Diversity in Gaming Report: An Analysis of Diversity in Video Game Characters

Image credit: DiamondLobby

We compiled over 100 games released in the last five years, between 2017 to 2021. The games we selected were the 10 highest selling games from each of the years, along with every other major game release from the biggest gaming publishers including Activision, EA, Nintendo, Ubisoft and more.

We then removed all games that only allowed you to play with a fully customizable character. “Fully customizable characters” are characters found in games like New World or Animal Crossing where you have total control over your character’s gender and appearance. This left our final list as 93 of the biggest games released over the last 5 years.

The only thing left to do was research and analyze the games to compile our Diversity in Gaming Study.

Our Findings

Gender Diversity in Video Games

  • 79.2% of main protagonists in games are male, 20.8% female.
  • 54.2% of main characters in games are white.
  • Just 8.3% of main characters in games are females of non-white ethnicities.
  • Of 810 characters across the games that we studied, 66.5% were male characters, 27.7% were female, and the remaining 5.8% were non-binary or had no documented gender.
  • 63.3% of games had both playable male and female characters.
  • 31.7% of games only had male characters.
  • 5% of games only had female characters.
  • There are over six-times more games with only male characters than there are with only female characters.

Ethnic Diversity in Video Games

Due to a lack of background information across the characters in many games, and therefore a difficulty in determining the true ethnicity of many multiracial characters, the easiest way to break down our ethnicity findings was by ‘white’ and ‘all other ethnicities combined’, which includes (but isn’t limited to) black and Asian characters.

This part of the study only included human or human-like characters.

  • 61.2% of characters in games are white.
  • 9.5% of games only have a playable white character, i.e. they have no other ethnic representation.
  • Just 5.3% of games do not have a playable white character.

The Most Diverse Video Game

The most diverse video game in our study was Apex Legends.

This game is so diverse that it will be hard for a game to ever be more diverse — though it’s setting the bar for where other games can aim to be in terms of inclusivity in the future.

  • 50% of the playable characters in Apex Legends are female.
  • The other half of the playable characters are made up of 7 males and 1 non-binary character.
  • 6 out of 17 characters are openly gay, bisexual or otherwise ‘not straight’.
  • 50% of the playable characters are black, Asian or otherwise ‘not white’.

Conclusion

After finalizing our research, we’re confident in saying that gaming — at least in terms of representation in characters within games — still has some way to go before being a true and accurate reflection of the diversity of modern society.

Fair Use

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License — you’re more than welcome to re-use or republish our data or images, we just request fair credit.

What is fair credit? All we ask is that you link to DiamondLobby as the original source of the designs.

This allows our team to get rightfully recognized for our work.

Why Did We Do This?

Last month I published something that we’d been working on for quite a while; a lighthearted look at how some popular male video game characters could have looked if they’d been written into games as females.

The content encouraged people to open their minds and think a little more about diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.

The response we had was crazy. Publications all around the world featured our designs, including major newspapers Marca in Spain, Der Standard in Austria and Terra in Brazil.

Whilst reactions from the media were greater than we could have ever anticipated, we also saw our fair share of negativity.

“Tomb Raider would like a word” was a common response found in comment sections around the internet.

It’s ironic that so many people would turn to Tomb Raider — an example of a character that actually highlighted everything we wanted to say about gender diversity in games.

If you asked the general public to name any game with a female main character, the majority would say Tomb Raider. Many wouldn’t be able to name any more than that. If you were to ask them about games with male main characters, the list would likely be diverse and long.

Tomb Raider also happens to wear a tight top and short shorts, and I don’t think any more needs to be said to illustrate my point here.

“You can play as girls in these games” was another common comment, as was “females have important roles in the storylines.” Cool, but why are they rarely the main protagonist?

“You need to do some research.”

Challenge accepted.

Over the last month, we’ve painstakingly researched and analyzed the playable characters and major protagonists in over 100 mainstream video games.

And we didn’t just stop at gender diversity.

We set out to find gender equality in gaming data, but also to find ethnic equality in gaming data — and whatever else we could find.

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