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Who Gets to Be the Player Character? A Visual Content Analysis of Representation in Video Game Design Programs

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 6 - Paper 1: Who Gets to Be the Player Character? A Visual Content Analysis of Representation in Video Game Design Programs

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Caitlin Marie Lancaster Clemson University

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I am a doctoral student in Human Centered Computing at Clemson University. My research focuses on human-AI collaboration, particularly how education and training can help mitigate bias. Additionally, much of my research centers on civic, political, and social justice issues. I am a part of the Team Research and Analytics in Computational Environments (TRACE) research group and the Inclusive Digital Analytics in Education (IDEA) Lab. I hold a master's degree in Communication, Technology, and Society, also from Clemson, and I have taught courses in communication studies and public speaking.

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Undergraduate, Gender, Race/Ethnicity

While the video game industry is rapidly growing and diversifying [4], the International Game Developers Association found that those creating the games are not: 71% of developers are binary men, and 69% are white.[7] This lack of diversity reflects issues that plague the STEM education programs feeding this industry.[8,10] However, higher education programs can use their websites and other promotional resources to encourage greater diversity and inclusivity in the field. Images from an academic program shape how future students and their families perceive inclusive opportunities[9] while offering ‘role models’ of similar identities who make individuals more willing to enroll when they see people similar to themselves welcomed and represented.[1] As such, this project explored websites of the top 25 video game design programs to answer the following research questions:

The concept of intersectionality guides this work, which explores how social systems like gender, race, or class work together to support systems of oppression.[5] Other content analyses have studied the representation of race and gender in the video game industry[2] and video games[12], but they have failed to examine intersectionality.

RQ: How frequently are underrepresented intersectional gender and racial identities represented in visuals from the top 25 video game design programs' websites?

Sub-RQ: How are these underrepresented intersectional gender and racial identities presented in these images?

Visual content analysis allowed me to study how programs communicate about representation.[3] Using Hall’s heuristics of representation and meaning, the author read visuals based on the image itself, not the creator’s intentions.[6] The author pulled images from the websites of the top 25 undergraduate video game design programs.[11] In the paper, the author included visuals if they featured at least one human being who is clear enough to code. The final sample consisted of 797 images. The author coded images for perceived gender (binary men, binary women, non-binary) and race (BIPOC and white). Also, the author included presentation codes for the star or ‘player character’ (PC), the background characters (NPC), playing games (PLAY), designing games (DESIGN), and teaching game design (TEACH). An independent researcher coded 127 images, and all codes met the minimum Krippendorff’s alpha (K = 0.70).

Programs featured binary men and white people most often. Non-binary folxs were not represented often, even compared to industry demographics (2.17% sample vs. 3% industry). The author performed a chi-square test for perceived gender and race codes, showing a statistically significant difference between distributions of gender across race (X2 (2, N = 1748) = 6.476, p

Lancaster, C. M. (2022, February), Who Gets to Be the Player Character? A Visual Content Analysis of Representation in Video Game Design Programs Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana.

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