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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The joke in C-Note's video is not easily accessible to anyone who doesn't play Counter-Strike; recognizing his flamboyant beginner-ness requires a certain amount of knowledge of the game, of course. But neither is it his newbie yelling that makes him entertaining to those that do get the game. Sure, it's loud and obnoxious, but that's not the joke. It isn't until you become used to the kinds of voices and diction that you find on Counter-Strike's teamspeak channels that you start to see why some people found the C-Note video so funny. C-Note is a joke about being clearly, unavoidably black in an online space where everyone is assumed to be white and male until proven otherwise. While there's nothing bad about fish-out-of-water humor, per se, laughing at Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour is substantially different from mocking some hapless kid for committing the social faux pas of being black in white-space.

Race is no less innocuous when it enters our virtual worlds voluntarily, either. Lisa Nakamura, author of Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet, studies the LambdaMOO, a text-only MUD (multi-user dungeon), in her essay "Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet." LambdaMOO, like most online communities, provides no explicit space for players to indicate race, so it's up to the player to describe himself however he wishes. However, Nakamura observes, "Players who elect to describe themselves in racial terms, as Asian, African American, Latino, or other members of oppressed and marginalized minorities, are often seen as engaging in a form of hostile performance, since they introduce what many consider a real life 'divisive issue' into the phantasmatic world of cybernetic textual interaction. The borders and frontiers of cyberspace which had previously seemed so amorphous take on a keen sharpness when the enunciation of racial otherness is put into play as performance. While everyone is 'passing,' some forms of racial passing are condoned and practiced since they do not threaten the integrity of a national sense of self which is defined as white."

From here, she goes on to describe an online world where the most common occurrences of race are white men playing either as Asian men named "Mr. Sulu," "Musashi" and "Bruce Lee" or Asian women named "AsianDoll," "Miss_Saigon" and "Geisha_Guest," the latter of whom was described as a "petite Japanese girl in her twenties. She has devoted her entire life to the perfecting the tea ceremony and mastering the art of lovemaking" and has "spent her entire life in the pursuit of erotic experiences," and, if you read the rest of the character description, apparently isn't wearing panties. Race, here, is unacceptable if you bring in real-world Latino or African-American baggage, but racial roleplaying of classic Asian stereotypes - Asian men as sexless engineers and fantastical warriors and Asian women as sexual objects - is clearly not unusual. Here, we are not only implicitly condoning these stereotypical characters as acceptable roleplaying material, we are also announcing that Asians are somehow less marginalized than blacks or Latinos by regarding the stereotypes at hand as somehow innocuous and less threatening than if we were performing as black or Latino in LambdaMOO. Even though this space is virtual and fictional by nature, the way we handle race in our virtual spaces can have very local and very real implications.

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