hopefully things will change...but who cares right?

shawise
shawise

It's time for game developers to start giving individuals the option of what their character's race and genre should be.

Zehydra
Zehydra

How many people will actually play women's sports video games? I figure, since the majority of players are MALE that it sort of makes sense that there aren't that many women's sports games.

Nuggular
Nuggular

Turok has a native American for the main character. And that was certainly one of the best selling games when the N64 was out.

AceJakk
AceJakk

please, the study should also take into account to number of copies these games sell, not just the total number of games with only whitey. a game with a heavy involvement from minorities that sells 6 million copies has many more impressions than hundreds of other titles. RE5 (with the exception of 5 characters, they were all minorities... making them the majority). This "study" also holds no water in California: white males are a minority in CA (statistically) so as far as I'm concerned, most games feature minorities.

Saerain
Saerain

@maximvs: You're correct, but missing the point. 20% of the population having 20% representation is not underrepresentation. 20% having 3% is.

Saerain
Saerain

I don't know about minority races or women, aside from suggesting something about target audiences, but I can say with certainty that children are underrepresented because their mere presence in a game, playable character or not, tends to change the whole song and dance with the ESRB for the worse.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

@aragod First of all, at no point in my comment did I ever say that I "thought all Africans where black". You are putting words in my mouth to make me appear ignorant. I am well aware that not all Africans are black. I am referring to the African natives where the character Sheva originates. Secondly, how dare you insult me personally and my education. I have worked damn hard to be studying teaching at university so I would hardly say that I am "lacking in my education". Finally I am 28 years old with a 4 year old daughter so I would hardly refer to myself as a "child of the UK educational system". Also as an actual member of the UK National Union of Teachers I can assure you that our education system is not lacking, but I could go into that for pages. I hope my comment makes you realise how ignorant and immature your offensive rant was and you consider what you type before you actually do it in the future.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Ps1-2-3
Ps1-2-3

GAWD DAMMIT HONKY!!! I'M SO DANG TIRED OF ALL THESE CRACKERS!!! LAST WEEK I WAS PLAYING GRAND THEFT AUTO SAN ANDREAS, AND THE PERSON WAS NOTHIN LIKE ME!!! I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A CAR!!!

Ubermensche
Ubermensche

Who honestly cares? I would like to know how much money was wasted on this study. All you have to do is walk through a game store and look at the games. Most Japanese games have Japanese lead characters; a minority in the US. Does Mario count since he is a specific nationality? What about all the different races and nationalities represented in fighting games? Oh and Sonic counts as well :D

barleybosh
barleybosh

TN101 You are absolutely correct, sir. And, this Article needs to get out of my face.

Unassigned
Unassigned

Oh brother, not another lame article trying to claim "racism" in games.

snakes3425
snakes3425

Games with Minority Protagonists Prey Prince of Persia GTA IV Metroid Tomb Raider Call of Duty Rainbow Six Ghost Recon Mercenaries Assassins Creed HALO (Sgt. Johnson) Jade Empire Oni

doctor_fury
doctor_fury

You know what I love about when popular game sites discuss race/gender/age/class/social strata in general? NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Seriously, almost all of you who have posted comments in this thread are grotesquely ignorant and irredeemably dumb. STOP TALKING NOW PLS

kvan33
kvan33

Games with a minority lead character...just off the top of my head: Prey GTA: San Andreas Perfect Dark Metroid series Shadow Man Prince of Persia 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand The Suffering Crackdown God of War (bald people are a minority)

chesucks
chesucks

Boo ******* hoo. **** P.C. b*******. Williams sounds like a race-hustler.

TN101
TN101

Well there were a lot of minorities represented in RE5 right?

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

Considering what a cash cow the Super Mario franchise is - not just the platformers, but the karting, sports, and other hit spin-offs - I wonder how much Mario and Luigi are skewing the data. They must have at least 10 of the top 150 games from that time span. It makes me smile to think of the researchers booting up Smash Brothers and trying to figure out how to assign species, race, and gender to that bunch. Do these guys know Samus Aran is actually a woman? And Cloud Strife is actually a man, despite the hair? Can't wait for the body shape study. I'm tapping my psychic powers as we speak... let me see... they're going to find... yes... that the men and women in video games generally have physiques that are over-idealized, and perhaps even impossible in a real-world setting. The men are all muscular behemoths, and the women are busty, gorgeous 90-pounders who can do backflips. We gamers, on the other hand, are a bit on the doughy side.

synthetiksin
synthetiksin

I want a game full of women of different ethnicities, NAKED and blowing up babies and old people. There, problem solved.

supermike6
supermike6

@im-a-roustabout WWII was not just about Pearl Harbor. It was about so much more than that. And I've alreayd explained why that war was just and this one isn't.

Get_Shorty
Get_Shorty

Don't forget Turok. And let's have some more baby lead characters in games! That would make sense. I have not complaints about not having a lot of Hispanic characters to play with, I just play with Dominic Santiago in Gears and I'm fine.... oh and Master Chief too -- he's whatever you want him to be :P

bschroth
bschroth

People make what they know. I'm guessing most devs are white people living in America, Canada and many European countries. I'd rather have the other races represented to a lesser extent than to have them shoehorned in and be all stereotypical.

Malfuntion
Malfuntion

Why don't you include farm animals as a minortiy while you're at it? My god, seriously? Do you have a life? Most pathetic article I've ever read.

im-a-roustabout
im-a-roustabout

Well more importantly I would just like to say that as long as video games are not saying or showing signs of support for a particular race, while denouncing another, I see nothing wrong with this.

im-a-roustabout
im-a-roustabout

@supermike6 It's not just because of the "War on Terror", it's because of people like you, who hype up their country. Also, just because two Taliban "cowards" hijacked a plane does not mean you should wage war on their country. ---------------------------- Dude, shut up already man, you are way out of line. So terrorists attacking and killing thousands is not right to wage a war but Dec 7 1941 pearl harbor is ok? Pretty much the same thing, and I think less people actually died at Pearl Harbor. While I don't completely agree with the war we have now, I still think some kind of action needed to be taken for what happened so it doesn't happen again. We have to show people that actions like this are not going to be tolerated anywhere in the world. You complain that we didn't enter the war untill it was in our back door, yet now you complain that we entered one? Make up your mind, get your facts straight and quit your stereotypical nonsense you have of the U.S.A. Heck the reason why we got bombed at Pearl Harbor in the first place is because of the embargo we started on Japan which led to the offensive. We sent aid to Europe all the time as well so why are you crying? Don't you have some other country to bash then the ones who actually helped? Go make fun of a Nazi or something for genocide, but NOOOOOO were made fun of for........jealousy it seems.