Tanya DePass has been gaming since what she calls the “ye olden” days of standalone arcades.
In those decades of experience, DePass, who now streams on Twitch under the name Cypheroftyr, has seen monumental changes during that time.
Still, she’s continued to witness the same troubling trend, over and over again: A severe lack of representation.
“If you look around, the world itself is inclusive and diverse,” DePass told In The Know. “We don’t live in a homogenous world, and for years now, the assumed demographic of 18- to 35-year-old white guys [for video games] hasn’t been the case.”
That fact is central to much of DePass’ work — as a writer, a Hugo Award-nominated editor and of course on her Twitch channel, which has over 20,000 followers. It’s also the reason she founded I Need Diverse Games, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for BIPOC and women video game creators, developers and fans.
The project began in 2014 when DePass was watching an announcement for some of the year’s biggest upcoming games.
“Again, it was the same thing about the usual protagonists,” she said. “Nobody looks like me, no women, nothing like that.”
Today, I Need Diverse Games hosts conferences, funds trips to gaming conventions and publishes articles centered around diversity in the gaming industry. The group also partners with Game Developers Scholarship Program to further the careers of aspiring developers.
Still, DePass knows her organization has a long way to go. She points to the yearly statistics from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), which publishes yearly statistics about the makeup of the industry. In 2021, 75% of game developers identified as white, and 61% identified as male.
“We’re just simply not in the room,” DePass said.
But she is quick to point out the industry’s improvements. DePass said that when she started tracking IGDA data, fewer than 1% of all respondents identified as Black and fewer than 4% identified as Asian. Now, those numbers have risen to 4% and 7%, respectively.
“Most of the time, it’s not intentional racism; it’s that you’re not thinking about an experience that’s not yours,” DePass explained. “And now we’re starting to see a shift of people thinking about that. They’re bringing on consultants; they’re bringing on other people.”
DePass went on to say that 4% is still much “too small” for an industry as big as video games. The problem, she explained, is that representation is just one part of the problem. BIPOC and women developers also have to feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
“If we’re not in the room, we don’t have a way to bring up these issues without working about being the squeaky wheel and losing the job that a lot of us need,” she said. “So it’s not just getting in the room; it’s getting in the room and being heard and having your ideas treated respectfully.”
When that finally happens, DePass explained, everyone will benefit. As companies become more diverse, so will the games themselves. And that’s not just a win for workers — it’s a win for players, too.
“Until those [representation] numbers shift significantly, I think a lot of the stories we’re still going to see are still going to be centered on the white male hero’s journey and the white woman hero’s journey,” DePass said. “And once we can get gamers to see that it will not kill them to play outside their experience, it actually could be refreshing and eye-opening. I think we’ll finally see some traction.”
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