There have been more requests for there to be further representation in video games. That more genders, races, and sexualities need to be shown. I am personally in agreement with the demands for representation, but it’s a sad fact that many like to say this is ridiculous. That to give into the request for further representation would be “pandering”. That to give into the demand for representation would be to pander to certain groups. It raises an interesting question of what exactly is representation and what exactly is pandering? Could the argument be made that they in fact can be, and usually are, the same?
Pandering in it’s earlier forms was to offer gratification to immoral people. To give into their baser desires. Over the years the word has shifted (as many do) to refer to when a party gives into the demands of a group. For instance many consider that shift in the My Little Pony series as pandering to so called “bronies”. That fundamental elements of the show and what the show was meant to be was changed to please one particular group. Given that information, a lot of people then argue that any sort of “giving in” becomes pandering. The big divide though is that again in the MLP, the show and what it was MEANT to be from it’s original creation was changed. The ground work was already set and the show had begun before the changes took place. Another example would be firing a woman actress from a show/movie because she is too old and would no longer appeal to the male basis. Pandering is changing something from what it’s foundation originally was to please others.
Representation happens on a whole different level. Representation happens before the groundwork is even set. For instance Mass Effect. Bioware began to design, build, and create the game. They then made the choice to have both a man and woman option for the role of Shepard. Nothing about the game, it’s groundwork, or it’s foundation was changed from this. Taking it even further gamers can also change the race of Shepard. This added representation also in no way effects what Bioware’s vision or desire for what they wanted from the game. Going even further and choosing to engage in a homosexual relationship in Mass Effect still does not impact the groundwork. This is NOT pandering. This is not a fundamental change to already laid foundation in order to represent more groups.
The biggest, and most important, difference between pandering and just pleasing your audience is what it does to the original intent of the content. If there is a reason that a character is a white, heterosexual, male, something that is important to the very story, and THEN it’s changed to please certain groups you can make a case for pandering. An example could be the popular Witcher series. In it you play Geralt, a man character. The original intent for the series was to follow this one character’s story from start to finish. Certain choices about who this character is are written into the lore of the world. While many disagree with the choice to make Geralt only a man. For better or worse, it was in the foundation of the game. To try to change that in later sequels would have fundamentally changed the plan for the progression of the story and the player experience. To change that would have been pandering. To decide from the get go that Geralt could have been man or woman (like the above mentioned Shepard) would have not been.
Another argument used by those that want to say all representation is pandering is “well there is no reason to make this character homosexual”. Sometimes the people that say this are right, sometimes there is NO reason to do so. However, why not do it anyway? Straight, white, men don’t make up the whole of the world or the gaming community. You don’t NEED a reason to make a straight game character so why would you need one to make a gay character? You don’t NEED a reason to make a character a man so why not a woman? The argument is absolutely right, there is not always a reason to make these choices when making a character, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. According to the ESA 59% of Americans play video games. That is a largely diverse and complex community. It’s a community of varying genders, races, beliefs, sexualities, and classes. It is impossible to box gamers into one little category. The only real reason that developers and writers need for choosing to represent more markets in their game is that these characters will appeal to gamers. The only reason needed is that people are asking for it.
Representation is NOT pandering. It’s not a valid argument and one that needs to stop. The foundation for many games has not even been set yet. There is no reason why developers can’t make choices to represent more groups without changing and damaging their vision.