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"Not for me personally, but…" : Players' reactions and thoughts on attempt at inclusiveness in game design

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Title: "Not for me personally, but…" : Players' reactions and thoughts on attempt at inclusiveness in game design
Author(s): Lemieux, Noemie
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master's Programme in Global Politics and Communication
Specialisation: Media and Democracy
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2019
Different studies have assessed, in the past, the potential effects of showcasing inclusiveness of different identities in popular media. Those research often about TV series and movies, have shown the media’s potential to “participate in the construction of the imagined community, the nation, and the membership of that nation” (Nikunen, 2013, p. 307). However, too few of those studies concern video games, even though the relevance of researching that form of media is growing incessantly along with its popularity. The recent events of Gamergate and other criticism in the last years also highlighted that need. In the last years, some members of the gaming industries, touched by the awareness-raising campaigns on the potential effects of representation – or lack thereof – in video games, have attempted to improve the inclusiveness in their designs. That is the case of the Blizzard team creating the first person shooter Overwatch. Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director, has been explicit about the developers intend to send a message of “inclusiveness and open mindedness” through their game design (Kaplan, 2017), which is why the game was selected for the present research. This thesis includes theory drawn from social sciences concerning representation, visuality, and media effect. As the subject of analysis is a video game, a part of the theory comes also from the field of game research: game analysis essentials, and the notion of the transformativity of games. This basis allows a short analysis of the game Overwatch in order to evaluate partially the inclusiveness and the type of representation observable in the game. How are players reflecting on and reacting to developers’ attempt at inclusive design in the video game Overwatch? To answer the question, in-depth interviews were led with active players of the game. The participants told their first reactions to the game, then expressed their thoughts about the game’s level of inclusiveness, the necessity of that inclusiveness, and the potential effects it could have on themselves or other players. Their answers were compiled and analysed. Although the scope of this work doesn’t allow definite conclusions, it has been found that the interviews are welcoming the inclusiveness in the game Overwatch. Some of them were even to see more diverse representation added to it in the future. Most of the players are however making the distinction between Overwatch and other genre of games, saying that such inclusiveness should not be required from the developers, but encouraged; the participants give value to the developers’ creative freedom and don’t want to see it hindered by pressure from critics. Regarding the potential effects of the game’s values on the players, the participants were mostly unsure about the possibility at first. Yet, towards the end of the interview, as they became more comfortable, some of them shared personal experiences of media effect from Overwatch. Those testimonies were especially interesting as they are comparable to Bandura’s social cognitive theory, which is discussed in the thesis (Bandura, 1977; Kirsch, 2010). The results of this study invite interested researchers to investigate further in that direction.
Keyword(s): media game game studies media effect inclusiveness first-person shooter Overwatch media game pelitutkimus inclusiveness overwatch first-person shooter

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