Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indians and Gaming

A lot of feminist gamers decry the fact that gaming companies are almost totally male. Personally, I've never felt this was an entirely fair accusation. To me, gaming companies are mostly male because computer science and engineering programs are mostly male. When the pool of talent you hire from looks like X, it's hard not to end up looking like X, especially when you pay below-market wages.

Of course, there is a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here. A lot of men go into Computer Science because they are gamers, and the idea of maybe joining a gaming company after graduation lingers in the back of their minds. (Then they find out about the hours and pay, and decide to go into business programming.)

But something about the above formulation troubled me. Then I realized that it is wrong. Game company demographics do not quite match CS demographics. Oh, they more or less match according to gender, but they don't match according to race.

Specifically, the Indian population is missing from gaming.

If you drop into a CS program, you will notice that there are three significant racial groups: White, Asian, and  Indian. (I am ruthlessly compressing several cultures into each category. Painting with broad strokes.) But the gaming industry is almost totally White and Asian.

Indeed, I would argue that geek and gaming culture is mainly White and Asian. It is rather interesting that Indians are missing, given that all three cultures share enough similarities to make Computer Science a common goal.

Now, I'm not ascribing the difference to racism or anything like that. Rather, I would say that the geek/gaming culture carries many White and Asian people into CS, and the gaming companies recruit from that stream. Meanwhile, the large presence of Indians in CS is a effect of Indian culture's esteem for engineering, and seeing engineering-like careers as desirable.

I've been musing about this lately because (as you may have guessed from my name) I am Indian by ancestry. But when I was young, my parents moved to a town that was almost entirely White. (The actual story is a little more complicated than this, but it will suffice.) So in many ways I am White by culture, and part of that is that I fell into the geek/gaming subculture. It's pretty much what White people of my temperament and talents do: read sf and fantasy, rhapsodize about Star Trek, and play video games. It was what all my (White) friends did, and since I was like them, I did the same.

Then I went to university and encountered that divide I discuss above. I went to a very techy university with tons of fellow geeks. But even though there was a large Indian presence at university, it was almost non-existent in geek circles, even though those circles pulled people from the same classes.

It was, and still is, slightly disconcerting. Growing up, I had made the assumption that I was the only Indian geek I knew because there was a bare handful of Indians in the town's population. Then I went to university, met a large Indian population, and realized I was still pretty much the only Indian geek I knew.

I'm sure there are others out there, but it has always seemed odd to me that there isn't a larger Indian presence in gaming and geekdom, given the fact that there are so many Indians in CS and engineering.


  1. Your "as you may have guessed from my name" comment made me laugh since I've always just assumed you're a Lord of the Rings fan and it's a pseudonym.

    You learn something every day! :)

  2. Yeah, I get that a lot. Especially terrible because of the whole geek subculture thing, so pretty much everyone I meet makes the same connection.

  3. I assumed it was a LotR reference too.

    My notions about existence are now shattered.

  4. Guess it's mostly about the wage/prestige factor. Since most of the Indians studying in the US are are from India, they focus on bringing in as much income as possible, which is offered by banks, software giants, etc. Imagine the difference in telling your folks back home that you got a job at Microsoft, and imagine the same if you tell them you got one at Blizzard! Also, american pop-culture (sci-fi, mmorpgs, techy-stuff!) have a very sparse following in India.

    Heck, you could walk into a CS class in the US and ask how many Indian students are not from a CS background!

  5. I think the 'below market wages' is going to be part of it, plus how many Indian people play games at home as kids -- not sure how it is as a cultural thing.

    Having said that, more diversity would always be a good thing. I wonder how games might be different if there were more Indian game devs. What kinds of cultural sensibilities do you think they'd bring?

  6. 30 years might change things.

    30 years ago most Australian children would have been found playing cricket in the back yard. now, not so much. you are more likely to see the current generation playing a console.

  7. Stupid clarification question: by "Indian", you mean someone from India or a Native American?

  8. I used to have an Indian friend in my small guild of 6-7 people in Vanilla WoW - he quit because he got married and said that he was expected to behave like an adult now. The rest of us (white and asian men and women) were a bit bemused.

  9. Ah, stereotypical bias at its best: Because I don't remember you mentioning being female and playing on a US realm, I would've said "white male, 25-35" if I had to guess without further information.

  10. Being Indian, I had actually guessed from your name that you were Indian, but given the lack of Indians in gaming (my induction into its hallowed halls is similar to yours), I figured it may have been an LOTR reference instead. Ironic.

  11. And for some mental whiplash, I hit this page as a mental health minute after clearing the work that accumulated over the holiday break and saw the Annual Native American Heritage Month single-day-extravaganza-to-pretend-we haven't-ignored-it-until-now pop on the corporate email. Given that I'm a Tolkien fan and made the common assumption on your name I'll ask for forgiveness for wincing at the 'Indian' part before realizing you actually did mean the subcontinent.

  12. I guess I am also an “Indian” for the purpose of this discussion since I am from the same part of the world.

    My parents moved to England when I was young so I am culturally White. Heavily into geek/gaming sub culture as well. However I think I am a geek even before I came to England! I love reading about Hindu mythology/history. They are your equivalent sf/fantasy book reading! I loved to tinker with stuff etc. Enjoyed strategy board games etc. The point being is that, you are geek since you are probably born that way!

    From a very young age, my parents have drilled into my head that money is Very Important In Life therefore I need to get a “well paying” Job. It seemed to have worked, since here I am a gaming geek and computer science graduate working in the Banking industry and not in the gaming industry. I am guessing this is the reason why so few Indians work in the gaming industry as well. Having said that, my parents have not killed the dream since one day I will start a MMO gaming company and design my ultimate MMO!

    PS: I know an Indian named Rohan yet I assumed your name is LOTR reference till today!

  13. This was a very interesting post! It never occurred to me how people always think of Indians as "IT guys", but never as "gamers". And I don't think any of the Indian guys I've known played games (at least they didn't tell me they did). I thought it was a foregone conclusion that anyone who spends enough time on a computer plays games on it eventually. Maybe not MMORPG, but Solitaire or Minesweeper or something. I know very little about Indian culture, but maybe gaming is so looked down upon so guys don't get into it?

    FYI, I always pictured you were some white guy. And like others, I assumed Rohan was a LotR reference (in my defense, I didn't even know Rohan was an Indian name). I'd have never guessed it in 1000 years.

  14. @Gevlon, I mean India (and lumping in India/Bangladesh/Pakistan/Sri Lanka all together). From the Indian subcontinent basically.

    Up here in Canada, the Native people are usually referred to as Natives, not Indians.

  15. I wonder how games might be different if there were more Indian game devs. What kinds of cultural sensibilities do you think they'd bring?

    @Spinks, that's the issue. Indian culture is a black box to me.

  16. You know, I hadn't thought of this before.

    I work with Indians, and we talk about generic tech geeky stuff, but when I make a Star Trek or gamer comment, they don't get it. I just figured that they weren't into that specific portion of geekdom (much like how some geeks will like tabletop RPGs and some won't). It never occurred to me that geekdom itself was the issue.

  17. I think this is less to do with technology and geekdom and more to do with competitiveness and "unproductive" activites.

    Why is India so ridiculously under-represented at the Olympics per capita?

  18. Wait... you're Canadian, Rohan? *mind blown* So am I. Assumed you lived in the US for some reason...