Tag Archives: gaming

Race + Gaming: Brown Skin, White Masks

By Guest Contributor David Song

A gallery of Dungeons & Dragons character types from the D&D Player’s Handbook (2003).

The phrase, “human race,” has always taken on different meanings in Dungeons & Dragons. I can remember, when I read my first D&D Player’s Handbook as an ungainly and imaginative teenager, the allure of the game that remains the same across the whole role-playing hobby: To imagine myself as a fictional character that I have created myself. The D&D Player’s Handbook guides every role-player through a step-by-step process of creating an imaginary character. And I remember being fascinated by the variety in every step of that process: Class, alignment, skillset, religion, and coming before all of them, race.

The most eminent franchise of role-playing games, and the one most tied to popular perceptions of the hobby, D&D has always had an odd relationship with race — or rather, with a concept of race, one where race has strict boundaries and inherent qualities. The choice of role-playing D&D is to play a member of the “human race,” which stands as the norm in the D&D universe, or one of diverse alternatives: dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-orcs, and so on. Not Englishmen, Frenchmen, or fantasy versions of ethnic identities, but either human beings or other people with similar but fundamentally different blood. “Race” is the very first characteristic D&D asks its players to define, before their characters’ skills, their personalities, whether they are barbarians or rogues or sorcerers.

While the earliest version of the game’s Player’s Handbook displayed only light-skinned characters, implying a medieval, quasi-European setting, 1989’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons allowed players to create Human characters who could be light-skinned or dark-skinned, their hair straight or curly, their bodies wide or slender. In other words, it avoided the tacit identification of “human beings” with “white people.” The art in the game’s 2008 handbook reflects a diversity of colors and bodies that might belong to anyone actually playing the game, beyond the image of the white male.

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Quoted: Jamin Warren on Race in Gaming

An oldie but a goodie. From the January 2013 article, “Touching Obama’s Hair and My Hope for the Future of Games” on Kill Screen:

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.

Why I Don’t Feel Welcome at Kotaku

By Guest Contributor Mattie Brice, cross-posted from Kotaku

Tamagotchi. Remember those?

They became popular when I was in 4th grade. Sometimes my mother took me to a nearby Target to pick a toy- she told me it was for good grades, but I knew it was because I got bullied often at school. One of these times, I raced to find a Tamagotchi, as all of my friends were getting them. I liked the idea of something with me at all times, to take care of it and make me feel like something needed me.

And there it was, a whole wall of glittering purple eggs. I remember that exact, uncreative display panel to this day, and my mother stopping me. She told me to wait, that my aunt wanted to get that for my birthday when she visited. I protested, but the answer was the same: be patient, you’ll get it soon enough. We went a week later and all of them were gone, sold out from every toy store in our area. For some reason that memory is lodged in my brain. I brought it up to my mother recently, but she’s forgotten.

The stray times I visit Kotaku, it’s like I’m seeing an empty panel that the reward for my sitting, smiling, and internalizing should be. I was supposed to find somewhere to escape to, maybe even a place that needed me a little. You told me to wait, and I did. Where’s my Tamagotchi?

There is only a wrong way to go about this. So let’s just get to why I’m here:

Me too.

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The Tits Have It: Sexism, Character Design, and the Role of Women in Created Worlds

Lightning, drawn by Jonathan

This panel is all about titties and I feel like its my fault!  – Jonathan Jacques-Bellêtete

There are many things I expect to see in a panel called “East Meets West, Art Direction for a Worldwide Audience.” I expected to hear Isamu Kamikokuryo, the art director for Final Fantasy XIII-2 discuss how Japanese artists focus on creating new worlds, Norse mythology and its influence on the game, and drawing inspiration from Cuba for some of the beautifully rendered backgrounds. I expected to hear Jonathan Jacques-Bellêtete, the art director of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, talk about influences like Andrew Loomis and Metal Gear Solid. I had hoped for an interesting back and forth between the two designers on how technology influences artistic development as well as what happens to geographic differences in artistic influences in our increasingly connected worlds.

I did hear all of these things, but also something that pinged my feminist gamer radar.

In describing his influences, Jacques-Bellêtete mentioned he was heavily influenced by Metal Gear and Final Fantasy. Then he went into a two minute riff about “always trying to have very beautiful female characters,” noting that these were characters he would want to sleep with. After making a semi-disparaging remark about female characters drawn in a North American style, he concludes “I’d rather have female characters from Final Fantasy or Soul Caliber to sleep with.” This draws chuckles from the crowd.

And there it was, the truth about character design that so many players know but most designers wouldn’t usually articulate: most of the egregiously sexist character designs are based on fuckability, rather than playability. Continue reading

Characters Done Right: BioShock 2′s Grace Holloway

By Guest Contributor Denis Farr, cross-posted from Border House

BioShock 2 started off at a slow, plodding pace that made me wonder if I would regret my decision to purchase the game. As many reviews note, it is a game that picks up steam and finishes strongly, in opposition to its predecessor. For myself that moment happened in Pauper’s Drop when I started to encounter Grace Holloway.

At first I was slightly concerned. You go to Pauper’s Drop and are instructed to obtain a key from one Grace Holloway, so as to progress along the Atlantic Express trains. It slowly dawned on me that my target was a jazz singer, with very obvious roots in African American history. Her first messages to you are antagonistic, and given the game’s still primary function of shoot and kill to progress, I thought I would be given little choice as to my actions. However, as you explore the level, you are given a view of Rapture that was not wholly afforded in the first game. While the common worker seemed a motif raised by Atlas in the first game, it never seemed fully fleshed out, instead seeming like a power struggle between two figureheads with citizens caught in between, with little word from those persons directly; in Pauper’s Drop you are given the story of a part of the city that was not built into the original design, but constructed by those who were unfortunate enough to not be able to afford the luxuries the rest of Rapture had to offer. This is where Grace Holloway finds herself.

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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