Why Diverse Games: Lisa Lindsay Art

I’m fortunate in life to have met some fantastic people who are passionate about gaming, and even a few who are currently in the industry.

Lisa is a professional game artist and illustrator with over seven years of experience. She has contributed to more than 16-shipped titles including StarForge, Office Jerk and Atari’s Asteroids Gunner. She also participates frequently in Global Game Jams. In her spare time, Lisa is working on personal projects including a comic about women in Mexican wrestling. (Adapted from her member profile on boneshakerpress.net)

K: What do you think qualifies you as a ‘gamer’?

L: I would say that anyone who plays games can identify as being a ‘gamer’. Even though these days I can only play an hour or two of games each week, I still identify as a gamer because I’m very passionate about games and the industry.

K: What attracts you to video games over other forms of entertainment?

L: Puzzle solving, interactive storytelling and unique experiences. Games like Zelda, Portal, Professor Layton and Braid are my jam; I love problem solving. On top of that, when gameplay is paired with strong storytelling, games can become a really impactful medium. You can see this in games like Heavy Rain where you change/affect the story, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons where the story is paired with the game controls in a very moving way. Then, there are unique experiences like The Stanley Parable where you aren’t even sure if it counts as a game anymore. OR the experience I had with Mario 64 as a kid, when I got the wing cap for the first time — magical.

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K: Do you generally feel like you see yourself represented in popular culture?

L: Not in the main stream. I really notice it when I go to work on a new cosplay and realize how few female characters there are that I feel drawn to, and are modest enough for me to be comfortable.  There are a lot of great indie comics, however, cartoons and games that have great representation for women and minorities.

K: Are there disparities between representation for women in pop culture and in games?

L: While mainstream culture has its issues, there seems to be more room for exploration there (or at least there are more tropes to choose from). The gaming industry is still quite young and I think that there is a lot more blatant stereotyping that isn’t happening as much (or as obviously) in mainstream media.

Editors note: Lisa, I really like this point. It’s like the gaming industry is just a little bit behind the film and TV industry, and the stereotypes and tropes that we used to see in films but have been mostly phased out or replaced at this point are still being used.

K: What effect do you think inclusive representation can have on storytelling in games?

L: It’s not about minorities needing to be represented in order for them to play something, and it’s not about checking off a list so you know if your game is ‘diverse enough’. We can still make games about straight white males with sexy female counterparts. What it’s really about is offering new experiences.

That might mean exploring cultures other than our own or simply offering a glimpse through the worldview of someone else — I think society as a whole can only benefit from these new and different experiences. It’s about allowing storytellers the freedom to pursue those stories since, currently, creative storytellers are being told not to write about these different experiences because they won’t make as much money.

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K: How do you feel inclusivity in games affects you personally?

L: Nothing makes me sadder than seeing games targeted at young girls that are strongly stereotyped and poorly developed. When a game has a woman in it and it’s no big deal — not made to feel like a mind blowing plot point — when it feels like, hey, why not make this character a woman? It’s the greatest thing ever.

Chell in Portal (and GLaDOS for that matter), was quite a revolutionary experience. She was an ordinary girl, not sexualized (she wears the same thing a male test subject would wear), and she was the point of view character. It didn’t change the gameplay or the story, nor did it remove male gamers from the experience.

All I want is to play a game about a princess who saves herself! I loved the Princess Peach parts in Paper Mario 64 and I wish I could get a whole game of just that! It’s probably a game I will have to make myself, because I know in my heart there isn’t a lineup of badass princess games coming to the shelves anytime soon.

Editors note: Lisa this is a fantastic idea, let’s go make a game. 😉

Lisa: It’s actually a game idea (well, a theme/story idea) that I’ve been dreaming about forever – and working on a bit – but I so badly want it to exist that I share it with everyone, instead of keeping it to myself.

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K: Have you ever refused, or would you refuse to play a game if it included a problematic portrayal or if it completely excluded a group?

L: No, at least not so far.

K: What might the next steps be for the game industry in increasing representation?

L: I think the industry is on its way. I’m seeing games like Life is Strange and Telltales The Walking Dead in which the protagonists are part of a minority, but we could definitely use more. Part of it will come as a result of hiring diverse writers and other employees. More representation inside a company will produce better representation in games.

Another piece will be how we receive these games as an audience. Right now, a game with a white male protagonist is a safe bet, it’s bankable, and a game with a minority protagonist is a risk. If a game with a minority protagonist can prove just as popular/successful, then more big companies will be brave enough to produce those games. Also, can we start making games targeted at young girls that don’t suck please?

I think if the game industry (and since I’m a part of the industry I hope to be part of the solution too) doesn’t cut corners and writes believable characters instead of going the easy route with stereotypes and tropes, that’s going to go a long way.

Also, how about exploring some new ideas? We have a few games out there where you play as a dad as part of the story, but how about a game where you play as a mom?

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K: What game are you playing now or looking forward to the most?

L: I finished Undertale a while ago, but I can’t help always bringing it up when I have the chance because it’s fantastic. I am currently playing Psychonauts and the new King’s Quest, and I’m really looking forward to playing Stardew Valley and The Witness after that.

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Thanks Lisa for answering these questions of mine.

You can find more of Lisa, and see her awesome art first hand at lisalindsayart.com or lisalindsayart.tumblr.com. Reach out to Lisa at @lisalindsayart on twitter, or, if you’re interested in art and making art professionally check out boneshakerpress.net.

If you want to get in touch with me for an interview, you can always do so through my contact form or @kjewellwrites.

Illustrations in this post by Lisa Lindsay Art 

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