Electronic Arts executive wants to make video games more inclusive
In recent years, the video game industry has focused more on making games that reflect the diversity of all people who play them. But Laura Miele, who oversees the creation of all video games by game maker EA, said there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
“We exist to inspire the world to play, and when you’re in the business of inspiring the world, it means the world. You need to ensure that you have diverse and inclusive content for everyone to play and for everyone to connect with,” she said.
EA, which owns several notable franchises including FIFA, Madden NFL, and the latest Star Wars games, is trying to embrace diversity with a set of guidelines implemented in 2018 that are supposed to increase inclusion in games. That means looking for opportunities to include more female characters, characters of various ethnicities, or other marginalized identities—and making sure the people creating those games come from diverse backgrounds.
EA’s push is part of a broader effort in the gaming industry to get away from telling stories centered only around heterosexual white male characters. These programs also aim to make gaming workplaces more inclusive and, in some cases, reach out to the larger gaming community that make up its fans.
In addition to EA, major gaming companies such as Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Microsoft’s Xbox also have similar initiatives underway, according to Nika Nour, executive director of the IGDA Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for diversity among game developers. She also pointed to diversity efforts by independent developers and advocacy organizations.
But Nour said that it will take some time before the industry makes significant progress.
“It takes generations to actually make long-lasting change. As someone who loves instant gratification, that’s something that I’ve just had to learn in this role: that we’re in this for the long haul,” Nour said. “There are no quick fixes.”
EA’s initiative has already had some results, said Miele. It started after workers noticed the female characters added to EA’s NBA Live games were broader than their real-life counterparts, and that the animations didn’t look true-to-life despite being based on digital images of the facial features and movements of real-life players. That’s when they realized the developers created the characters using existing male digital skeletons. Reviewing the game through the prism of inclusivity allowed them to make the change before launch, so that female characters looked more life realistic.
It’s an effort that Miele, whose tenure at EA stretches over 20 years and various departments, said she’s happy to work on. Previously, while playing video games online, she had been targeted by other players, either by treating her like a less-worthy player by not including her in teams or group efforts because she was a female player. It led Miele to play as a male avatar online, a tactic she’s since ended.
And though Miele said she hasn’t worked in a sexist environment, which is said to be common in the gaming industry, she’s said she’s seen “less inclusive behavior at other companies.” It’s a point she, like many others in the gaming industry, hesitate to talk about—not necessarily to avoid the subject, but because gaming is supposed to be about fun.
EA, like with many companies, has an imperfect record itself, ranging from its own employees making inappropriate remarks to its associations within the gaming community to ensuring that the streamers it works with are in line with its core values.
“I know people have had hard experiences in our industry, and I don’t want that to be the world that we live in,” Miele said.
Miele recounts organizing women ahead of meetings to rally support before a female peer’s presentation and advocating for the creation of workplace associations that provide support for underrepresented groups. EA now has eight such groups, one of which Miele started herself: the Women’s Ultimate Team, an employee group for women at EA. Beyond serving as an employee resource, these groups are supposed to help improve inclusion by getting more people from underrepresented backgrounds involved at the company. This behind-the-scenes groundwork is critical for meaningful change, according to Nour.
Miele is optimistic about making an impact and stresses, even if unintentionally, that these conversations about inclusion have only emerged in the past four or five years. It’s not enough to just focus on diversity among characters in games, for example. It also matters whether those roles are heroes or villains, and what’s in their dialogue.
“Though we have a big impact and reach, we still have a pretty big runway ahead of us,” Miele said.
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