269: The Pasty White Person Is King

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The Pasty White Person Is King

Why do we need more non-white characters when so many games allow you to create an avatar that looks like any race or color? Chuck Wendig experiments with some modern character creators and finds out that isn't exactly true.

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I'm not sure which is worse - being railroaded into playing a pasty white person (Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and you know Master Chief's skin is painfully white under that ubiquitous Space Marine armor) or being teased with different skin colors that are merely 'painted' on.

Hopefully Dragon Age 2 will take a hint from its space-age cousin and let players customize Hawke in a similar way to Shepard.

The examples you give mentioning games in which you can change race but end up looking like a 'dirty-cheeked white person' is not racism of any sort, its prioritising, marketing, these guys only have so much time and budget and modeling other races means building a new character model which most of the target audience isnt going to pick as generally one will stick to one's own race in this sort of situation. Would you really rather developers spend yet more time putting in measures to stop people being offended by things like this rather than continuing with making their game?

Avida:
The examples you give mentioning games in which you can change race but end up looking like a 'dirty-cheeked white person' is not racism of any sort, its prioritising, marketing, these guys only have so much time and budget and modeling other races means building a new character model which most of the target audience isnt going to pick as generally one will stick to one's own race in this sort of situation. Would you really rather developers spend yet more time putting in measures to stop people being offended by things like this rather than continuing with making their game?

To be clear, I very distinctly say, "I don't think this is racism."

As to whether or not I'd like for them to take some time to offer more realistic racial choices than Pasty White Person? I would. I won't, however, subscribe to the false dichotomy of, "It's either wider racial choices or a better game." I don't think it's either/or.

-- Chuck

I'm going to sound like typical BNP racist, but I think this is the first article the Escapist has had made me want to whack the writer round the back of the head. While I accept that character generators could be tweaked to try and represent more specific racial characteristics, the insistance that black people should be in middle ages UK settings because of the Moors is really stupid.

Even in current times, the UK is still 90% white and the majority of those that arn't are mainly in the larger cities. In the countryside (or even some of the larger towns) the percentage of people of an ethnic minority drops to ridiculously low levels. This means even if Albion was to represent the UK today, there would sill only be about 10 NPCs who wern't white. Seeing as the game represents the industrial age, it would be even less.

This article reminds me of when the (possibly former) leader of the race and equalities commission said that the BBC should have at least 1 minority memebr in each show. One commentators response was "If you stuck a black guy in Dibley (ficitonal country village) not only would it un-realistic, the only way to make it realistic would be for them to be shot"

Erm, you can choose to be a different Race Colour in Dragon Age: Origin's you know? I guess companies just expect the majority of their buyers are Caucasian, which for the most part is true but not hardly enough, only by a small amount is it larger.

I myself find it uncomfortable sometimes to play as the opposite sex in games and when i have the choice i always make my character look Caucasian, to look like my race. I can't imagine what it's like to be bombarded with White all the time as a different race.

Plinglebob:
I'm going to sound like typical BNP racist, but I think this is the first article the Escapist has had made me want to whack the writer round the back of the head. While I accept that character generators could be tweaked to try and represent more specific racial characteristics, the insistance that black people should be in middle ages UK settings because of the Moors is really stupid.

Even in current times, the UK is still 90% white and the majority of those that arn't are mainly in the larger cities. In the countryside (or even some of the larger towns) the percentage of people of an ethnic minority drops to ridiculously low levels. This means even if Albion was to represent the UK today, there would sill only be about 10 NPCs who wern't white. Seeing as the game represents the industrial age, it would be even less.

This article reminds me of when the (possibly former) leader of the race and equalities commission said that the BBC should have at least 1 minority memebr in each show. One commentators response was "If you stuck a black guy in Dibley (ficitonal country village) not only would it un-realistic, the only way to make it realistic would be for them to be shot"

While Mr Wendig does mention the Moors, he's not saying that you should be able to create black NPCs in Fable III simply because of them. I think he's saying that the developers using the fact that their fantasy game is based in a time where there would have been few people of darker skin tone is bullshit, as the game is just that, fantasy.

Fantasy does have one thing in its defence that you didn't really mention

Modern fantasy is massively influenced by tolkien who was well white and wrote his story as such. The it's based on medieval England excuses goes a bit further than credited to portra other races as merchants and foreigners is mostly fair though I'll give you there should be the odd moor.

Flamezdudes:
Erm, you can choose to be a different Race Colour in Dragon Age: Origin's you know? I guess companies just expect the majority of their buyers are Caucasian, which for the most part is true but not hardly enough, only by a small amount is it larger.

I myself find it uncomfortable sometimes to play as the opposite sex in games and when i have the choice i always make my character look Caucasian, to look like my race. I can't imagine what it's like to be bombarded with White all the time as a different race.

I apologize: you're right, you can. But it suffers from the same problem as WoW, to me -- it feels painted on and unrepresentative. And everybody around you is pasty and white.

Your second point speaks to the heart of the article, and thanks for making that point: so often, game characters are white-washed both in creation and in population of the avatars inhabiting the world. I'm a pasty white guy myself, and it surprises me to the degree that alternate races are either mis-handled or simply not handled at all. Or, "races" are described as fantasy beings (when really, they probably mean "species," right? Is a troll really just a different "race?").

-- Chuck

Silver Scribbler:

Plinglebob:
I'm going to sound like typical BNP racist, but I think this is the first article the Escapist has had made me want to whack the writer round the back of the head. While I accept that character generators could be tweaked to try and represent more specific racial characteristics, the insistance that black people should be in middle ages UK settings because of the Moors is really stupid.

Even in current times, the UK is still 90% white and the majority of those that arn't are mainly in the larger cities. In the countryside (or even some of the larger towns) the percentage of people of an ethnic minority drops to ridiculously low levels. This means even if Albion was to represent the UK today, there would sill only be about 10 NPCs who wern't white. Seeing as the game represents the industrial age, it would be even less.

This article reminds me of when the (possibly former) leader of the race and equalities commission said that the BBC should have at least 1 minority memebr in each show. One commentators response was "If you stuck a black guy in Dibley (ficitonal country village) not only would it un-realistic, the only way to make it realistic would be for them to be shot"

While Mr Wendig does mention the Moors, he's not saying that you should be able to create black NPCs in Fable III simply because of them. I think he's saying that the developers using the fact that their fantasy game is based in a time where there would have been few people of darker skin tone is bullshit, as the game is just that, fantasy.

Exactly that! Thank you!

-- Chuck

Flamezdudes:
Erm, you can choose to be a different Race Colour in Dragon Age: Origin's you know? I guess companies just expect the majority of their buyers are Caucasian, which for the most part is true but not hardly enough, only by a small amount is it larger.

My husband attempted to make all his characters in DA:O black, and they came out looking like a white person who sat in a tanning bed too long. If I were being kind, I could say they looked Native American, but really, they looked like really tan white people. There isn't a skin tone that's dark enough to be actually black. At least not on the console version - perhaps there's a PC mod that does it.

BlueInkAlchemist:
I'm not sure which is worse - being railroaded into playing a pasty white person (Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and you know Master Chief's skin is painfully white under that ubiquitous Space Marine armor) or being teased with different skin colors that are merely 'painted' on.

Hopefully Dragon Age 2 will take a hint from its space-age cousin and let players customize Hawke in a similar way to Shepard.

You mean... Master Chief isn't... purple?

Why would you crush my dreams like that!?

Mr. Grey:

You mean... Master Chief isn't... purple?

Why would you crush my dreams like that!?

SPOILER WARNING:

Master Chief is actually just a 'roided out Covenant grunt.

-- Chuck

Plinglebob:
While I accept that character generators could be tweaked to try and represent more specific racial characteristics, the insistance that black people should be in middle ages UK settings because of the Moors is really stupid.

You are missing the point. Does it make sense to have elves in in a middle ages U.K setting? Magic? Dragons? Hordes of demon like things? Unless it is a historical simulator then reality should be no constraint. And you know what? It isn't for most things. It isn't that we should have black people in a medieval U.K. setting because there were moors in England, we should have them, and all other races, because those races all make up the people possibly playing the game. Because it makes no sense to say, "You can be an elf, a dwarf, a demon creature from another plane, but you can't be black." It isn't overt racism, but it shows how easy it is to forget about the existence of people who are not us.

Anyway...

Back when I played WoW I noticed there were few black people (characters) in the game. I figured this was because most people where just using their own race, but then it occurred to me that people use sexes different from their own all the time... why not race? So I made a black female warlock, and since then I always try to make my human characters black. I partly measure any game I play by the ability to do this. Good article, Chuck.

chuckwendig:

Mr. Grey:

You mean... Master Chief isn't... purple?

Why would you crush my dreams like that!?

SPOILER WARNING:

Master Chief is actually just a 'roided out Covenant grunt.

-- Chuck

That would explain why I enjoyed pistol whipping those little intergalactic gnomes...

chuckwendig:
Snip
Exactly that! Thank you!

-- Chuck

You're very welcome. By the way, "Punching the Baby Seal of PC Gaming" was one of the funniest things I've read in ages, although I felt bad for laughing at frustration which I have felt myself...

The only thing I'm really afraid of is when we finally do get to the point of having racial equality in gaming, we're going to get that pesky problem of "you can be a white person killing black people" debate by (willingly) ill informed media outlets and politicians.

As for Shepard in Mass Effect, there's still that problem of him/her having the exact same voice no matter what he/she looks like. I've seen cutscenes of a... well... let's say very stereotypically big mean black dude version of Shepard. He sounded like the same pasty, unshaven and scarred white boy Shepard I knew. It felt weird to say the least.

CitySquirrel:
[quote="Plinglebob" post="6.229312.7944975"]
Back when I played WoW I noticed there were few black people (characters) in the game. I figured this was because most people where just using their own race, but then it occurred to me that people use sexes different from their own all the time... why not race? So I made a black female warlock, and since then I always try to make my human characters black. I partly measure any game I play by the ability to do this. Good article, Chuck.

Thanks! I think it's valuable to play outside's comfort zone and ensure that other gamers have equal opportunity to see themselves or their families represented, even in some small way.

Of course, skin color is really only a very small part of it -- beyond that, games could also do a better job actually attempting to embrace different cultures and the traditions of those cultures, but really, one step at a time. :)

-- Chuck

"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."

Fuck right off.

First you complain that videogames let you create black characters, but somehow this is insufficient? Then you go on to say something so racially motivated, generalised, and wrong. I'm astounded that Escapist published this, it's utter tripe.

Mr. Grey:
You mean... Master Chief isn't... purple?

Why would you crush my dreams like that!?

Because reality is cruel and unforgiving. Especially when it comes to Microsoft.

Silver Scribbler:

chuckwendig:
Snip
Exactly that! Thank you!

-- Chuck

You're very welcome. By the way, "Punching the Baby Seal of PC Gaming" was one of the funniest things I've read in ages, although I felt bad for laughing at frustration which I have felt myself...

I only wish everybody found it as funny as you. I think I made some people angry with that one.

Oops.

And, of course, thank you.

-- Chuck

Forgive me for being observant. But the only point I see being made in this article, is the author claiming some kind of white conspiracy exists in game development. It seems that you are trying to find racism in the games industry where none exists. While game designers may be a bit boxed in when it comes to these things, it really doesn't seem fair to try to pin ill will on them in this regard. I've known plenty of black and latino gamers in the past and never have I heard them complain about such things. I've seen black males make up a pasty "Paris Hilton" looking spellcaster just as quickly as I might make a gun or sword toting guy who looks like Shaft. Games are about experiencing a fantasy in many ways. Shoving real world politics down the throats of gamers doesn't seem like it would be beneficial to this idea.

Sir John the Net Knight:
Forgive me for being observant. But the only point I see being made in this article, is the author claiming some kind of white conspiracy exists in game development. It seems that you are trying to find racism in the games industry where none exists. While game designers may be a bit boxed in when it comes to these things, it really doesn't seem fair to try to pin ill will on them in this regard. I've known plenty of black and latino gamers in the past and never have I heard them complain about such things. I've seen black males make up a pasty "Paris Hilton" looking spellcaster just as quickly as I might make a gun or sword toting guy who looks like Shaft. Games are about experiencing a fantasy in many ways. Shoving real world politics down the throats of gamers doesn't seem like it would be beneficial to this idea.

I'm forever surprised -- though I shouldn't be -- when people respond to an article in a way that demonstrates that they did not read the article in question.

I said:

"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."

Hard to see where I'm suggesting that game developers are racist, or that some grand conspiracy exists. Hardly. My only plea is for the game industry to do better.

Actually, a game like DRAGON AGE *should* be lauded for the way it handles gender and sexuality in some cases. I'm not knocking the game. I'm not knocking any of these games. I'm simply saying, "Hey, lots of people of different races and cultural backgrounds play these games. Let's make the games reflect the gamers."

-- Chuck

chuckwendig:

Flamezdudes:
Erm, you can choose to be a different Race Colour in Dragon Age: Origin's you know? I guess companies just expect the majority of their buyers are Caucasian, which for the most part is true but not hardly enough, only by a small amount is it larger.

I myself find it uncomfortable sometimes to play as the opposite sex in games and when i have the choice i always make my character look Caucasian, to look like my race. I can't imagine what it's like to be bombarded with White all the time as a different race.

I apologize: you're right, you can. But it suffers from the same problem as WoW, to me -- it feels painted on and unrepresentative. And everybody around you is pasty and white.

Your second point speaks to the heart of the article, and thanks for making that point: so often, game characters are white-washed both in creation and in population of the avatars inhabiting the world. I'm a pasty white guy myself, and it surprises me to the degree that alternate races are either mis-handled or simply not handled at all. Or, "races" are described as fantasy beings (when really, they probably mean "species," right? Is a troll really just a different "race?").

-- Chuck

Yeah, it's quite strange to be a Black guy during the Origin stories when everyone around you (And in some circumstances your own parents!) are White, so it doesn't make sense.

chuckwendig:

Avida:
The examples you give mentioning games in which you can change race but end up looking like a 'dirty-cheeked white person' is not racism of any sort, its prioritising, marketing, these guys only have so much time and budget and modeling other races means building a new character model which most of the target audience isnt going to pick as generally one will stick to one's own race in this sort of situation. Would you really rather developers spend yet more time putting in measures to stop people being offended by things like this rather than continuing with making their game?

To be clear, I very distinctly say, "I don't think this is racism."

As to whether or not I'd like for them to take some time to offer more realistic racial choices than Pasty White Person? I would. I won't, however, subscribe to the false dichotomy of, "It's either wider racial choices or a better game." I don't think it's either/or.

-- Chuck

The whole argument is so race-centric, this is not the way to approach the issue. If the game is of the sort where it benefits from racial diversity and whereapon it makes sence, that's great, fine, if its not imposing race for race's race is just a waste of time making an issue where there shouldn't be. -

The Sims is a game about people, where you can be who you want to be and do what you want to do, so it has people of every nationality. WoW, dragon age, fable etc have their human parts set in small old-English fantasy locations, bashing them for not representing every nationality is insane, we have the wonder of a vast world large enough for many cultures to exist and co-exist, the humans of wow have goldshire and stormwind - an area about the size of my town, and even then it tried with the retexturing. (New models in WoW do not happen easily, hell onxyia and deathwing still sit on pretty much the same base model, and these are major lore characters)

This is why I imposed the question from my original post - in games where it makes sence to have a diverse racial cast, they usually have one. In games when it doesn't anti-offence money could be put into new mobs to kill instead.

Imho, I found the dragonage origins character creator to be pretty free and open when customizing characters. But then Im sure your right its impossible to create anything but a pasty-white char.

Edit: But I have to agree there is a lack of diversity when actually in the game :P

image

As a pasty white person myself, I wouldn't mind playing more racially diverse characters in games.

Granted, if given a chance to make my own avatar, that avatar would be white, male and in many things resemble me. However, that's because designing an avatar is the game's way of letting me project myself into the world.

But in cases of predetermined protagonists, I would like to see more diversity. I have no trouble being tossed into the role of a character different than myself. So keep up the fight for racial diversity in games! :)

chuckwendig:
Of course, skin color is really only a very small part of it -- beyond that, games could also do a better job actually attempting to embrace different cultures and the traditions of those cultures, but really, one step at a time. :)

-- Chuck

Not to bog you down in a long conversation, but ignoring culture etc. for a moment (one could argue that in a fantasy game culture is at least somewhat uniform) and staying with physical characteristics, one of the things about my warlock is that she still had straight hair. Also, her facial features were narrow and I could yammer on.

On of the big issues with race in video games, I think, is that race is often also a role. In real world games with a fixed protagonist this often means that if a main character is specifically black, he is also a gangster, if specifically Italian, then part of the mob. Non ethnic white is sort of the neutral point that can be anything, but outside of that you are tailored to specific roles. In fantasy games, different races are still different roles just under the guiding role of culture. So all black people may be from the mysterious land far to the south that do things xyz. All Scottish people are dwarves, and they like rock and beer. I think this is not unique to gaming... consider comics where to be black means you are an African weather goddess, a streetwise hero like Luke Cage, or the king of an african nation.

Anyway, those are just my extra thoughts. Cheers!

Did Chuck even PLAY Dragon Age: Origins? Hell, select a Human, then go through the presets and there are black/hispanic/asian archetypes. The character editor is easily MORE advanced than Mass Effect's (they both allow you to tweak the same sliders, but DA:O has more, like voice selection).

It's just that Dragon Age and Mass Effect are both from Bioware, both use a modified Unreal3 engine, and both have customizable characters of similar depth. To bash one then praise the other makes no damn sense to anybody that's played BOTH before. I don't know if he REALLY didn't get it (which is sad), or maybe he was trying to make a point and didn't think we'd notice and/or call him on it (which, for a gaming site, is just plain stupid).

That's not to say that I didn't agree with him, I just think he needs to be more consistent. Calling out DA:O like that was cheap.

Honestly I would like some more racial presets in games, I can make a black person with actual features that look African if I try (I'm white, but I like roleplaying properly if I'm going to) but I can also see why it might be challenging to do well, imagine if you added a black face preset and someone decided it looked like a dated stereotype?

EvolutionKills:
Did Chuck even PLAY Dragon Age: Origins? Hell, select a Human, then go through the presets and there are black/hispanic/asian archetypes. The character editor is easily MORE advanced than Mass Effect's (they both allow you to tweak the same sliders, but DA:O has more, like voice selection).

It's just that Dragon Age and Mass Effect are both from Bioware, both use a modified Unreal3 engine, and both have customizable characters of similar depth. To bash one then praise the other makes no damn sense to anybody that's played BOTH before. I don't know if he REALLY didn't get it (which is sad), or maybe he was trying to make a point and didn't think we'd notice and/or call him on it (which, for a gaming site, is just plain stupid).

That's not to say that I didn't agree with him, I just think he needs to be more consistent. Calling out DA:O like that was cheap.

Again, apologies from me on that point.

I did play DA:O (and, as I say elsewhere on the thread, it should be commended for the way it handles gender and sexuality), but like an asshole I was in the middle of a move and had no access to games during that time. It was a hasty error on my part.

That said, DA:O still has the issue of creating a swarthy character who lives in a very white world: your avatar is less someone of a different race and more someone with a genetic pigmentation problem: "Hey, my family is white, but my skin is deeper than the midnight dark." It ends up feeling the same as WoW: a new coat of paint over a white character.

But I'll totally cop to my error on that, and apologies for doing so.

-- Chuck

Aaaaand no mention of the fact that you CAN do a very good job of creating any race in APB with that games editors. The various editors are easily the best thing (and too most people the only great thing) about the game.

The underlying problem here is the tyranny of the "typical fantasy setting," which means a bunch of pasty white dudes in medieval England or France. There are a lot of opportunities to keep the swords, sorcery and feudalism angle while giving your game a unique visual style and a new mythology to mine - the Reconquista of Spain, the Italian Renaissance, the Caliphate, imperial China.

A similar principle holds for more recent settings. The parts of World War II that we most often revisit are located in France and Germany. Our spies and space exploration stories are based on the Cold War, although occasionally the white guys will be literate in Japanese.

I think a lot of it comes down to layziness. The 'Balck People' in many games are just white people painted brown that bring dubious envoking of the minstrel era. 'Black' features are something many people have trouble representing accurately or at all, there is just to much of a limit on what people feel comfortable designing incasre they get labeled as 'derogetory' or 'caricature' prepresentations of black people.

If your going to do black people then you're going to have to do balck people properly and many devs don't see that as a priority or even feel comfptable with it.

I started reading this thinking "Oh great, some white guy is going to whine to me about how awful it is to be black." then I realized it's not as big a deal as this guy is making it out to be. In pretty much every game where the character is really ME I can choose skin tone. Fallout 3, Mass Effect, the list goes on. The only exception I can think of is Dragon Age, where my attempts at making a black person turned out to be a VERY sun burned white person. And I've never had a sun burn in my life. Though maybe it's something to say that, despite similar game play mechanics and all following the RPG genre, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 are my two favorite games of all time...while Dragon Age was a huge flop in my eyes. Maybe it's that Red Devil creature I created...or maybe I just didn't like the game? Either way there's no real certain way to tell which is true.

So, is out there? Yeah sure, is it a problem? Not really. I even passed up the chance to play as a black character in Borderlands, because Mordecai's abilities trump Roland's in my opinion. My second character was Roland, but I didn't get far before the feeling of "I've done this before" sunk in, and the game started gathering dust. All other games where I'm forced to play as a white person don't really both me much, since it's not really me, it's Marcus Fenix, or John Marston. And even then that's only in Third Person games, first person it doesn't even really matter, I don't see the character except for cut scenes, when it's REALLY not me.

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