Tag Archives: video games

Must Read: Race, History, Colonialism and Assassin’s Creed IV

Friend of the blog Evan Narcisse wrote an interesting take on playing through historical worlds while black:

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.

Slavery Gives Me a Weird Personal Connection to Assassin's Creed IV

Focusing on Adewale and touching on slavery as it might’ve been lived in the early 1700s moves the racial portrayal forward from last year’s Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. The heroine of that Vita game was the child of a slave and had missions where she freed others from servitude. And, with confirmation that Aveline will also be playable in PlayStation-exclusive add-ons for the game, ACIV will have two prominent black characters where so many titles struggle to have even one.

Narcisse also explores his own family history and what he hopes to see reflected in the game play.  Read the rest at Kotaku.

Racialicious Links Roundup 2.21.13

Conversations need to be had. But they’re not happening because the talking will be awkward, heated or uncomfortable. So, stupid me, I’ve been thinking about ways to start these dialogues. It seems to me that there’s a continuum of ways to talk about race, gender, class and other hot-button subjects. On one end, you have a sort of emphatic sincerity and on the other, you’ve got the sharp blade of satire.

The sincerity paradigm has manifested in things likeImitation of LifeGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner orMenace II Society. Works in this tradition try to authentically highlight aspects of real life to create an enlightening melodrama. There’s an assumption of good faith that’s key to the success of this kind of work. Satirical creations throw good faith out the window. Things like The White Boy Shuffle, Bamboozled or Chappelle’s Show throw darts at the polite silence of mainstream culture’s inequalities. You may laugh, sure, but it’s always nervous chuckles that come with engaging with work like this. To some degree, the audience is a target of the joke, too.

What about games? One game that gets the sincerity angle right is Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. It doubles as an earnest look at a moment in history and a game that draws on real-world racial dynamics to shape its mechanics. So there’s something on the sincerity end of the spectrum. But I think the issues swirling around sincerity are stifling increased diversity in game creators and characters. People don’t want to be taken the wrong way, especially if they want to make games that somehow touch on race.

In a recent interview with UK Channel 4, Tarantino stated his goals and interpretation of the Oscar-nominated film’s impact: “I’ve always wanted to explore slavery … to give black American males a hero … and revenge. … I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years.”

He went on, “Violence on slaves hasn’t been dealt with to the extent that I’ve dealt with it.”

My personal biracial experience growing up on both sides of segregated hoods, suburbs and backcountry taught me a lot about the coded language and arithmetic of racism. I was often invisible when topics of race arose, the racial adoptee that you spoke honestly in front of.

I grew up hearing the candid dirt from both sides, and I studied it. The conversation was almost always influenced by something people read or saw on a screen. Media portrayals greatly affect, if not entirely construct, how we interpret “otherness.” People see what they are shown, and little else.

It’s why my dad forced me to study and value history from an absurdly young age — to build a foundation solid enough to withstand cultural omissions from the curriculum and distortions from the media. It’s what led me to become a teacher of American and African history out of college. There is a glaring difference in outlook between those who have mined the rich, empowering truth about how we’ve come to be, and those who just accept that there’s only one or two people of African descent deemed worthy of entire history books.

If, like Tarantino, you show up with a megaphone and claim to be creating a real solution to a specific problem, I only ask that you not instead, construct something unnecessarily fake and then act like you’ve done us a favor.

Tuesday’s late-night TSN Sportscentre was hosted by Gurdeep Ahluwalia and Nabil Karim. There was a backlash on Twitter in 2012 when Ahluwalia and Karim, who are both brown men, debuted with the network. Tuesday was just as bad for comments that, rather than put a damning label on people, should just be called dumb.

One has to wonder where people are coming from when they cannot handle having two brown men narrating sports highlights. One can understand a disappointed reaction upon tuning in and not seeing the familiar faces of funnymen Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole at the anchor desk. But how does it go from that to this?

The report, released on Wednesday, said that the disappearances of some 149 people, many of them civilians, followed a pattern in which security forces detained them without warrants at checkpoints, homes or workplaces, or in public.

When families ask about their relatives, security forces deny that they were detained, or urge family members to look at police stations or army bases.

The group criticised former president Felipe Calderon for ignoring the problem, calling it “the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades.”

The report was a grim reminder of the dark side of the war on drug cartels that killed an estimated 70,000 people during Calderon’s six-year presidency. Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s current president, has vowed to take a different approach and focus on reducing violent crime and extortion rather than attacking the cartels directly.

Slavery: The Game is a Hoax – But Still Worth Discussing

Above is the trailer circulating for a game based on slavery – but it appears that this is fake, despite all the attention it’s been attracting.

As Jessica Conditt explains in her post for Joystiq:

These are lined up at the bottom of the site, right next to the overwhelming sense of relief we felt when we realized neither 360 nor PS3 release AO titles. Further, the ESRB doesn’t list a rating for anything called Slavery the Game and the proposed developer, Javelin Reds Gaming, doesn’t exist. One YouTube version of the trailer credits The Creative Assembly with making Slavery the Game, but it isn’t mentioned anywhere on The Creative Assembly’s site. We’ve contacted The Creative Assembly for clarification.

A lot of people are rightfully horrified at a game predicated on the slave trade from the slave master’s perspective – specifically glorifying the dehumanizing nature of slavery for cheap amusement. However, even though the game is fake, I hesitate to fully condemn the premise, probably because of one of my other favorite games: Age of Empires: The Conquerers.

A game can do anything we program it to do – and AoE:TC allowed me to rewrite history, by allowing the people of Tenochtitlan to defeat the Conquistadors. Continue reading

Native American Images in Video Games

Minority representation in video games just straight up sucks. Over the last few weeks, two new projects debuted that focus specifically on Native Americans.

The first is a short video. Directed and narrated by Irish, Anishinaabe, Metis writer Beth Aileen Lameman and edited by Beaver Lake Cree filmmaker Myron Lameman, the video looks at really common stereotypes being deployed in game narratives. Lameman points to the common framings of “cowboys vs. indians,” guides, and “wise old Indians” and heavy doses of the white savior narrative and the “half-breed hero” trope.

Native Representations in Video Games from Beth Aileen Lameman on Vimeo.

The second is an essay over at Project COE that tackles the politics behind representation:

“How many kids will play this game and then carry what they’ve experienced into their interactions with real, live Apaches and other Native Americans?” the Association for American Indian Development asked video game publishing giant Activision in a public letter accusing the company’s 2006 PC and console title GUN of containing “some very disturbing racist and genocidal elements toward Native Americans”. The AAID went on to launch an online petition demanding that Activision “remove all derogatory, harmful, and inaccurate depictions of American Indians” from the game and reissue a more culturally sensitive version, threatening to campaign to have the game pulled from store shelves internationally. Although Activision thereafter issued an apology to anyone who may have been offended by the game, they justified the content of their product by pointing out that such depictions had already been “conveyed not only through video games but through films, television programming, books, and other media”. The AAID’s subsequent attempts to have the game recalled were barely acknowledged.

As evident in Activision’s defense of GUN, many negative stereotypes about Native American culture are so ingrained in mainstream media that the near-genocide of an entire culture is rarely treated with the same sensitivity with which we regard similarly tragic occurrences like the Holocaust, or African American slavery. The AAID argues that video games like GUN undermine the severity of the atrocities committed against First Nations tribes by the European settlers and marginalize this violence in a way that negatively affects the image of contemporary Native Americans. Millions of people play video games, and entertainment can leave long-lasting impressions on consumers, making it important to be able to criticize misconceptions and separate fantasy from reality. The impact of media on our mentality towards people and events certainly cannot be underestimated, so it is understandable that an organization such as the AAID should be concerned about what kind of images audiences are exposed to, but were their claims about GUN‘s potentially damaging effects warranted?

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?

Continue reading

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

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