Diversity education by committee

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More LGBT inclusion in the media through film, television, games, and news is seen as a kind of victory, but one that must be handled carefully. Some writers in their attempts to be inclusive end up with stereotyped portrayals that do more harm than good. To prevent this, some producers are reaching out to the community and bringing on consults to best direct their messages of diversity.

Looking at some individual works brings to mind an old idiom: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. EA Games learned about how good intentions can also backfire recently, when its online game “Star Wars: The Old Republic” was updated with options for same-sex romance. Unfortunately, those options at first seemed to be restricted to just one planet in the game; this enraged some players, who saw it as restricting LGBT characters to their own ghetto.

For this and other reasons, Electronic Arts recently held the first ever “Full Spectrum” event to address LGBT issues and homophobia in gaming. It was attended by LGBT activists, representatives from the gaming industry, and other professionals to discuss problems specific to video games, and how to solve them.

Online multiplayer gaming can be shockingly homophobic, with players throwing around anti-gay slurs constantly on many talk channels. Although this is not related to content programmed into the games, EA’s Battlefield community manager, Jaap Tuinman, stated, “We have a responsibility from a corporate standpoint where we create a safe haven that we can control.”

It was agreed at Full Spectrum that none of the concerns brought up can be solved by any one thing, but it’s clear that bringing in consultants is a tremendous help. It’s a strategy used before by other forms of media. Movie producers have been known to hire an individual or even a committee to point out problems others would miss when addressing minority ethnic groups..

Filmmaker Spike Lee, aware that his view of the world is from a heterosexual male perspective—and having been accused of homophobia in his previous works—went to the effort of hiring a lesbian female sex writer to look over the script for his comedy about a lesbian couple trying to have a baby.

Writers are exhorted to “write what you know,” and what that really means is not only research, but a genuine effort at understanding. The browser game “A Closed World,” which is centered around a clearl LGBT theme of struggling for acceptance, was created by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was actually almost entirely straight.

“The team made tremendous efforts to try and understand the issues at hand; the office they worked in had one wall that could be written on, and they put a big circle in the middle with the letters ‘LGBT’ on it,” the researcher who led the project, Dr. Todd Harper, told 429Magazine.

“Over the course of the 8 weeks of the game’s design, they continually added ideas off that circle that were relevant. By the end of the summer … the connecting ideas covered the entirety of a roughly 7’ by 4’ glass wall.”

Their efforts paid off, as the game they created shows a real understanding of the issues newly out LGBT people face, rather than a shallow attempt at portraying something they’ve only seen on TV.

The video game industry still characterizes a heteronormative perspective, but as more and more media outlets counter that with other points of view, something of a snowball effect is created. As more diverse depictions of characters with genuine depth appear on our television screens, more groups will be seen as “normal,” increasing acceptance not only within our favorite diversions, but in the real world.

429Magazine

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Just another multi-disciplinary writer and bundle of contradictions trying to figure out how to get the most out of life, and make a living while I'm at it.

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