Riot Games has made visible efforts to be culturally respectful, avoid stereotypes and cast voice actors from nationalities being represented.
Video games, despite being fantasy, are often best when they are representative of the society that they interact with. But anyone familiar with video games is well aware that stereotypes inhabit the plot and characters featured. This can sometimes mean that while attempting to meet diversity representation, the games counteract it entirely. One game that got diversity representation spot on without needing to deploy stereotypes or misrepresent groups is VALORANT.
What is Valorant’s representation?
Released by Riot Games in 2020, the 5v5 tactical FPS, manages to create a range of diversity without stereotyping it in the process. The in-game agents who are operated by players, are representative of multiple countries and nationalities without a reliance on stereotypes. And while there are currently only twenty one agents (as opposed to Overwatch’s 35 heroes/characters), Valorant has created a solid representation of the cultural background of each agent.
Spanning multiple continents, the 21 agents are each representative of their country in some way, and voiced by people of those nationalities. e.g. Vanille Velasquez who is the Filipina voice of Philippines agent Neon and Daisuke Takahashi who is the Japanese voice actor of the Japan agent Yoru. The conscious effort by Riot to include these ethnicities in an accurate representation, and have them be voiced by people of those ethnicities, is a step forward that gaming needs.
Why does in-game representation matter?
Why does game representation matter at all? To some, it doesn’t matter at all. However, for many years, video game representation has been based on stereotypes. Think of Grand Theft Auto, where certain ethnic groups are presented as untrustworthy, aggressive, manipulative or otherwise dislikeable. Now consider female representation in the same game. Women are frequently represented as disposable, purely there to be used, and secondary to men in a video game. Maybe video games don’t reflect reality, but when video games are denouncing one group as superior and another as inferior, representation has gone wrong.
For example, take the representation of Phoenix, specifically in Valorant. Phoenix is clearly British, but in representing Britain within the game, doesn’t fall into the sometimes-amusing, if overdone, stereotypes of precocious poshness is a pleasant surprise (*ahem* Tracer). Additionally, allowing the British agent to be a person of color, is so important for showing multiculturalism that does exist within Britain. And if we are really digging into, allowing players to identify with an agent in game, sends a powerful message to gamers. This game is one that wants to represent everyone, and while not every ethnicity is yet to be represented we can hope that one day everyone will be able to look at the game and resonate with an agent or two.
Valorant encompasses representation while being culturally aware and avoiding offensive stereotypes, which is so crucial, in the marketing and promotion of new agents. The most recent agent to join the Valorant list is Harbor, an agent from India who joined on October 18th, 2022.
All promotion of the new agent was circled around teasing the nationality of Harbor through Twitter posts which hinted at an Indian heritage through Chai and Samosa Chaat references in an art post. Riot encompassing these details in a culturally respectful manner, is exactly the sort of representation that needs to be seen across video games. Especially in regards to ethnicity, where it is all too easy to rely on stereotypes and overlook the group that is being represented.
Riot hints at Indian Valorant agent with cutting chai and Samosa Chaat references
Here are all the hints that point towards a Valorant agent from India.
Is Valorant better at representation than Overwatch and League?
Compared to League of Legends and Overwatch specifically, there are certainly factors that Valorant can be seen to represent better. While Overwatch (OW) does include diversity of character ethnicities, and mirrors Valorant by pairing up voice actors who are from the same country as the character, there are a few pitfalls that OW falls into more than Valorant. This is not to say that Valorant does not fall into these pitfalls at all, but these pitfalls are seen more widely in Overwatch and other games, including League of Legends.
While Valorant does use the traditional Riot Games art style, which does in some cases include skin tight outfits on agents, these are seen far less than in Overwatch and League of Legends. A popular hero in OW that is known by most is DVA, the South Korean tank hero, when not inside her amour can be seen in a skin tight body suit that has frequently been sexualised by the community. While the skin tight body suits are reflected in Valorant and League of Legends, DVA from OW does seem to receive the most sexualization. The same can be said for Symmetra who is seen in small items of clothing throughout the game and Tracer who also wears a skin tight body suit.
Although OW and Valorant are similar in game style, and both encompass elements of the cultures their characters are designed to be from e.g. Yoru’s jacket has a Japanese Kitsune symbol on the back in Valorant, and Kiriko from Japan in OW is designed with elements of traditional Japanese ninjas and Kitsune across her character. Valorant does come out on top in many aspects in this matchup, namely that the cultural references are more subtle, and subtlety is important when stereotypes are so blatant. Subtle cultural references are often preferable and allow for a wider range of interpretation from players.
Similarly, despite Valorant and League of Legends being from the same gaming company, it is arguable that League is much more sexualized. While the female champions in League of Legends are heavily sexualized, which is a known fact among the community.
It isn’t just female champions who are sexualized inside and outside of the game, the male champions are too. Specific examples of male champions that fall into this category are Kayn, Lee Sin and Sett. All three male champions are shown with perfect physiques, exposed skin and various skins that range in degrees of sexualisation.
Specifically, within League, one of the most sexual skins across champions is the Pool Party skin, where champions are designed in pool party gear that shows off their bodies. This includes a skin on Zoe who is believed to be under the age of 18. Valorant does not do this level of sexualisation with any of the agents, and so despite being from Riot Games just like League, Valorant does a better job of non-sexual representation especially of female agents.
The future of video game representation
For Valorant, the future of in-game representation is looking strong. They’ve made efforts to be culturally respectful, avoid stereotypes, and cast voice actors of the nationalities being represented, as well as clips of agents speaking their own languages on YouTube. This hints at a strong reperesentation future for the game, and with twenty one nationalities covered in just over two years, there is hope that as the game continues to grow, more nationalities will be added in and more representation will be enabled.