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A Criticism of Race Portrayal in Games 141

Posted by Zonk
from the not-everyone-is-equal-in-gta dept.
Joystiq points out (and comments incitefully on) a two-part examination of African-American roles in videogames on the site Black Voice News. Series author Richard Jones takes the videogame industry to task for the numerous poor images that young black people have to compare themselves to. He singles out Carl Johnson, the protagonist of GTA: San Andreas as an example. Jones also acknowledges that 'the video game industry is all about money', pointing out the unfortunate lack of black designers and illustrators in the industry to sway the creative choices of publisheres and developers. He gives a call to arms to black players, saying they should focus some of their passion on the skills required to make games. They'd get rich, he says, and work to reverse some of the negative stereotypes that non-whites are subject to in games. The Opposable Thumbs blog takes a critical look at his argument, offering up another side to the story. While it's obvious that Mr. Jones doesn't have a great grasp on the games industry itself, he would seem to make a few valid points as well.
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A Criticism of Race Portrayal in Games

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  • by mattr (78516) <.mattr. .at. .telebody.com.> on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:42PM (#18069070) Homepage Journal
    I've been wondering recently with people talking about race in games why the games can't be adjustable. Although I've most recently played games on the Wii that seem to let you create different race individuals, apparently many do not let you do that. It would seem useful to allow the user to adjust things to look like his or her community, or like a different community. It could be done by parents, or just for fun. When I was a kid we had Wizardry II (Apple ][) and IIRC you could select Dungeons and Dragons style races like dwarf, mage, etc. Ultima and the rest of the genre too. I didn't realize games created roles for kids to look up to, but certainly I was looking in the Wii selection for faces that I wanted to be. I had lots of fun doing it but actually they ought to provide more combinations, it took a while to find one I really enjoyed "being".
  • by ReverendLoki (663861) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:52PM (#18069220)
    The latest chapter of GuildWars, Nightfall, is set in a Northern African inspired area of the GW world, has quite a few positive black and vaguely Arab/Mediterranean characters. Now, as the protagonist in an RPG, you get your standard character customization, but it seems to me they included more options for the various ethnicities one would expect to find in North Africa (then again, it may just be me; of course, I also thought the Factions chapter included more Asian ethnic options as well, which is appropriate given the Asian theme of that chapter). So, you don't have to be a black character, but a number of your comrades, allies and such are, and are cast in the role of hero alongside your own in a fantasy setting. And the thing is, none of them are really ethnically stereotyped, and if you're not paying a lot of attention, it's easy to overlook while playing. In short, I really like the way they handled it in game.
  • Second Life (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:53PM (#18069230) Homepage Journal
    Except for the furries which seem to be all around in Second life, most people are white, or some other typical shade of human with less frequency than they are white.

    I'm green. When people meet me, they usually say "Whoa dude, you're green". Fucking stupid. Why NOT be green? It's bizarre that most human characters in second life are boring human colors which you can just go to the mall to see. And if they're animals, they are just big versions of things you can see at the zoo.

    Why don't Second Life people dress up like animals that you can see at the grocery store? There's no reason why you couldn't be a big talking salmon, but I've never seen one. I don't recall ever seeing a cow in Second Life either. Or a chicken. Everybody's a cum covered fox or kitty it seems. Maybe a wolf, but it'll actually look more like a coyote with tits. Monkeys are in short supply too. Everybody loves monkeys and apes. Why haven't I met bigfoot in Second Life yet?

    Racism in video games like Second life is way more than black or white. Fucking Kermit the Frog was right about it not being easy to be green.
  • It's a Good thing... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IBitOBear (410965) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:53PM (#18069240) Homepage Journal
    It's a good thing that the first four GTA games weren't about some white guy....

    Oh wait...

    And of course the Arabs and Persians and Jews all get off scott-free because they control the media...

    Of course the gay characters are _never_ stereotypes...

    And the "sex workers" of the world are always portrayed in the most positive and even-handed light possible...

    And the "spics" and "rice burners" were perfectly valid and even-handed portrayals of racial norms as well...

    (And we all know that cops are just corrupt dealers and killers with legal enforcement powers that can be convinced to leave you alone if you change your clothes or drive your bike through just the right spot in the local mall parking lot.)

    I don't hear this guy protesting the treatment of and message presented to the youth of any _other_ "minority".

    ENOUGH WITH THE EMOTIONAL STUBBED TOES ALREADY!

    The sad fact of the matter is that GTA wasn't portraying "black people" as anything, it was portraying the "black gansta stereotype" and it was _even_ somewhat even-handed since the main character was "acting against type" by trying to straighten out a mess as much as make one.

    And before you re-stub your emotional toe on the word "stereotype", please keep in mind that every non-proper noun _IS_ a stereotype. Teacher. Cop. Politician. Meter Maid. Brother. Sister. Nun. Clerk. Priest. (etc od nausium). Every single damn one of those words come with a precompiled message and set of expectations. That's all a "stereotype" is. "Baseless racial stereotype" is a different concept all together.

    The actual problem is that the "gangsta" movement has deliberately manufactured a stereotype that someone doesn't like, but this is being hoist on their own petard. Heck, the members of that self-created group probably thought the portrayal was totally cool.

    You cannot save people from their own damn selves, nor should people who make a bad image for themselves garner sympathy.

    As far as the "game makers", well, they know that a game based on the law-abiding middle-income family guy from suburbia, who goes to work and pays bills on time and attends a baseline church and plays a friendly game of poker once a month with "the guys" WOUDL MAKE A TERRIBLY BORING VIDEOGAME.

    I'd say "They tried to make a good game, so sue them" but I am sure somebody somewhere with a bruised medula would do just that.

    And P.S. I didn't like or play the game when my roommate brought it home because _NONE_ of those stereo types interested me. I kind-of liked Vice City because the soundtrack was interesting and the action wasn't skewed beyond the empty plot of Miami Vice. But I didn't whine about the game much either, except when it was interfering with me using the TV for something valuable. (I'd say "like NASCAR or Pro Wrestling" but I fear the irony would be lost on the stupid and someone would take that seriously and dub me "raciest" without regarding context, so let me put "watching firefly" here instead.)
  • Re:huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenocide2 (231786) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:45PM (#18070006) Homepage
    Probably the best way the Opposable Thumbs author could have countered the article was a response in kind. Where Jones cites GTA, present an equal and opposite anecdote: Beyond Good and Evil. Failing that, maybe point out the interesting distinction that you can customize everything about your character in San Andreas except the color of his skin, and the implications. Jones's main argument is that blacks spend too much time playing games and not enough making them. Becoming a game developer is a bad career move. As programmers they typically make less than counterparts elsewhere would. The same holds true with nearly every game related endevor. Moreover, the best game developers I know barely play (similar perhaps to how drug dealers don't do drugs and remain dealers long). The kinds of skills and interests that make making games fun are wholly different than those that make playing them fun. They're doing this because they're interested in the kinds of problems making games present, not to please their socio-economic peers. Trust me, nobody makes Spongebob Squarepants to impress their friends.

    But after consideration, I think more Americans making console games would be a good start. Consider how many games featuring all white casts are made by the Japanese studios, and how weird that is for a second.
  • by ergo98 (9391) on Monday February 19, 2007 @03:23PM (#18070660) Homepage Journal

    Race is a social construction. The term race is itself "racist"...

    There are different cultures, obviously, and also different skin colours and other superficial appearances.

    Are you for real?

    Humans migrated across the globe in an era when separating meant limited or no contact (or breeding) with groups elsewhere. Specialization to the environment -- basic evolution-in-the-small --, and traits being exaggerated through group inbreeding, measurably changed each group in ways much greater than skin color. Some races (look up the term "racist", btw) are taller, or darker, or with larger or smaller noses. Some races are allergic to milk while others are not. Some are susceptible to conditions like MS, while others are not. Some have diseases that only their race contract.

    Some races, in a general sense, are better at some things than other races (while it's okay to say, for instance, that one race is dominant at physical sports, don't dare mention race in the context of intelligence).

    While global travel/movement means that eventually, far in the future, we'll all re-merge into one race, simply brushing it under the rug under some PC nonsense doesn't help anyone.
  • by silentounce (1004459) on Monday February 19, 2007 @04:19PM (#18071434) Homepage
    It's the identification of races that is the problem. Most people differentiate the races based on skin or hair color, facial features, body proportions, etc. But in reality you may have more genetically in common with someone who looks dramatically different from you than someone who shares your external traits. That is a proven fact, and that is one of the reasons that most scientists reject race classification. You are correct that some people are dominant in athletics, some are dominant in intelligence, some are more artistic, but this has more to do with individual DNA and groups of people that are related than so-called "races". My basic point is this, while you may be able to tell what "race" someone is by looking at them, you cannot necessarily tell other things. Differentiation in physical appearance takes up such a small portion or our genome.

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