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While I don't disagree with the premise of the article and in no way defend this trend of white-washing in videogames and other western media, I do have to analyze the idea of alienation occurring from racial incongruity between the player and protagonist: "What does that say to the Hispanic boy, the Arab teen, the Indian woman, who wants to try just such a game? Will they feel alienated? Disconnected from the experience?"
This idea reinforces the idea that there are inherent differences between races, that the small difference of appearance creates more differences in a chain reaction. This concept is just not true. If you were to make a list of similarities and differences between all people the list of similarities would eclipse the list of differences. We are able as a species to connect and empathize with characters over more than just their appearance, we connect with the emotion, needs, and desires of characters, all which are shared traits between races. If they player is unable to connect with the character it is not always matter of racial incongruity, it is frequently of poor writing and characterization. As a white male I have numerously come across cases where I felt no connection with a white male protagonist because the character was flat and undeveloped.
I believe if a well-written and identifiable character is presented, no matter the character's race, a player should be able to create a connection with them. There is no breaking point where a player would identify with a well written protagonist but cannot only because of a difference of race. Either the character will touch you, or they won't. Believing the quoted statement from the article above sets race as the most important trait of any character, a trait which trumps all other traits.
The trend of white-washing protagonists in popular media is shameful, but we cannot rely on the "racial incongruity creates disconnection" argument as proof to change this trend. If taken to its logical conclusion it is counter-productive as it reinforces the misguided belief that people of different races cannot identify with each other because there are significant differences. Instead we should argue for the inclusion of racial variety (and other varieties) of protagonists because the greater possibility of a connection exists despite race, gender sexual orientation, etc. because of the multitude of similarities inherent in the human condition.
We need to outgrow the "white is default" mentality, not by decrying the harm and differences between people, but by recognizing the similarities of the human condition.
Thank you for your article, it was an interesting read.
I understand the concern in customizable characters that they simply seem like painted-on white people, but I think the other side is a slippery slope towards stereotypes. At least with some Asian communities (I am Chinese), there is always an uproar and demands for apologies whenever a celebrity or group mocks the language or imitates narrow, "squinty" eyes. Remember Shaquille O'Neal years ago mocking Yao Ming, or Miley Cyrus's photo making her eyes look Asian? I personally remember the outrage from the Asian communities regarding these incidents.
My point of this regarding game customization is that there is also a danger on the other side if designers cherry-pick certain ethnic characteristics, that there could be a backlash. Maybe the fact that you can only customize your character so much, is a sign of designers being cautious in this regard?