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Video games: Dude, where's the diversity?

We've come a long way from the first Atari video games, where characters were represented by a simple white dot, but after a quick survey of characters in today's bestselling games, you'd think we'd stepped back in time.

Researchers at the University of Southern California looked at the top 150 games on the market in 2005 and 2006 and found that while gamers have a bounty of white, muscle-bound, gun-wielding men to choose from, women and ethnic minorities seem to be MIA.

Eighty-five per cent of characters were male and 80 per cent were white, while women, blacks, Latinos and natives were portrayed as stereotypes or grossly under-represented.

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"When a group exists and is portrayed badly, we all recognize that as damaging. But possibly even worse is the invisibility of the group in the first place," said Dmitri Williams, the lead author of the study.

He said the results were especially troubling because women account for 38 per cent of all gamers and there are more minority children playing video games in the United States than their white counterparts.

While the number of black characters in games was in proportion to the U.S. population, Mr. Williams said game developers are behind the times and still haven't had a Cosby Show-style awakening to push them to create black characters beyond the athletes in Madden NFL football or gangstas in 50 Cent: Bulletproof.

Toronto gamer Alice Stancu has been playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl on her Nintendo Wii all week, and instead of choosing to play a mustachioed plumber or a toadstool, she's been picking Princess Peach, a rare character who can actually go toe-to-toe with her male opponents.

"[Women]are usually the romantic interest or the best friend. They're never a fighter or anything like that," she said.

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