Industry of Inclusion

Industry of Inclusion
The Pasty White Person Is King

Chuck Wendig | 31 Aug 2010 12:32
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The Sims 3 is probably as good as it gets. The facial sliders are robust enough where, with a nudge here and a tweak there, I can create babbling morons of any race I choose. I could, were I a non-white player, create a family that looked like my own and have them cook sushi or drain their pee meters or die in a kitchen fire. The universal experience.

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Of course, the muffin-headed Sims all sound the same: like some white goob suffering from aphasia after he was kicked in the head by a cranky mule.

But we'll take diversity wherever we can find it.

***

I am, of course, being a little harsh. Further, I'm not suggesting racism is at work in the creation of any of these games. What I am suggesting, however, is that the game industry can do better.

Race in games doesn't reflect race in gamers. Gamers come from all walks of life and are born of every color and creed imaginable. And yet, the main characters in these games - avatars representing the player, or at least the player's motivations - are predominantly white. Everybody else is under-represented as a protagonist, and some groups - Arabs, for instance - appear almost entirely unrepresented.

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? By ensuring that the play experience is limited to characters who are predominantly white - or at least white-seeming - then the audience for those games is suddenly cut short and kept out by a tall cultural fence.

A white picket fence, you might say. Clean, plain, power-washed: A perfect watermark of the suburban Caucasian experience.

Perhaps not inappropriately, it's the science-fiction games that get it right - or, at least, better. Games like that look forward, while, so far, it seems that fantasy looks backward - but at least we know that it's possible to move in the right direction.

Let's see character creation possibilities that allow for us to create avatars that represent at least the look if not the lives of those who play these games - can't we start there? Isn't that a safe place to begin? To embrace The Other and realize it's not Other at all, to ensure that diversity doesn't mean "I can play a white human or a dark-skinned moon-goblin!" In the age of a half-black president, of a Hispanic Supreme Court judge, of a supposed "post-racial era," isn't this the best time to end the reign of the Pasty White Person in videogames?

Isn't it time to say goodbye to Dave the White Villager?

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and freelance penmonkey. He's written for the pen-and-paper RPG industry for over 10 years, and is the developer for Hunter: The Vigil. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His website and blog is Terribleminds.

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