Get Off Of My Cloud

Get Off Of My Cloud
You Got Your Race In My Videogame

Pat Miller | 1 Aug 2006 12:00
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Perhaps we can take a look at a similar and potentially parallel ongoing discussion. Sex and sexuality in games is a hot topic, whether it's on Bonnie Ruberg's "Heroine Sheik" blog or that oh-so-overblown Hot Coffee business in GTA: San Andreas. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that gamers, by and large, like sex: We will masturbate to Rez, we'll rate our Second Life hookers, we'll even give public sex a shot in World of WarCraft. For all the hubbub about sex and nudity in games, it's very rarely the gamers themselves you'll find rallying against pixelated boobies in our videogames.

But wait until a group of self-identified queer gamers is advertising their guild as "LGBT-friendly" (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), and all we hear is "Why can't an orc just be an orc?" It's been my experience that for all the criticism gamers are willing to dish out at the people who make games and occasionally the people who write about them, they are singularly unwilling to criticize themselves. Sex is fine with gamers as a feature; once it becomes an issue, and a potentially divisive one at that, games are escapism, not reality, and we just don't want to bring our real baggage into our fantasy worlds.

Whether we like it or not, race, like sexuality, is intricately woven throughout our videogames, and we are astonishingly capable of ignoring it even when it's staring us in the face. We have no problem assigning essentialist, natural meaning to racial categories when we're rolling our D&D characters; trolls are strong, elves are agile, "humans" can do pretty much everything. But could we ever, in good conscience, write "black" on our character sheet because we need the strength bonus?

Regardless of whether a film intends to thematically engage race or not, we will scrutinize it; but by and large we refuse to do the same for games. Frankly, we can't afford to wait for the videogame equivalent of Spike Lee's Bamboozled to begin discussing race and videogames; we have scarcely begun to dissect the videogame equivalents of Friday and Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Barring Sony's recent excursion into poor taste, people are generally unwilling to discuss the topic much further than simply shouting down the few who do take notice of some of the more ridiculous racialized imagery, themes and rhetoric that moves through videogames and videogamers.

Sadly, our reluctance to use our critical lenses isn't restricted to the medium, either: We are, by and large, just as blind toward issues of race and racism within our own communities, as well. Certainly, the anonymous nature of the internet makes it easier to bring racist dialogue into any discursive space - from a public chat room to a lightsaber duel - and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's seen racial slurs tossed around in an otherwise friendly game of Counter-Strike. Make no mistake, there is far, far more to look at here than just a bunch of punk kids spamming their racial-invective-of-the-day chat macros.

An example of gamer humor gone racial comes from Counter-Strike: About a year or so ago, a video clip of a young, presumably black man named "C-Note" playing CS on a public server, complete with voice chat, made the internet rounds and enjoyed a brief stint of popularity. The clip is a series of mashed-up highlights of some of C-Note's choice dialogue, which consists of bizarre one-liners ("Oh, nigga, is that a bazooka right there? Nigga, that's my bazooka" in reference to the AK-47), random braggadocio ("Nigga I c-walk down the street") and occasional threats to sic his older brother ("He's 6'7", 250") on other people on the server.

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