Race & Video Games Update – Animal Crossing and Black College Football

by Latoya Peterson

As I have mentioned before, I am behind on my game related reading. So luckily, reader Tony sent in this item from Game Politics, as it would have slipped under my radar:

Louisiana game publisher Nerjyzed Game Studios is readying the launch of an Xbox 360 version of its Black College Football Experience game, reports The Advocate. The release of BCFx will mark the first-ever publication of a console game by an African-American owned studio.

A national ad campaign for Black College Football Experience will kick off today during the Bayou Classic as Southern University and Grambling square off in their 35th gridiron tilt.

I had read about Nerjyzed a while back in Black Enterprise so I was pleased to see that their game has finally made it out of development and into rotation.

However, I should have known that racism patrol was going to come out in full force. Tony warned me about the comments being a gaming update to the “What if there was a White Entertainment Television (WET) channel” – and he was right. Notice, the racism patrol never comes out in favor of more ethnically diverse gaming or protagonists of color. It’s just fine and dandy that the heavy majority of console and computer games feature whites people doing things in white environments, with PoCs as extras or a potential option separate from the game default.

Oh no, that’s fine.

They get angry because we had the nerve to label something “black”. You know what – I think we should start labeling all the white focused games too. I would love to solve this one really quick. The shelf would be full of games for whites, or other “non human/robots/animals” with about 34 games labeled black (and that’s pushing it), perhaps one or two games called “Latino”, and if we can ever resolve the “why do Asians draw white people” debate (the argument I linked to is for manga, but it applies to video games), maybe some games (combat games and RPGs) that say Asian.

But the shelves will blare the truth. Wish the damn racism patrol would get on that, then we could really have a conversation on race and gaming.

Game Politics Commenter CommiePuddin also shed some light on why Black College Football would need its own game:

Consider two things:

1) HBCU* football has a significant fan base, but not significant enough to warrant inclusion in EA’s NCAA Football XX (not to mention that the entirity of HBCU football exists in FCS and below, which is completely ignored by those creating the video games), much like college ice hockey has a significant fan base, but not significant enough to warrant inclusion in EA’s NHL XX.

2) HBCU football is vastly different from your average football game in many ways, not the least of which is the significance of the bands. The Magic City Classic (Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State) brought 69,113 fans to Legion Field in Birmingham and only 10,000, if that, actually saw the conclusion of the game, as the rest leave after the halftime show. Not one video game has ever incorporated this element of the event into a video game until this one.

The entire Southwest Athletic Conference disqualifies itself from the Division I tournament because the member schools find it more profitable to play classics amongst themselves and the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference and culminate in a SWAC Championship game.

“Black College Football Experience” has little to do with black people in and of itself, it has to do with the culture and atmosphere that is “Black College Football,” just as “NCAA Football XX” encapsulates the atmosphere and experience of FBS football. It is comperable to the difference between Vietnam War games and World War II games. They’re both war games, they just focus on different subject matter. Unfortunately, too many people get caught up in the word “black” here.

*Historically Black Colleges and Universities

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention:

In addition to its football action, of special note is BCFx’s drumline game play, which is compatible with the Rock Band drum kit for the Xbox 360. 35 tunes and 65 drum cadences are included.

Moving on, I did force myself to start wading through the blogs that are updated less frequently than Kotaku and Joystiq. Over on the MTV Multiplayer blog, Stephen Totilo made an interesting discovery while playing Animal Crossing: Wild World:

In my mailbox yesterday was a copy of 2005’s “Animal Crossing: Wild World” for the DS out of the shrinkwrap and accompanied with a letter on Nintendo stationery written in the voice of the game’s Mayor Tortimer, encouraging me to use this copy of the game to import all of its unlocked items and its character to “Animal Crossing: City Folk” on the Wii.

Nintendo must have known that I’m terrible at “Animal Crossing” and thought I’d need help. So they unlocked a lot of content for me. They appear to have quite accidentally gotten a bit hip-hop about all this. Whoever played this game for me back at Nintendo trained at least one of the characters to greet me with the line [censored here]: “How are you, N—a?” [...]

And then there’s the word in question. I didn’t expect a sheep named Baabara to walk up to me n the game and say “I almost forgot about you n—a.” (I confirmed that Kotaku editor Brian Crecente received a similar copy of the game with similar player-added lines.) But I can tell that it isn’t meant as an offense. It’s clearly meant more as a hip-hop slang greeting.

Totilo even included a screenshot:

Now, just to be clear, this was not Nintendo generated content. Users of the game can customize their characters and what the characters say, and in order to access someone else’s characters in Animal Crossing you have to trade “friend codes.” So this situation is a little unusual.

Totilo heard back from Nintendo about the matter and also got input from the ESRB for good measure:

Nintendo quickly apologized and called for a return of the games, but the incident indicated a possible vulnerability in the ratings on used games.

“Animal Crossing” is rated E for everyone. And while the box does indicate that the “Game Experience May Change During Online Play,” nothing on the box indicates that someone obtaining a used game might be exposed to some non-E-rated content.

I contacted the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and GameStop, which includes sales of used games as a significant part of its business, to get their thoughts on this apparent loophole.

ESRB spokesperson Eliot Mizrachi, told me over e-mail that the type of content in the “Animal Crossing” incident would be considered user-generated content. “Just as with online-enabled games that allow features like chat, ESRB ratings cannot anticipate and therefore consider user-generated content in the ratings we assign,” he wrote. “Besides, as you mentioned, saving content to the actual game medium is pretty uncommon in today’s games. Most games are read-only with the saved content being stored on the system and not on the game medium itself.”

So, a strange little anomaly in the otherwise chill gaming landscape.