By creating digital representations of people who aren’t white, it indicates a culture and industry who view us as people. It counters the status quo that dehumanizes us by erasing us or casting us as a non-human. We want to be seen as people, too. There’s little more to it, for me.
But seeing angry responses to this simple request speaks volumes about the kind of culture we’re creating by not diversifying races, genders and so on. Consider: In Witcher 3, all humans are white and every other being is non-human. That’s not exactly friendly or inclusive of people of color. A game can include diverse number of monsters, but not a diverse number of skin colours or races for humans?
And then we see panic and anger when white gamers may be asked to play as people of color in Rust. The double standard is rarely addressed. Being white is apolitical, being a person of color, even simply by existing, is threatening to some players.
[Trigger Warning: Discussion of transphobic joke, real-life experiences of transphobia.]
Like many graduate students, I was still finishing up last week’s work at 6 PM on a Saturday. I put on Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards (re-branded this year as VGX) to have some background noise while I put the finishing touches on a paper.
I expected the usual: some Michael Bay-esque graphics packages, some puerile pandering to their core demographic of adolescent boys, some Mountain Dew, some Doritos, some trailers. I can stomach that, even laugh at it. Less than five minutes into the program, however, co-host Joel McHale jokingly put the rumors to rest that Wario had “undergone sex reassignment surgery.”
If you’re reading this, you might know that a joke like that is politically ill-advised. It violates the comedic wisdom that one should punch up rather than punch down. It not only repeats the exoticizing focus on transgender people’s genitals, it also casts transgender identity itself as something scandalous and laughable. Continue reading →
The game begins in 1715, when European rule over the island was still firmly established. That means I might be traipsing around an island where some Frenchman with my last name owns someone who looks like my father. And that might make me wince a little. But Ismail also told me that Edward Kenway’s first mate Adewale starts the game as a slave and becomes a free man over the course of the single-player story. Adewale will also be the focus of some of Black Flag‘s DLC.
Last month, I did an interview with KALW in San Francisco alongside game designer Anna Anthropy. She made a point to a caller that she couldn’t relate to games like Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid because the main characters didn’t reflect her own experience as transgendered.
I found this position extreme (if I’m not transgendered, couldn’t I levy the same critique of her games?), but Anna did point out something that should be glaringly obvious. If games are to claim their mantle as the most important medium of this century, then their subjects need to reflect the breadth of human experiences that exist across a range of identities.
If you are mixed race like I am, you no doubt had moments of confusion about your place in the world. Why does grandpa send tamales each month to your mother? Why do I need to wear lotion? Why does dad take so long at the barbershop? These are resolved in later life and I was fortunate enough to have parents who walked me through those answers.
But I also grew up on the cusp of the Internet age and before a time when 99% of all teens play games. When the time comes for a child to ask “Who am I?,” games, like all great art forms, should have an answer. The worry is that the response, more often than not, is nothing at all.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World