Category Archives: video games

Hey Baby: Link Round-up & Open Thread

By Guest Contributor Alex Raymond, cross-posted from Border House

Trigger warning: Street harassment.

So, recently a Flash game was released that caused a bit of a stir on a number of gaming (and feminist) websites. The game is called Hey, Baby, and it is a game about street harassment. It is a first-person shooter where you play as a woman walking around a city fighting off waves of men who approach you while repeating “classic” street harassment lines, everything from the notorious “Smile, baby” to shouted rape threats. Killing the harassers results in a gravestone popping up with their line engraved on it. There are also both male and female bystanders who do nothing and can’t be killed. If possible, I do recommend playing the game a little before reading this post; it’s a Flash game and only takes a minute to play, although it is quite violent.

There have been a number of different reactions to the game around the internet. It has started a conversation in the gaming online community about street harassment (and in the feminist blogosphere about satirically violent video games), and for that alone, I think this is a win. But I’d like to take a closer look at the various reactions surrounding the game.

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The Sims Just Did This Totally Racist Thing

The Sims

by Guest Contributor Quadmoniker, originally published at PostBourgie

So, I think everyone knows that I’m a big fan of the Sims. Though the third iteration of the game has had its problems, I still spend more money than I should adding on to it. Against my own better judgment, I just bought the most recent expansion pack.  It created a whole new town, with new families already populating it.

The Sims has been pretty good about allowing for diversity. It’s easy to choose your own skin color and features, and because the characters speak their own made up language it’s not culturally specific.

They live in a suburban idyll, and weird classist things have troubled me in the past: there are “trailer parks” with characters uncomfortably close to white trash stereotypes. In the newest town, there is a black family with a single mom of two sons who has worked her way up by being a cook. She is overweight, and her bio talks about how hard it’s been to raise her boys on her own. Both the bios for the sons talk about how hard it’s been growing up without a father. I’d be willing to give it a pass if it didn’t involve every stereotype possible.

Social Justice And Video Games

by Latoya Peterson

Here are the slides to our presentation, with a few quick notes added. Check back in about three hours, and we will have the video of the session and the Q & A available (just as soon as it finishes loading.)

Some things to remember: We found ourselves with about four hours of material that needed to be shrunk into forty minutes – so a lot of things we wanted to discuss (the Jade Raymond situation, recruitment and outreach from the gaming industry, how different races/ethnicity are represented in games) hit the cutting room floor. In one of the segments, I refer to a fifty page paper I’m holding on to – that paper covers those topics more in depth, and I will publish it here after I revise it some more.

(Special thanks to Naomi and N’Gai for agreeing to be on the panel, everyone who showed up, those who weren’t there but tweeted and retweeted the findings, and Allison Bland for volunteering to tape this!)

Social Justice and Video Games – Part 1 from Latoya Peterson on Vimeo.

Final Fantasy XIII: New game, same colors?

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at Your Voices

Final Fantasy Cast

This is not a review.  This is a blog entry where I explore issues of race and representation in pop culture, in this case, video games.

I’ve been hooked on videogames since the days of the Atari 2600, though my family was too poor to have one.  When I was young, I am ashamed to say that any kid who had an Atari had a good chance of being my best friend, as long as I got to come over to play Atari during slumber parties or birthdays.  In grade school at Anderson, some of the ‘problem’ kids, if they were good, got to choose a friend to take 5 minutes and play Atari as a reward – I was always thrilled when I got that chance.

Through the years, if a system was able to play a video game, I’d play it.  I’d torture myself with text-based games on the Apple IIe, playing them over and over again even if I kept dying or failing in the same place.  I was obsessed with the Smurfs game on the Colecovision, got yelled at by my moms for playing too much Kid Icarus on the NES, and one of my proudest gaming moments was when a friend of mine brought over Zelda II: the Adventure of Link, telling me he just could not beat shadow link – and how he jumped into the air when I did it for him.  I lost my temper way too easily when I lost at Mortal Combat or Street Fighter 2 in the arcades. When Civilization came out, I mercilessly hung out at my friend’s apartment and played on his computer all night, like some shameless video game scrub.  When my dad needed quarters to take the bus to work, we’d go and use the change machines in Thompson’s Arcade, and my dad would give me exactly two quarters to play (it was also there where a white man once asked me my ethnicity, and when I told him I was Viet, he gave me a brochure translated into Vietnamese trying to convince me to convert to Christianity, and the irony is, I probably would have read more of that brochure if it was in English).  In college I saw a guy in my computer lab playing some 3-D game where he went around blasting demons, and he taught me how to type in the sentence on the computer that would allow me to play Doom.  After a strenuous test or big paper was due in college, I’d drive to Mall of America and blow $10 of quarters on this arcade game where you got to hold this big garish plastic machine gun and shoot things.  During my mid-20’s I was a terror to my roommates and their friends in Goldeneye.

You get the picture.  I’m still gaming today, just got my second red ring of death for my Xbox 360, and my partner has asked me to please stow my Master Chief helmet in a place where our guests can’t see it.  Not only do I game, but I’ve also written about racial representation, especially regarding Asians and Asian Americans, in video games, and also read a lot of online reviews and discussions regarding this hobby that I have grown up with.

Anyone who’s played games has heard of the Final Fantasy series of games.  I was a big fan of Final Fantasy on the SNES, particularly FF III, I think.  It gets a little confusing since Final Fantasy is a Japanese series, not all of which makes it overseas to American audiences, and thus get numbered differently.  So basically, Final Fantasy III in the U.S. might be Final Fantasy VI in Japan.

Recently, Final Fantasy XIII has come out, and following the previews, reviews, screenshots, and looking at the concept art, it reminds me of a question that is provocative but seems to be ignored – why do Japanese game companies create so many games where the protagonists all look European or white?  Sure, Final Fantasy XIII has one Black character, but then it makes it all the more compelling to ask, why aren’t there any Asian characters?

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Gaming Masculinity: Video games as a reflection on masculinity in Computer Science and African American culture [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “Gaming Masculinity: Video games as a reflection on masculinity in Computer Science and African American Culture.” The notes are from a paper by Betsy James DiSalvo, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

The abstract to the paper reads:

There are a number of efforts to broaden participation in computing to include underrepresented groups. However, few of these efforts have identified African American males as a population with cultural and gendered values that may inhibit them from entering Computer Science (CS). In this paper we will explore masculine identities within computer culture and African American culture by using video games as an object of inquiry. We hypotheses that the technological agency exhibited with video games is based upon cultural and gender practices; and by exploring video game play practices we can better understand how to increase the technological agency of African American males and broadening their participation in CS.

The paper/project was funded to help increase participation in the computer sciences, with a particular focus on underrepresented groups.

The research (hosted at the Georgia Institute for Technology) began by examining video game use by African American males, sparked by an exchange with a student. The student lamented:

Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.
– Undergraduate CS Major

This led to the researchers (Betsy James DiSalvo, Sybrina Y. Atwaters, Jill Dimond, and Dr. Amy Bruckman) to re-examine the assumptions around what makes for a successful computer science graduate. They decided to take a closer look at play practices. Play practices of being outside are the norm in many communities, but are not conducive to computers/gaming which require long amounts of indoors/solo time to become proficient. Continue reading

Ching Chong Beautiful Exposes Racism in Video Game Design

by Latoya Peterson

On Christmas, reader Mel sent us a little present. He wrote in about a flash based indie video game covered by the Escapist. The title? Ching Chong Beautiful.

I click over the link, expecting to see a take down. After all, the Escapist does publish a lot of progressive gaming commentary, and our blog bud Pat over at Token Minorities has been known to bless them with a piece or two. So imagine my shock when I checked the endorsement:

That’s kind of the principle behind Newgrounds’ latest well-promoted title, the kind-of-offensive-but-actually-really-funny Ching Chong Beautiful, developed by The Swain. Your brother is kidnapped by Mr. Beautiful, whose obstacle course is A.) known to be deadly and unbeatable and B.) the most popular TV show in Japan. In order to save your brother, you must get a thoroughbred horse, and the only way to do that is – you guessed it – enter Ching Chong Beautiful.

I clicked over and prepared to play.

The game starts throwing stereotypes in the blender from the intro page:

A Game of Great Endurance Challenge!

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/520768

The game features the new High Scores system and Newgrounds medals! So go grab some green tea, get drunk on sake, and maybe poach some whales if there’s time…the Bang Wong Fishhead Corporation challenges you to defeat Mr.Beautiful’s ancient obstacle course: Ching Chong Beautiful!

And it goes from there.

Now, before some gamers wander over here from other sites complaining about our general lack of humor and understanding, let me make something crystal clear: I get all the fucking jokes. I know what MXC is, I used to watch it on Spike. I know what Takeshi’s Castle is, I’ve watched it online. I know what this is:

The green can next to the television labeled “Sweat” is a play on the sports drink Pocari Sweat, which normally comes in a blue and white can or bottle. (And yes, I’ve tried that too.)

I’m aware that CCB is, in part, mocking the nature of these kinds of game shows that specialize in sadistic environments and public humiliation. But it’s still racist. Continue reading

Sticks And Stones

by Guest Contributor Yu Zun Kang, originally published at No More Lives


There are many feelings that rise up when I think back to the first racial slur that was directed at me—but none of them, strangely, are malicious or sad. At the time, my family and I lived in a mid-sized town in the northwest region of Germany, near the Netherlands border. Even though we didn’t live in a metropolitan area, my first grade class represented the changing racial demographic in the German workforce and society: there was the Korean kid (me), the half-Turkish kid, and one of my best friends whose parents immigrated from Portugal to open an ice cream store. Like those kids, almost all my friends were Germans—my best friend lived three blocks from me above the bicycle business that had been passed down in his family for generations; and my first girlfriend came from a tight-knit German family that had a big backyard for all the messenger pigeons they raised.

The slur the kid used actually had a catchy rhyme, one that I heard occasionally wherever I went while we lived in Germany:

Ching Chang Chong Chinese
Eierkopf und Kase

(rough Translation of the last line: Egg-shaped head and cheese-colored skin)

I don’t think the slur had an immediate effect on me. As a child, you react from the gut. Insults are insults—there is no sociological or racial theory that a child can conduct in his or her head to yell injustice. But why didn’t I say anything at the time? Here was the problem: how do you make fun of someone who bases the normal and ideal off his or her features? How do you, as the stranger looking around and seeing that you are the anomaly, take away his power to define you in those terms? How do you mock “perfection?” How can someone not feel powerless in that kind of situation?

I tell this story to make a point—words are never merely words. These ordinary words, “egg” and ”cheese,” are meaningless and powerless until you give them meaning and context. If you come from a position of power or a position of majority, then you have the power to define a word. And if you have the power to define a word, then you have the power to define the person at whom it is directed. Through that word, you can own and control the other person’s identity.

In a measured and thoughtful response to the Scribblenauts “sambo” controversy, Ian Bogost, while expressing his disapproval behind the use of a word loaded with a history of degrading and institutionalized racism, asks his readers to consider the game’s purpose: that “Scribblenauts is a game about what words mean and do when mustered in particular situations.” More importantly, he asks “what if this is the experience? What if messy quandaries about the ambiguity of “sambo” is precisely the sort of thing that Scribblenauts was meant to bring us?”

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Microsoft’s Project Natal Doesn’t Care About Black People?

by Latoya Peterson

I spent a lot of last week traveling and grinding on deadlines, so I missed most of the E3 coverage coming out of the gaming sphere. While I plan to catch up with BawdyJane on what she spotted there later, one project in particular caught my eye.

Dan Hsu over at BitMob has the goods:

During E3 2009, journalists, developers, and even Hollywood celebrities got wind of the secret demonstrations Microsoft was giving to select individuals and were pulling every string they could find to get in. Even Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto went to the secret area of Microsoft’s booth and got a private VIP demo.

Demian and I got to give Natal a go, and we came away extremely impressed…and neither of us are of the easily impressed variety….

“No matter how many buttons you put in a controller, you can’t get this kind of fidelity,” says Natal Creative Director Kudo Tsunoda. We’ll see later if gamers (especially the hardcore) even want that sort of fidelity, but what we’ve seen so far supports Tsunoda’s statement.

The device measures 48 different joints on your body, so it’s able to distinguish your hands from your forearm, your forearm from your upper arm, your upper arm from your torso, and so on. It can detect forward and backward 3D positioning as well, unlike old Vision Cam games that see your silhouette as a 2D physical object. It even knows how fast you’re moving your body parts toward or away from the television (keep the snickers down to a minimum, please).

Awww, yeah! Reminds me of what they were going for back in the day with those clunky virtual reality helmets everyone swore would be the new hotness. You can even use your feet to kick at things instead of keeping all your movement from the torso up, as indicated in the shot below:

Whoo! So I was properly geeked…until I caught this little note:

When game consultant and former Newsweek writer N’Gai Croal gave Paradise a test drive, however, the game had trouble reading his steering actions. The footwork (gas and brakes) worked fine, but Croal couldn’t steer his car at all. It wasn’t clear whether this was a problem of calibration differences between Tsunoda and Croal’s very different body types, or if Croal’s crazy dreadlocks threw Natal off. But it was working just fine when Tsunoda was at the “wheel.”

It’s not about the dreadlocks, Shoe. N’Gai is brown-skinned. Sensors did not compute. Damn it, gaming people. Race issues are harshin my squeez again. Continue reading