How to select video games mindfully this holiday season: Brock expert

As Black Friday nears, Brock University Digital Humanities Assistant Professor Sarah Stang is encouraging consumers to think critically about the video games they add to their cart this holiday season.

A lifelong gamer, Stang says there is much work to be done to flip the script on problematic gender representations in video games.

“If you know anything about video games, you know they have been a fraught media when it comes to representation of diverse identities, especially gender,” says the feminist media scholar, who through her research hopes to create change in the industry she is so passionate about.

So, how can shoppers think critically about their game choices?

A woman with short brown hair wearing a dress with flowers on it smiles warmly at the camera in a portrait image. She stands in front of rich, green plants with purple flowers.

Brock University Digital Humanities Assistant Professor Sarah Stang specializes in video game research exploring topics of gender and diversity.

For new gamers who are just getting started and looking to purchase a progressive video game, Stang recommends looking beyond big-budget options produced by publishing studios, known as ‘AAA’ games, and seeking out independent self-published games.

“Indie games are often more creative, and you will find more diverse characters,” she says. “These independent games are a very good sign that the medium is maturing and evolving.”

Stang says independent games can also be more accessible as they are less difficult to navigate, especially if the player is younger, not tech-savvy or might have difficulty holding and operating a controller.

Stang still encourages people to play the games they love — including popular ‘AAA’ options — but urges gamers to be active consumers.

“Don’t ever feel ashamed about what you love to play. After all, video games are entertainment, but I suggest asking questions about character design, dialogue choice, who the hero is and who the villain is, and how women and people of colour are portrayed,” she says.

Stang recently shared insight into gender representation in the Japanese video game The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo), one of the longest-running and most commercially successful series of games ever produced.

Gender in Zelda has always been a hot-button issue for gamers, and Stang’s research explores how “Nintendo is toeing the line in terms of gender representation in the Zelda instalment.”

“They were willing to be risky with changing the mechanics of play, but they weren’t willing to be risky with the gender question,” she says.

Stang explores these critical questions with prospective game designers in the joint GAME program, facilitated by Brock’s Departments of Digital Humanities and Computer Science, and Niagara College.

“I am so encouraged by our Brock GAME students as future game developers,” she says. “It is key that Digital Humanities has its home in the Faculty of Humanities; humanistic critical thinking must always be a part of the discussion.”

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