Video games have come a long way in terms of representation. Every year there’s more game developers that are recognizing how important 2LGBTQ+, POC and female representation is. But they still fall short of representing a group that often gets overlooked. Adoptees.
There’s a handful of games that have meaningful representations of 2LGBTQ+, POC and women, such as, The Last of Us Part II, Gone Home, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Overwatch, and Tell Me Why. That’s not to say there’s enough representation of those groups though. There can never be enough. That’s also not to say that even those games couldn’t have done better with their representation. It’s just to point out that they exist. The problem though, is that there is not a single game that comes to mind when someone says “what games have a meaningful representation of adoptees?”
There are games that have adoption in them, but they don’t represent adoption accurately.
The Sims makes adoption too easy
The Sims series is probably the first one that comes to mind, more specifically The Sims 4. It’s a franchise that has worked to build a game where everyone can create a character that reflects them. And in the past few years it’s been rapidly changing to fit that goal. But it doesn’t do adoption right. In The Sims 4 anyone can adopt, it only costs 1 000 simoleons, which is significantly lower than real life adoption costs. After the 1 000 is paid, the adult goes off for an hour or so and returns with a baby that the player chose. The real life process is not remotely that simple. Of course, the process varies depending on the country. In Canada parents looking to adopt go through social worker home inspections, police background checks, and screenings, among several other hoops, not to mention it’s even more rigorous if it’s an international adoption. The Sims is not expected to do all of that, it is a game that, as a whole, simplifies life. But it is still a life simulator, and it could add simplified versions of the process. Make sims have home inspections and social worker visits. Or perhaps have screening questions, just some basic choice based dialogue for the player to go through.
Stardew Valley makes adoption exclusive
Stardew Valley is a fantastic farming simulator where you can marry one of 12 townies. The player is open to marry any of the men or women regardless of the player’s gender. But the player can only adopt if they are in a same-sex relationship, and that is the problem. While Stardew Valley also glosses over the difficulties of adoption, it has a pass as it is not a life simulator like The Sims. But the way adoption is handled in Stardew Valley implies that only same-sex couples adopt, and that is not accurate at all. Many opposite-sex couples adopt for personal reasons. Some may do so because they cannot have biological children, others because they would rather not have biological children but still desire kids. This one is a pretty simple fix, offer the option to adopt to every couple in the game, not just the same-sex ones.
In-game representations of adoptees are rare and weak
It’s not only games that don’t portray the adoption process accurately that are the problem though, it’s the overall lack of meaningful adopted characters within video games. In general there are few adopted characters in video games. According to the Wikipedia page for “Adoptee characters in video games” there are only 36 adoptee characters. Although it’s out of date, the Wikipedia list is the only list on the subject that could be found. And it’s problematic. One of the characters is a dog, which is not comparable to adopting a human. A couple of the characters are just clones, and most characters were adopted for bizarre reasons. For example, Lee Chaolan from Tekken was adopted purely to serve as a rival for his adoptive brother.
In all honesty, the problem is not so much with the list, it’s the characters on the list. While many are adopted, none are relatable, at least not in terms of adoption. For many of the characters being adopted is just a trait thrown in for dramatic plot. And while being adopted is not someone’s entire personality, it means a lot more than games make it seem. There are identity issues that go with being an adoptee. There’s questions of belonging, wondering about biological parents and confusion. On top of that there is both domestic and international adoption, which are two very different experiences for both the parent(s) and the child(ren). Naturally, everyone’s experience is different, but the point remains that adoption should be treated as more than a simple plot device for a dramatic reveal.
Answering the call
Adoption needs games like Gone Home or A Normal Lost Phone to tell unfiltered, accurate and meaningful stories. Perhaps a game focused on parents looking to adopt and all of the hoops they have to jump through to bring home a bundle of joy. Or the story of a young adoptee wondering about their birth parents and questioning where they belong. Adoptees face tiring questions, comments and misunderstandings from others, perhaps a couple games could be both entertaining and enlightening for others. It could also give adoptees characters to relate to, and feel represented by.
Want to read about a game that does representation well? Check out this feature on Tell me Why!
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