Category Archives: video games

Diversity in Mass Effect

by Guest Contributor BomberGirl, originally published at Girl in the Machine

I’ve recently been replaying Mass Effect, Bioware’s 2007 action RPG, and I’m totally in love. Though there’s plenty of things I could babble on about, I want to discuss the first thing I noticed when I brought the game home back during the holidays.

Women and people of color. They aren’t invisible . . . in fact, in this game, they’re all over the place! Just like, you know, real life! Way too often, sci fi falls into the trap of showing us a universe where PoC and women have been sucked into a black hole or something and no longer exist. Mass Effect introduces a galaxy that’s truly diverse, an experience we don’t often get in video games.

An interesting facet of Mass Effect’s immense cultural salad is the absence of racial tension among humans. Humanity’s discovery of advanced Prothean artifacts is only quite recent; their technology jumps two hundred years, and thus all contact and interaction with alien races is relatively sudden. These aliens all look down on the human race and treat them as lesser beings. As the first human member of an elite agency called Spectre, the protagonist Shepard must combat prejudice and bigotry as well as your typical monsters and other foes.

Mass Effect pitches humanity into a situation where all racial tensions seem to vanish in order to unite against the prejudice of the alien races. Now, I realize that Bioware did not craft this game for the purpose of social commentary, so I don’t blame it for not directly addressing human racial interaction along with the new problems presented by alien prejudice. It’s a fascinating thought, though: could humanity put internal racism aside when all of us, collectively, face the same from an outside source? Continue reading

Expectations: Sheva Alomar

by Guest Contributor Bomber Girl, originally published at Girl in the Machine

There’s been a veritable dry spell in survival horror games as of late, and I’ve definitely been suffering. Dementium: The Ward for the Nintendo DS was a huge disappointment, and Silent Hill: Origins left me with only a cynical apprehension for September’s Homecoming. This year’s E3 provided a smattering of goodies for gamers to ooh and aah over, and we were fortunate enough to get a preview of some sorely-needed survival horror titles. Probably the most notorious is Capcom’s Resident Evil 5.

I enjoyed RE4, although I’m more of a Creep Around And Get Scared Oh Shit What Was That? kind of gal, as opposed to Mow Down Hundreds Of Zombies And Jump Through Windows action-star wannabe, so it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. It was a wonderful game regardless of my personal preferences, so Capcom is clearly sticking close to that formula for its sequel. Also part of the formula is the good old survival horror hallmark, the secondary character, this time in the form of a woman named Sheva Alomar.

I’m as shocked as anybody that not only is one of the main characters a person of color, but a woman of color, to boot. Sheva comes to protagonist Chris Redfield’s aid as a member of the West African BSAA, or Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. In another shocking twist, she’s not a squealing, floundering idiot a la RE4′s Ashley, but a competent, well-trained agent who does her share of the combat. Be still, my heart! Continue reading

I’m Sure You’ve Got Plenty to Say

by Guest Contributor Calabar, originally published at Girl in the Machine

Natan: …

Remember the good ol’ days after the first world war when European vampires still embarked on sabbaticals to the American south-west, cat-people ran Hollywood from behind the scenes, and cheeky teenage detectives could break into high-security compounds like Alcatraz without consequences?

Oh wait—that’s not real life. It’s Shadow Hearts: From the New World (thank goodness).

There’s something about this irreverent video game series that I find incredibly appealing, but sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. The way the developers choose to represent characters can be a little disingenuous. In particular, minority characters have their differences from the mainstream magnified one hundredfold. Whether it’s the swishy Magimel tailors or the so-Mexican-it-hurts mariachi singer Ricardo, everything is so overblown that it’s difficult to take it seriously.

While discussing the game with BomberGirl and PlasmaRit, we became interested in the “strong and silent” Native American character Natan. We wondered how much he actually had to say throughout the course of the game, and I honestly couldn’t recall. It’s been a while since I’ve played it.

To investigate our suspicions, I combed through one hundred and ten pages of the Shadow Hearts: From the New World script. From beginning to end, the script is 30,324 words long.

Natan says 768 words. Continue reading

Racialicious in the Boston Globe

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

There’s an interesting article in The Boston Globe about race in videogames, and it name-checks Latoya and Racialicious! Here are some excerpts:

Karen Dill, a psychology professor at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina, told the congressional Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection in September that video games blatantly stereotype minorities. A recent study she co-wrote, “Playing With Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Videogames,” analyzed the representation of minorities in photographs used to promote stories in the top video game magazines published in 2006. The study found black and Latino men were more likely to be portrayed as athletes or aggressors. Black men were less likely to wear protective armor or use technology than whites. Asians were often portrayed as intellectually superior but physically inferior…

Deadline Games CEO Mottes, a South African who worked in the anti-apartheid movement, took particular offense when his games Total Overdose and Chili Con Carnage were panned for their stereotypical depictions of Mexicans. Mottes’s post on gamedaily.com last year delved into the issue of racism and the video game industry: “We have to find the nuances other than to accept that there’s no place for these kind of stereotypes or storytelling methods.” In an interview, Mottes defended the use of stereotypes as a form of comedy. “I can’t think of a comedian or comic movie that doesn’t play on stereotypes,” he says.

To some, Mottes’s argument for the use of stereotypes fails to provide the nuance he accuses his critics of lacking. Latoya Peterson, an avid gamer who wrote about Mottes’s post on the blog Racialicious, doesn’t think stereotypes can ever be seen as positive. “They say, ‘Oh it’s just a game, don’t worry about it,’ ” Peterson says. “Wait a minute. The game also is a part of entertainment that . . . informs how you look at things and reinforces mindsets.”

Suggestions for Talking About Race and Video Games

by Pat M., originally published at Token Minorities

I spent the last few days away from this blog, commenting occasionally and picking a few fights on Internet forums. What makes me far, far more upset than the actual RE5 trailer is the systematic dismissal of this kind of conversation across the ‘net. The best conversation I’ve managed to find on this topic was actually in the Select Button forums, though even they’re prone to a decent amount of idiocy. Even after all this time, reading pages and pages of ignorant garbage makes me feel angry. I suppose that’s a good thing, after all – that I’m not jaded, and that this stuff still motivates me – but it always feels kind of pointless to be angry on a forum. So I thought I’d spend a few days duking it out and see what I came away with, in the hopes that I could come up with a set of general guidelines for race-and-video-game discussions. A long overdue FAQ, if you will, for people to refer to when race issues crop up in generally unprepared communities.

Step 1: Be Open To Discussion

The vast majority of the material people have written in regards to the Resident Evil 5 debacle have been repressive in nature:

“This is stupid.” “You’re seeing things that don’t exist.” “Talking about things like this only makes race issues more prevalent.”

These types of responses are, frankly, immature and counterproductive. Where else in life do we routinely say, “if you ignore it, it’ll go away”? Certainly I can say that, as a person of color, if it were so easy to simply ignore race, I would have done so a long time ago if I had thought that it would make the racial problems go away. But we cannot ignore it. “Ignoring race” is really something only white people get to do – an element of “white privilege”.

CubaLibre at the SB forums posted (in the context of the RE5 discussion) a very succinct and readable explanation of the flaws in the “colorblind” way of thinking, which tends to be at the heart of any attempts to quell discussion:

The problem with this blithe wishful-thinking approach of fighting racism is that no actual fighting is happening. In fact, theoretically it is no different from saying that if we ignore it, it will go away. I’ll admit as much as the next guy that specific, person-to-person racism is, in the modern world, properly stigmatized and marginalized. No pudge-bearing, bull-chested Birmingham city officials are rising out of their swivel chairs and boldly announcing “We ain’t gon let no niggers go to our schools.” People who do say such things are reviled approximately as much as pedophile cannibal rapists. Which, perhaps, is actually overdoing it, but compared to say Jim Crow, I say bravo.

But then, no one is accusing Capcom of subscribing to the Klan newsletter. Continue reading

Of Race and Resident Evil 5

by Latoya Peterson

Resident Evil 5 is set in Africa. This was done intentionally, according to producer Jun Takeuchi, as Africa is considered the birthplace of civilization.* Since that is where humanity began, the development team thought it would be interesting to explore the origins of the T-Virus basing the plot in Africa.

And just like that, another twist is added to the increasingly infuriating puzzle that is Resident Evil 5.

The game is not even scheduled to be released until 2009 and already the controversy has raged on for close to a year.

In a fifteen minute video,
(h/t Ikue) the Capcom blog features game producer Jun Takeuchi explaining some of the ideas surrounding the plot and updates to the gameplay. (Note: Resident Evil is the US title; the game is called Biohazard in Japan.) Unfortunately, there still is not much insight to be had. Chris Redfield is still the main character and this is definitely his story playing out against an exotic backdrop.

Nothing close to the kind of insight I was looking for from Capcom. As such, I am still withholding a judgment call on the game until I actually play. (Which, dear readers, will actually be a huge struggle for me – I am not great at first person shooters and I have never been a fan of survival horror. While I enjoyed watching the past few games, playing them will be an exercise in frustration.)

However, I was directed to a wonderful article on the MTV Multiplayer blog, in which N’Gai Croal of Newsweek’s Level Up blog spoke very frankly on images, racial history, and gaming.

Here’s an excerpt:

There was stuff like even before the point in the trailer where the crowd turned into zombies. There sort of being, in sort of post-modern parlance, they’re sort of “othered.” They’re hidden in shadows, you can barely see their eyes, and the perspective of the trailer is not even someone who’s coming to help the people. It’s like they’re all dangerous; they all need to be killed. It’s not even like one cute African — or Haitian or Caribbean — child could be saved. They’re all dangerous men, women and children. They all have to be killed. And given the history, given the not so distant post-colonial history, you would say to yourself, why would you uncritically put up those images? It’s not as simple as saying, “Oh, they shot Spanish zombies in ‘Resident Evil 4,’ and now ‘black zombies and that’s why people are getting upset.” The imagery is not the same. It doesn’t carry the same history, it doesn’t carry the same weight. I don’t know how to explain it more clearly than that. Continue reading

Moving Gaming Forward: Having Meaningful Conversations About Social Issues

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson, originally published at Cerise Magazine

Watching some of the carnage unfold in the blogosphere conflicts surrounding the released trailer of Resident Evil 5, one thought kept echoing in my mind:

This conversation is going nowhere.

A few members of the gaming community, while pondering a very valid point about the issue of racism in gaming, inadvertently raised the hackles of developers and designers alike when taking on one of gaming’s best loved franchises.

Jason over at Microscopiq ended up with 365 comments on his dissection of the released RE5 trailer, where he asserts:

After all, in RE4, you spend the game shooting equally out-of-their-mind Spaniards. But, then, the Spanish haven’t been so egregiously misrepresented as blacks through the ages, have they? Not even close.

From Birth of a Nation to Black Hawk Down, black folk are apparently responsible for some of the most mindless and evil activities you got. Rape, murder, satanic voodoo. With bulging eyes, simian super strength, and a room temperature IQ, we’ve been portrayed as savages beyond redemption. So, when we see images like these, it doesn’t just resonate with the long lived zombie genre, it also triggers memories of so many awful stereotypes — and what those stereotypes have been used to justify past and present. Put down the crazed negroes before they take the white women! And so on…

But perhaps the most troubling part is that these scenes seem to be set in Africa; the “dark continent.” With all the positive steps being taken of late to raise awareness of the good things happening in Africa as well as the urgent need in some parts of the continent, we really can’t afford this kind of step back. We need to find ways to humanize Africans, not dehumanize them.

Valid points, but they still raised the ire of some gamers, who wrote things like:

Resident Evil 1 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 2 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Code: Veronica – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Survivor – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Gaiden – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: Survivor 2 Code: Veronica – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Zero – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: Dead Aim – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Outbreak – white people are zombies
Resident Evil Outbreak File #2 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil 4 – white people are zombies
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles – white people are zombies Continue reading

Video games and the usual amount of racism

by guest contributor Andrea Rubenstein, originally published on OfficialShrub.com

For day three of International Blog Against Racism Week, I want to look specifically why games, such as many of the prior Resident Evil ones, haven’t received as much criticism as, say, Resident Evil 5 has.

So, why aren’t critiques of the prior Resident Evil games easy to find? Well, there are a few reasons. As discussed in my previous post, gaming as a field of study is still in its infancy. Gaming blogs discussing issues like race are still few and far between. Despite the re-release for Gamecube, the previous games are (in internet terms) rather old.

And, finally, the last reason I can easily think of, which is what I will be discussing here: The previous games didn’t gather much discussion because they had only the usual amount of racism in them. What do I mean by that? Well, keep reading to find out.

I. The “usual amount of racism”? WTF?

When someone first mentioned this, i was disgusted that humankind could possibly feel there were racist overtones to the game.
[From Resident Evil 5 is a tool for racism!! by Big Stu]

Given the general state of the gaming blogsphere — which can be rightly called, if I’m being charitable, ignorant on matters of race — most people stumbling onto this blog will probably have a defensive reaction. “Games aren’t racist!”, “How dare she attack my beloved Resident Evil with her bleeding heart liberal lies!”… and probably worse, if I go on some of the actual responses to the issue (the one quoted above is one of the nicer ones, really).

The trailer of Resident Evil 5 (which can be seen here) is what sparked calls of racism. The main reason for the strong reaction is that the game is set in Africa but the protagonist is a white American. The trailer shows him killing hordes of black zombies. Further discussion on race in Resident Evil 5, which includes links to relevant posts, can be found here.

So, if Resident Evil 5 gathered controversy because it exceeds “the usual amount of racism”, then what defines “the usual amount”?

It starts with a primarily white universe*. If you really look at the worlds that the majority of games, even today, are set in, you’ll most likely notice a pattern: protagonists, antagonists, and random NPCs will tend to be white more often than not. You can read more about this trend, which is not confined to video games, in the post Why is the Universe full of White people? over at Angry Black Woman Blog.

The usual amount of racism doesn’t stop with the relative invisiblity of non-white characters, though. It extends to the concept that every non-white character that exists does so in a marked (versus the unmarked white) state. The marking of a character can be through comments drawing attention to the character’s race and/or through the use of clear racial stereotypes. See On Indigo Prophecy, Part 2: So Bad, It’s Racist for an example of this.

Ultimately, the “usual amount of racism” is things that, when viewed as separate entities, don’t seem that bad. Because of this criticism can be easily countered, and typical arguments include “there’s a good reason that the protagonist is white”, or “but the use of [racial stereotype] is done in a way that makes the character look cool, so it’s actually a good thing!“, or even, “why can’t you just be happy that the character was included at all?”

II. So why isn’t there any discussion?

With all the recent FPS’s set in the middle east, no one is saying anything about islam haters in games.
[From Resident Evil 5 Trailer, comment by Kuaz Omega]

This question comes in many forms, the most typical of which are “why aren’t you discussing white-on-white violence?” or “why aren’t you discussing [x minority] on white violence”.

The answer to the assertion of “white-on-white violence” not being discussed is that, of course it is. What do you think all the media attention gamers hate is all about? White-on-white violence in video games is talked about all the time. Sensationalist media, studies (good and bad), bloggers talking about the issue… it’s right in the faces of people who use the arguments, but they don’t see it as “white-on-white violence” because white is an unmarked state. The media only mentions the race of the characters in question when it’s a non-white person involved — such as with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — and therefore people only see “violence” when really it’s a discussion of “white-on-white violence.”

As for “[x minority] on white violence”, who can name a recent game that was widely distributed and played in the West which featured a non-white character killing primarily white people? Even counting the aforementioned GTA game, in which there were plenty of non-white people to kill in addition to the white ones, the number likely does not come close to reaching double digits. Beyond just recently distributed, how many games like that that have been made for a Western audience in total can you think of? Now compare that to the number of games featuring other kinds of violence and you have your answer as to why the “[x minority] on white violence” hasn’t received much attention.

III. So… usual racism, no discussion, what’s up with that?

Off the top of your head, name 5 black video game characters. Now, exclude any characters that were not main characters. Now exclude any that appear in a sports game or hip-hop based game. Finally, exclude any characters that embody stereotypical representations of African Americans. (Yes, that means excluding CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) How many are left in your list?
[From Denial and Delusion - Why Public Conversations About Race Fail Before They Begin by Latoya Peterson]

As for the answer on why games that display the usual amount of racism don’t get much attention, the simple answer is that even the people who are actively anti-racist are resigned to accepting that level of racism in games. Games that go above and beyond the call of duty tend to get praised — just as games that exceed the “tolerable racism quotient” tend to get slammed — but those that are bad, but not as bad as they could be, get a sigh, a head shake, and everyone but the most dedicated anti-racist game blogger move on to other subjects.

Indeed, when these subjects are taken on it tends to be not from a game-specific angle, which (especially considering the rabid fans that come out of the woodworks, as we’ve witnessed with Resident Evil 5) is generally considered to be fighting a losing battle, but rather from a general one that talks about trends and their effects. While there’s nothing wrong with the white American Jill Valentine being the protagonist (along with her white male partner, Chris Redfield) of Resident Evil 1, it becomes a bit more suspect when all of the protagonists in the series are white. Then take that in the context of not just the Resident Evil series, but Silent Hill, Max Payne… the default avatars in FPS games being white, protagonist races in strategy games tending towards the light end of the skintone spectrum, RPG protagonists having white markers and/or the absence of non-white markers (primarily in skintone and hair choices). What all that begins to add up to is a trend.

One game does not make a trend. One game that displays the usual amount of racism can be easily dismissed — even more easily than a game with blatant race issues, such as Resident Evil 5. Because of this, unless one is citing it in reference to a trend, or building evidence to support a known trend, most bloggers are not going to go into the minutia only to deal with cries of “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill!”

IV. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, one of the reasons that the other Resident Evil games haven’t yet gathered any criticism from bloggers is that they contain only the usual amount of racism. The lack of criticism doesn’t indicate a lack of a problem, nor is it in any way a valid way of deflecting criticism off of the problems in Resident Evil 5.

For a more in-depth look at racial inclusiveness in games, please see Latoya Peterson’s Racial Inclusiveness in Gaming article in Cerise. I also highly recommend reading through the links provided at the end of that article in order to get an idea of the current state of anti-racist theory in video game critical theory.