Voices: Video games making strides in technology and diversity

Voices: Video games making strides in technology and diversity

In an industry that is known for being male-centric, women make up a large percentage of gamers. Now game-makers are responding by including more women behind-the-scenes and adding female characters.

I’ve played Tetris in many ways over the years, including on Game Boys, computers and TVs. Now I’ve played using my head — literally.

With Sony’s Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, I leaned left and right to look around 3D Tetris-like blocks floating in midair — like monoliths out of 2001: A Space Odyssey — to maneuver them properly so they would fit through an approaching opening.

For the past 21 years, I’ve attended the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, during which video game makers unveil their latest creations.

The technological advances have truly been impressive. At the Consumer Electronics Show in 1992, the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game systems on display drew blocky, less-than-three-dimensional characters.

This week, I donned the Oculus Rift VR headset and played hockey, blocking incoming pucks fired at me as goalie and skating down the ice, making split-second slapshot decisions on a breakaway. You could hear the clap of the hockey sticks hitting the puck and sound of skates slicing the ice.

Then, during a Star Wars-style dogfight, I performed dizzying barrel rolls while tracking enemy fighters to protect our armada.

Another of the experiences for Sony’s Project Morpheus, to be released early next year, dropped me into a Michael Bay movie as a passenger in a vehicle during a high-speed shootout. Using two ice cream cone-size controllers, I could press a trigger to grab an Uzi and shoot pursuing motorcycles and Escalades. At one point, I opened the passenger door, leaned out and fired at a pursuer.

But you don’t have to don a VR headset to witness the evolution of video game technology. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, a PlayStation 4 release scheduled for next year, looks like an Indiana Jones flick on the big screen. Even if you weren’t holding the game controller, you wouldn’t mind watching it play out on an IMAX screen.

The same goes for countless other games including Halo 5: Guardians, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Star Wars: Battlefront. (You might notice these are sequels. In the video game world, advances in technology often result in game makers wanting to return to familiar worlds to recreate them in new pristine, detailed fashion.)

Another trend in video games is that more women and girls have become players over the past decade or so. Today, females make up nearly half (44%) of those who play video games — across all platforms, from computers and consoles like PlayStations, Xboxs and Wiis to smartphones and tablets.

Several women who walked the E3 show floor with me spoke of progress when it comes to including females in a once male-dominated industry.

Many marquee titles prominently feature female characters. Lara Croft, the curvaceous tomb raider of the ’90s, looks more realistic in Rise of the Tomb Raider, coming to Xbox One later this year.

In the upcoming Bethesda Softworks epic Fallout 4, out Nov. 10, you can choose to play the entire game as a man or woman. And new in-development action games such as Recore and Horizon: Zero Dawn have female stars.

As a result of several generations of girls growing up playing electronic games, more women are working in the industry. Earlier this week, Bonnie Ross, head of Microsoft’s 343 Industries, which oversees the mega-popular Halo video game franchise, took the stage first at the Xbox pre-E3 showcase — a sign of prominence.

Ross says she feels the responsibility of being a role model for girls and women. After she left the stage, a 50-something female Xbox fan said to her: “Where were you when I was growing up? It made such a difference seeing you up there.”

The greeting “almost made me cry,” Ross said. “We have so much work to do.”

Sad, but true. Over the past 12 months, several prominent women in the video game industry were attacked online in boneheaded misogynistic fashion. For a recap of what’s known as the Gamergate controversy, check out the depressing, hopeful and educational documentary GTFO.

Technology is sure to continue its march forward. Here’s to hoping the video game industry leaves any hateful baggage behind.


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