Video games have been around nearly for three decades. We’ve seen them grow from the early days of Pong and Pac-Man to full-on, movie-quality blockbusters like BioShock and Grand Theft Auto V. Sales numbers show they’re only getting more popular with each generation, too. Like all media, though, video games are far from perfect. A worthy criticism of the industry is the lack of diversity among protagonists in games. Most of the time, the protagonists fall in line with one demographic, and it’s time we demand change. It’s time for developers to start acknowledging and representing the gluten intolerant gaming community.
The visual history of video games is marred by an abundance of handsome, white, male wheateaters assuming most of the leading roles. Nearly every gaming icon fits that archetype and it’s growing staler than the bagels in the Irrational Games break room. I don’t need to be reminded that I don’t fit the mainstream’s ideals of food normalcy. Especially now, in a period of what we might call a video game golden age with so many Hollywood-quality stories being created for games, it’s crucial that we represent all demographics, even those of us who fake the symptoms of Celiac Disease.
Think of how much more dynamic a character Nathan Drake would be if he was too lethargic and gassy to do all of his stunts and climbing. It could create some really special setpiece moments. Or if Commander Shepard wasn’t just fighting off Reaper indoctrination but also chronic migraine headaches because he forgot to specify he needed the gluten-free Tuchanka Sauce at Zakera Cafe. You would think developers would want to blaze that trail and be the first to really portray a gluten intolerant hero, but we are nearly a half decade into this food fad, and still we haven’t seen it once.
The current trend in games is giving players agency, letting them carve out their own narrative with player choices and branching storylines. I could see a true visionary like David Cage penning another heartfelt script about such a character who must decide, “do I eat this pepperoni pizza with my son and risk painful diarrhea, or do I order my own gluten-free 10″ veggie pizza and further alienate him?” It’s these types of scenarios Cage has so expertly crafted previously with games like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls that tell me there’s room for such dynamic character design in this hobby we all love so much if we just let our voices be heard.
As of 2009, studios were comprised of nearly 85% white men. But how many of them today are gluten intolerant? These figures aren’t yet known, and that’s part of the problem. Gluten-free dieters simply aren’t represented in the studio, so in turn, gluten-free dieters don’t show up on our screens. It’s up to us to annoy these studios to include gluten-free options just like we do with our servers when we are out to eat.
Simply put, making characters relatable is the prime objective of a writer. It creates a bond between character and player. If we can’t relate to our characters, we can’t feel for them and thus the story loses all effect. Polls show that now nearly 25% of restaurant-goers are faking or sometimes actually living with a gluten allergy, that number increases dramatically to 44% when applied to just people between the ages of 18 and 35, which is also the age bracket that most gamers fall into. Gluten-free gamers need heroes to look up to like we need a nap after we eat cereal. It’s 2014. The days of the wheatriarchy are over. It’s no longer enough to give us avatars with whom we just “save the world” and “get the girl”. We want to do all that with characters who behave like us — fatigued, bloated, and needing a bathroom.