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Can Dove boost representation in the gaming world?

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The gaming industry is letting down Black players by failing to provide avatar options with a representative range of hairstyles and textures, new research by Dove shows. The Unilever-owned personal care brand is teaming up with Open Source Afro Hair Library, a free platform to access 3D models of Black hair textures and styles, to launch ‘Code My Crown’, a guide for coding afro-textured hair and protective styles within games.

“In the real world, there is an incredible variety of Black hairstyles. However, this is rarely reflected in the gaming world,” A M Darke, founder of the Open Source Afro Hair Library, said in a statement. “When Black hair is absent from the games we play or are consistently low quality, it communicates that Black players and our culture are an afterthought, that our stories aren’t worth telling. How else can we explain the ubiquity of matted cornrows, bald patches instead of parts, giant disco afros, and the messy, unstyled locs?”

Photo: Courtesy of Dove

Fashion and beauty’s adoption of gaming and the metaverse has highlighted that there’s work to do on representation in virtual spaces, particularly of avatars. Past research, including by the Institute of Digital Fashion, has shown people feel there is a lack of inclusivity in virtual worlds. The new survey conducted by Dove found that 85 per cent of Black gamers believe video games poorly represent textured hair, while 74 per cent of game developers want to play a role in promoting better representation of textured hair in video games as well as learn how to code textured hair.

Platforms such as Idoru, an app that allows users to create a lifelike identity in the metaverse, are rising up to meet the need. Brands are also seeing an opportunity in this space: skincare company Topicals provides skin conditions and pigments typically excluded from avatar offerings on Idoru. L’Oréal-owned Nyx Professional Makeup launched a project last year with the aim of increasing representation for Black, brown, queer and disabled people in virtual worlds.

For Dove, the goal is to boost representation. “We want those people within the community who play video games, but don’t necessarily see themselves being seen and represented to ultimately feel seen in the digital world,” says Lauren Baker, senior brand manager, engagement and social impact at Dove. The resource is free and open access, to drive visibility and implementation. “We wanted to create a resource that gives developers and creators the tools to make sure that the community can see themselves in these games,” Baker explains.

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