As I listened to my professor lecture on human development, I had flashes back to different panels and discussions I’d heard at conventions. Everything seemed to click, and I had an “aha!” moment.
She was lecturing on Erikson’s stages of development, and came to the stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion. Essentially, during adolescence we all come to a place where we are figuring out who we are and how we fit into the world. If we don’t figure it out, or at least have some grasp on who we want to become, role confusion (also called an identity crisis) can arise and cause problems throughout life (if they are never resolved).
So how do I get from listening to teenage issues to thinking about the conventions I went to?
What my professor said that really got my mind going was that role confusion can happen without anything being wrong with the individual. Finding your identity also has to do with how you fit into society and who society expects you to be. So if you don’t find yourself represented in society somehow, you have a hard time figuring out how you fit into the world and then end up with an identity crisis on your hands!
That brought me back to the Gays in Comics panel at San Diego Comic Con. During the panel, many of the panelists mentioned that gays (and people of color…and women…) were underrepresented in comics. That they felt like there was no one they could look up to in comic books and say “They’re like me!”
During the Q&A session, a guy came up and said that he was new to comics, and said that he thought that there was more diversity in comics today. The panelists’ responses? “We can tell you’re new to comics!” It was lighthearted though, and they admitted things were changing, but that they needed to continue to change.
(Image via Comics Beat)
After that panel, I remember thinking “Okay, I get that there aren’t enough gay/women/people of color in comics (or in media in general), but to say that you can’t see yourself in any of the characters out there is a bit much.” I find ways to relate to characters I love whether they are male or female, gay or straight, young or old, blond or redhead, good or evil. There is something to relate to in their experience of the world. This being said, it does make it easier to relate to a character when they look like you or have a similar culture or background as you. It also feels good to feel acknowledged and seen.
Then I remembered how at GaymerX, everyone was talking about how safe and inclusive it felt to be in a hotel conference area filled with people like them who had the same interests. One of the big topics was how the video game industry tends to ignore gays and focus on their “straight white male” demographic. It came up at multiple panels, and the discussion usually led to how women are also ignored, or if they are represented, they are overly sexualized to appeal to men. Women are rarely given a lead role, and queer characters are even more rarely written into games at all.
While I was browsing the interwebs, I found out that Assassin’s Creed is launching a new game for consoles with a woman of color as the lead role! This is amazing. From what I’ve read, originally it was just going to be a side piece of DLC (downloadable content), but the audience spoke and now they are creating a full game coming out next year.
(Image via Giant Bomb)
When the people (and their wallets) speak, the companies will listen.
Bringing it all back to the development concept: I wonder, if any given minority were represented more in comics, games and other media (much of which adolescents are glued to) would they be less likely to have issues later on in life? Would it give them more confidence in who they are? Make them feel more secure and valued? Help them find their role in society? It’s something to consider.
Something else to consider is an important topic brought up at both conventions. Things have been moving forward. It is exciting that there is a female lead (who is also bi-racial and not scantily clad!) in Assassin’s Creed. It’s exciting that Assassin’s Creed III had a Native American lead. It’s exciting that Batwoman (who is a lesbian) has her own comic book. It’s exciting that Kevin Keller (who is gay) went into the military and got married. While all these things are true, they’re very rare (and it took me a while to think of a few of them).
(Image via Geek Style Guide)
While these things are exciting, they shouldn’t be. In geek culture, a culture that traditionally has been looked down on by others in society, these milestones should just be another day in the life. When things like this aren’t exciting anymore, that’s when we know things have changed.
Media is often how we explore societal themes in the world around us. When there is a diverse population represented across a variety of roles, it will be much easier for us to identify with the characters in our media of choice. When it’s easier for people to identify with a greater diversity of roles in society as represented in media, it’s easier for to understand how society views us in relation to how we view ourselves. Identity crisis averted!
(Being a teenager will probably still suck…just less so!)