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A Criticism of Race Portrayal in Games 141

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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  • I doubt that... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:35PM (#18068958)
    They'd get rich, he says, and work to reverse some of the negative stereotypes that non-whites are subject to in games.

    If rap music is any indicator, the trend for negative stereotypes in video games won't change that much regardless of the game designer's skin color. Besides, with a few big name exceptions, who gets rich in the video game industry anyway?
  • huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) * <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:36PM (#18068974) Homepage
    The Opposable Thumbs blog takes a critical look at his argument, offering up another side to the story.

    And in that blog we get this line:

    His argument falls apart, though, when you consider that almost every game in recent memory that has you taking on the role of a character allows some sort of racial customization.

    Which honestly, is a ludicrous assertion. MAYBE if you limit "taking on the role of a character" to RPGs, but most games have you taking on the role of a character, and most of them don't allow any customization whatsoever.
  • by HappySqurriel ( 1010623 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:39PM (#18069012)
    Look at rap music ...
    For the most part, Rap music has the worst portrail of black people and it is created (for the most part) by black people ...

    Simply having more black people in the industry is not going to change how black people are represented in games
  • by wolfemi1 ( 765089 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:40PM (#18069034)
    ...seeing that it is the fourth game in a series where all the other anti-hero protagonists have been white guys.

    I'm not saying that the GTA series is a good role model, but I don't see how it is inherently racist that the PC is a black man.

  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:40PM (#18069038) Homepage
    African-Americans play a BIG role in the music industry, unlike the game industry, so you have to wonder why so many of them persist in portraying themselves in such a negative fashion there. Gangsta rap has been the worst thing for race relations since the acquittal of the cops who beat up Rodney King -- and for the most part it's not white musicians making it.
  • Minorities (Score:2, Insightful)

    by digitrev ( 989335 ) <> on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:46PM (#18069128) Homepage
    The biggest problem is that racial minorities are just that. Minorities. As such, most games are geared toward the majority. Which, in North America, is your white middle-class suburbanite teen. And the only thing that a lot of them know about minorities is the stereotypes. It's so much easier to make money feeding on people's preconceived notions that worry about educating them.

    The real solution? Dilute North America so far that we all become one race.
  • I can't but think (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikesd81 ( 518581 ) <> on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:46PM (#18069136) Homepage
    that we get 2 articles about this in one month because it's February []..second /. article here []

    I personally never noticed in a game about shooting thugs what their race are. It's a shame that racism still exists. Even the blatantly biased commercial for the superbowl about Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. What really keeps racism alive is these arguments about it. How many people have played Max Payne or Dead to Rights and really take notices of the color of the digital skin of the guy you're shooting? The links in the summary surely will open up heated debate. In the article "Psychologists agree that if your race is always the thief or killer, then after a while you start to think that's how you should be, or you think that's how your people are." ... Well, what about in games like Dead To Rights where the white cop just goes through the street shooting people? So does that make white kids think they should become vigilante cops?

    I'm not saying that Mr. Jones is incorrect. I'm saying it's how you are raised. You can't just blame things on games and movies. Society needs to change and become more acceptable. Take a lesson from Star Trek.
  • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:47PM (#18069148) Homepage

    I'm not saying that the GTA series is a good role model

    Now there's an understatement.

    The last 3 GTA games (GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas) was paroday games where they tried to apply as much as cliche's and prejudice things into the game. It's probably the worse example for any serious virtual world real world analysis.
  • Re:I doubt that... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:52PM (#18069222)
    Not to mention, San Andreas was strongly influenced by LA "hood" movies of the 80s and 90s, such as Juice, Menace 2 Society, Boyz in the Hood, etc. etc., most of which were directed and written by black people. Just as GTA3 was strongly influenced by New York mob crime movies such as The Godfather, and Vice City was strongly influenced by Miami drug-kingpin crime movies such as Scarface. It isn't a racist portrayal of African-Americans, it's a very accurate portrayal of previous movie and TV show portrayals of African-Americans.
  • by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @06:53PM (#18074118) Homepage Journal
    Where exactly did I say "two wrongs do make a right"? Where did I even hint at that.

    I'm pretty sure I said "no wrongs make for a complete failure of marketability".

    I'm also pretty sure that I said that people who cherry-pick their outrage from within a complete festering scab of outrageousness are not worth taking seriously because selective rage about something no worse than the background noise was crying wolf in a crowded theater full of sheep... or maybe not that last one...

    I think it _would_ be safe to presume that I think anybody who considers the characters portrayed in a GTA game (or most television shows, or a lot of books, or religious texts for that matter) are _intended_ or suitable as "role models" should just STFU because they are idiots.

    You see, I can at least sympathize with people who think the whole genre is flawed. It's when the people decide that one particular element of the genre is somehow aimed just at them that I call bullshit.

    If the diatribe from the original article was a (sad rehash) of the whole "these games are bad, um-kay" argument I'd at least have _some_ sympathy. I wouldn't necessarily _agree_ but I'd have some _sympathy_.

    You see, I have some _perspective_. I try to write, and I try to read, and so I _know_ and _understand_ that "effective story telling" _usually_ requires the author to grotesquely simplify the characters they present. If you try to unfold each entity into the unique and delicate snowflake that they are, full of their own passions and reasons and heartbreaking back-story they bring to the rich tableau of life, you never get to tell the story you are actually trying to tell.

    So yea, the "rice burner" who has come into town to challenge your ability to take a street racer through a dirt track (of all the stupid things), rendered in the active memory of a PS2 "region" and with a full seven words of dialog in the course of a 12 second cut-scene, is in all likelihood, going to come out "a touch stereotyped". Let's not even start on the touching back-story of each of the 200 rubber-stamped drug dealing pimps that seem to endlessly and innocently wander that one street oblivious to the death and mayhem happening not one step away day after day...

    Having accepted the limits of the media, and the goal of the story, _and_ it's placement as part-5 of a series, it is just a _little_ to late to start yammering because, sweet mary and joseph, this one is *GASP* _black_.... oh the horror!

    If you think your kids are too stupid to know its a freaking game, you shouldn't be letting them play it.

    If you cannot control your own children then why should we let you try to control an _industry_?

    If you don't even _have_ children then your role-model talk is really self-serving political bullcrap.

    So to recap:
      Video Game? Not a Role Model.
      Sports Figure? Not a Role Model.
      Politician? Not a Role Model.
      Stranger on the street? Not a Role Model.
      Political Stranger on the street of a Video Game? ... you guessed it ... Not a role model.

    Even if they are black...
  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2007 @12:01AM (#18077344) Journal
    Funny story that your post brings to mind.

    About a decade ago, I lived in the US (Southern California, to be specific). I said something about an Oriental friend to a coworker whose grandparents had been born in China and brought to the US when they were infants. He immediately got offended at the use of the term "Oriental," and said that I should use Asian-American. After I pointed out to him that the subject in question wasn't actually American, I asked him what was wrong with the term Oriental. To the best of my knowledge, Oriental has never generally been used detrimentally, but he insisted it was offensive. Somehow. For no reason that he could articulate.
    Even better, he refused to allow Russians, Ukrainians, Turks, Mongols, or Kazakhs to share in his use of the word Asian. Asian referred strictly to people from (or descended from) China, Japan, and Korea. No one else was allowed.

    And this is someone who was born in California, whose parents were born in California, and whose grandparents were raised in California.


"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."