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It's almost impossible to discuss race without pissing somebody off. There are so many emotions wrapped up in what genes you carry around with you - those delicious little gifts from your parents. These emotions - pride, fear, anger - often cloud the reasoning of otherwise rational people. All bets are off whenever race is on the table.
For me, though, my own race has been a non-issue. Although my father was full-blooded Italian, our family was never very entrenched in our Italian-American heritage, aside from the mean chicken cacciatore my dad made on Sundays.
Perhaps that's why I never understood the uproar that Italian-Americans would level at artwork that they thought depicted them in an unfriendly light - The Godfather, The Sopranos and now Mafia II. Because I had no emotional attachment to them, I could absorb their stories as a part of the historical kaleidoscope of American culture that includes depictions of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Movies like Goodfellas do not represent me just because I'm Italian.
Honestly, I was struck more by the casually racist comments that my mother would make when we drove through the "slums" of New London, CT. I was too young to really understand what she meant, but I knew that I didn't want to be like that. So I wasn't, and I like to hope that other young people made the decision to be more understanding than the older generation.
That trend gained traction during the Civil Rights movement in this country and continues to this day. Some have claimed that we are in a "post-race era." If you fight for racial equality by saying that there is still a lot of change to be made, chances are that people will disagree with you by declaring that everything is way better than it was years ago. We have a black President, for the love of Pete! What else more do you want?
The world has changed, but the issue of race has by no means disappeared. Humanity is still divided by borders of ethnicity, religion and race. The recent troubles in New York City around the proposed mosque near the site of the World Trade Center and the continued protests against immigration in the American southwest are just a few indications. Race is still inciting emotion, perhaps because it is an easy signpost that declares that someone is somehow different than you.
Videogames offer many people solace from the troubles of the real world - nobody wants to feel pissed off when they play games. Developers have traditionally shied away from race by ignoring it altogether. It is as if the publishers believe that if your game stars a white dude, then it doesn't piss anyone off, and you stand a greater chance of making back your investment.
Until now. People are starting to notice the terrible discrepancy between the demographics of gamers and the race of the characters that they play. A study in New Media and Society found that African Americans and those of Latin heritage were grossly unrepresented in the games that nearly the entirety of America plays.
So do we stand by and ignore the fact that most minorities are forced to play games that do not represent them? Or do we point out that injustice, just like I used to tell my mom that she shouldn't say the N-word?
In the 269 issue of The Escapist Magazine, we chose the latter by presenting many issues of race within the videogame industry. Saladin Ahmed, a self-described Muslim geek, investigates the depiction of Middle Easterners in games. Jamin Brophy-Warren makes a call for journalists to damn each social injustice and to praise the games that get it right. Chuck Wendig experiments with the character creators in many games to determine if it's possible to create a realistic avatar if you happen to not be white. And Fintan Monaghan takes a closer look at Japanese game-maker's recent trend of ethnically-cleansing any detail so that it appears more Caucasian.
Take a look and join in the conversation,