Industry of Inclusion

Industry of Inclusion
Praise Diversity, Address Inequality

Jamin Brophy-Warren | 31 Aug 2010 12:35
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The emails in response to that article were unpleasant. Mostly, fans of the series were upset that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. "Race isn't that big of deal," they crowed and many seemed content to ignore Croal's criticism completely, rather than engage in serious debate. While I disagreed with my dissenters, it did raise a serious question for me as a writer. When should I raise the warning flag and how often?

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As writers, it's a legitimate concern. When is "too much" criticism too much? What about the dread-locked Mojya Corps of LocoRoco or the similar sambo-like characters in Patapon 2? What about maniacal, trash-talking Cole Train in Gears of War? I know plenty of black dudes just like Cole, but when he's the only one, it distorts who black folk actually are. All of these examples could be part of a strong case that racist imagery continues to pervade videogames just as it does all other forms of media. But how does a writer create a rubric for discussing characters or topics in games that toe the line without transgressing entirely? It seems unreasonable to torpedo any of these otherwise enjoyable games solely on the basis of a single image or character that I find distasteful.

Moreover, exceptions often confuse the issue. Naysayers will cite Crackdown or Madden as examples of non-white characters in games. Or they point to games like Fallout 3 or Skate 3 that allow for customizable characters. Rather than looking at videogame releases in aggregate, these exceptions can fool people into thinking that the numbers are bunk. The cries that there are so few non-white protagonists are countered by the few and fleeting examples that do manage to make it into development. And of course, there's the generalized complaints that arguing for racial diversity in videogames doesn't really matter, that people aren't really affected by what they see onscreen, that we have a black President, and so on.

But to anyone who's thinking about writing about videogames, I say that race is not a topic to avoid. It is an issue that we should cherish, critique, and analyze.

Never underestimate the power of small statements. Creating change is about building inertia. It's about taking every small act of unkindness or cultural ignorance and making it public. The tendency for videogame writers is to want to deal with race issues selectively - to only engage when the offense has become so offensive that someone finally decides to notice. That is the wrong approach. While I received sympathy for publicizing my experience on Skate 3, I wasn't looking for it. People need to be reminded that this kind of behavior still exists and discourages a healthy discussion about race.

We need to stop giving away free passes to the creators of videogames. That comes down to a simple question for developers - why does this character look like he or she does? They should have an answer. Developers big and small should have good reasons for why they choose the people that they do. Game designers have plenty of answers about gameplay features, but the selection of who is going to be the face of the game should be paramount.

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