You know the one. “Stop asking for representation in games that already exist, just make your own!” It’s a hard one to conclusively debunk not because there’s any underlying sense to it, but because there are so many possible issues with it. So here are all the things that I could think of; though likely there are more.
Let’s get this one out of the way immediately: I’m a writer, not a game developer. I have no desire to be a game developer. I’ll happily admit I have none of the requisite skills: be it art, coding, team management, whatever. This doesn’t invalidate my opinion. No one says film critics should have made a film, book critics should have written a novel, food critics should be world renowned chefs. That’s not how criticism works. They’re different jobs entirely.
But, let’s say that I did want to make a game. Let’s say that I wanted to make the next Overwatch and fill it with explicitly LGBTQ+ characters. That sounds fun. So how would I go about doing that?
Well, firstly I would have to join a studio. I counted the credits for Overwatch, and 4580 people worked on that game. That’s a lot of people – the credits run for 17 minutes if you’d like to count yourself. Even if you only want to count the core programmers and artists (192), hiring a team like that of like-minded people isn’t exactly feasible, and no matter how like minded there are going to be compromises between people on the teams, because of time, with publishers, and in any other number of areas.
But what if I still want to try – even despite the labour issues in the video game industry (I’m not really qualified to talk about that so have all the links)? Well, I’m a woman, so it’s harder for me to get hired. I’m queer, so in many places it’s legal to fire me for that. I’m not a person of colour, but if I were it’d be harder for me to get hired too. And then if I do get hired, there’s a good chance the workplace and online environment will be hostile to me, to the point of harassment [content warning for rape and death threats at both those last links].
If I do manage to get through all of this and put LGBTQ+ characters into a popular game, even my (hypothetical) kids might be threatened [again, content warning.]
Okay, so instead of going into AAA, I make my own game, by myself or with a small team, that isn’t designed to be “mainstream” but is just meant to appeal to people like me. Again, getting the resources for this is still somewhat tricky, but let’s assume that it works. I’ve made an indie game that’s profitable and well liked among those it targets. What happens next?
Well, it’s panned by a group of people who have a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram with people who say “make your own.” Now, sure, they’re welcome to critique my game, but ridiculing all walking simulators, or consistently referring to one of the most well liked indie games of all time as Gone Homo simply to be rude to it, or even criticising these games for “pandering to SJWs” even though “make your own game to appeal to likeminded people” was the thing that was said in the first place are not the same as well rounded critique. They are a sustained attack on anything seen as outside the sterile norm of gaming, and they go directly against the idea that “making your own” would be the best solution for everyone.
In essence, the “make your own” fallacy is nothing but a silencing tactic, but it’s one that simply makes no sense when properly considered, and I needed to spell out all the ways in which it is flawed in one handy place for future reference. I consider this something of a work in progress, so do let me know if I missed anything because I’d love for this to become more comprehensive!
Edit: Having run across this post I’d like to add a couple more points: saying that anyone can make a game is pretty insulting to those who put in all of the hard work and talent into producing one, and it’s not particularly fair that straight white men can walk into a game store and see themselves represented everywhere, but everyone else should have to make their own representation.