by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at Your Voices
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?