269: The Pasty White Person Is King

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Most fantasy like dragon age and fable are based on european legends and folklore. So why the hell would they feature characters from african or asian backgrounds?! If I'm playing a game loosely based on medieval japan, I wouldn't expect to be playing a caucasian. I'm all for cultural diversity, but putting in a random ethnic character in a tolkienseque fantasy game, just for the sake of political correctness is just plain stupid! It's like casting a black guy in Pride and Prejudice or an oriental guy to play Shaka Zulu. Even fantasy has to have some grounding in reality (at least good fantasy dose), otherwise it destroys the suspension of disbelief.

i7omahawki:
Three pages basically saying 'yeah...we should improve character creation by making black people look black etc.'

You mention Fallout 3, and say that the characters look white, no they don't. I've never seen anybody who looked vaguely like those characters. The whole article just seems to point out that character creation should be better, well duh!

Seems like a moot point dressed up to seem more interesting than it is.

Fallout 3 was one of the more recent RPG's who had negroid looking blacks rather then the brown caucasian with swollen lips. So anyone who say's that needs a Vindicator Minigun shoved up their pooper.

While I basically agree with Chuck's point. I have to say: This will never end.

I am of mixed heritage, I have a rather uncommon skin tone, and mixed facial features.
My bloodline consists of all kinds of ethnicities.
However much I would like it....I'll never get anything better than rough approximation of my appearance.......

My point is:
There's simply far too much diversity to actually cater to everyone.

And if we ever got to the point (however unlikely) where say, 90% of the world's population could be represented by every character creator in every game....

How do you think the leftover 10% would react?

chuckwendig:

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

Wow, I did sound a little harsh there, didn't I? Sorry about that, but it's good to see you have shown the sign of a true gentlemen! Props.

-Evolution

BobDobolina:
My votes for the three most clueless types of objection to the article are:

1. "Of course they're white! All our fantasy is based on medieval England or recycled versions of Tolkien!"

This motif is my personal favorite.

I mean, no kidding, geniuses. Maybe that's the problem, hey? Maybe a little imagination in "fantasy" settings, which are supposed to be about imagination after all, is in order. Maybe every bloody setting doesn't have to be a clone of medieval England, and maybe there's no excuse for settings that consist of recycled Tolkien cliches.

But this is different from my point. My point is that if you do a detailed fantasy version inspired by Norse and Celtic medieval Europe, such as say Dragon Age or LOTR, there is a reason why "people of color" do not appear.

The fact that too many games focuses on that cultural area is a completely different issue.

wildcard9:
As a gamer and a Mexican-American, I've just recently come to terms with race issues in this nation (Thank you, Arizona...) You know, Moviebob did a video on this as well (Mississippi pwnage or something like that) where he confronted the issue head-on.

I think the main issue is that most forms of geek culture are predominantly white and Asian: comics, manga, anime, video games, tabletop games, and other such games were created mostly if not all by Whites and Asians. As such, these forms of media are aimed at said groups and patronized mostly said groups. It took a while for minority characters to finally break the mold, and they were token ones at that (Black-fill in the blank, for example)

Nowadays, American audiences are too used to a White protagonist to where minority protagonists are overshadowed or simply not selling well (see: Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle). If we want to see more ethnic-inclusion, we'll need true efforts to reach across the isles and have stories that appeal to minority audiences, preferably written by minorities themselves (Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers, for example). And we'll have to hold them by the same standard or else we'll get crap using the excuse that it's the only alternative for their respective audiences (see: Tyler Perry for Black audiences and...Twilight...shudder...for Women audiences).

PS: I've made sure this post is flame-repellent. I learned by lesson...

PPS: The only Mexican American superhero I could think of was Jamie Reyes: Blue Beetle. The only Mexican superhero I can think of is El Chapulin Colorado. To be fair, superheroism is more of an American thing, I suppose....

Is Jaime Reyes a popular Mexican name? Deus Ex had a scientist named Jaime Reyes. That just randomly came to mind.

I should also point out that I agree completely with your points.

Another thing that just struck me: The original author says he need something more than just Skin Deep. Okay, fair; but how do we do it? Having a black character with an African-American inner city slang accent would be awful. Now if you got an actual *African* accent, then it I can accept it. Basically, a black PC living in a Fantasy Medieval Europa should have say a Kenyan accent, not an American accent.

Anyway, another thing, speaking about Dragon Age: Since you can't play as a human commoner, there is *no reason* why you should be able to play a person of color and it making sense (maybe they could throw in a line about you being adopted?), since it doesn't make sense from the cultural context to have a Fereldian noble being anything but white, and preferably a redhead.
Compare this to say the Mage origin where you can be any color you want, because you are an orphan.

Stefan Eriksson:
But this is different from my point. My point is that if you do a detailed fantasy version inspired by Norse and Celtic medieval Europe, such as say Dragon Age or LOTR, there is a reason why "people of color" do not appear.

I don't particularly buy this, either. This only works for very artificially restricted versions of Celtic or Nordic settings.

"Celtic medieval" is a very particular sort of pastiche of an idea that corresponds with very little in the way of the actual medieval; Celtic culture as such was only a going concern, and then only in an attenuated form, in Ireland and the outlying areas of the Britain during the real Middle Ages. If you're going to engage in that kind of pastiche and anachronistic mixing and matching of eras, but then decide to avoid any version of the Celtic world that might overlap with the regions of Europe that were more "racially" diverse -- the real Celtic world most definitely did overlap with such regions at its fullest extent -- that's basically an arbitrary call, not a constraint of historical accuracy.

The medieval Nordic world in real life had all sorts of interactions with the broader world. Again, "Nordic medieval" is another one of these ahistorical pastiches, because the Scandinavian world that's usually drawn on for these purposes is pre-medieval: but that pre-medieval world voyaged to the Americas, raided extensively in the Mediterranean, contended with Turkic tribes, provided mercenaries for Byzantine emperors and traded with the caliphs of Baghdad. All of this again is very artificially bracketed out of most fantasy RPG pastiches supposedly drawing on that background, and again it's arbitrary, not a function of historical accuracy.

Having just read your article, I felt the need to check and see if what you said about WOW character generation is true. IT is not, in about 30 seconds I generated a human male with mahogany skin, a broad flat nose, thick lips, and a flattp haircut. This character still had generic fantasy world clothing but that is a cultural not a racial thing. I don't play the other games you mention, but if your wromg about WOW you might be wrong about them too. PS Do you even know what a Moor is or how few of them would be in a 14 century english village.

Falseprophet:
Even Tolkien had the Easterlings and Haradrim. It's hard to tell if he was basing them on real-world cultures, but they were darker-skinned than the Westron peoples most of the main characters came from. Unfortunately they all fought for the villains, but they were there.

There were dark-skinned folk who fought against Sauron, too: the people of Dol Amroth, Pelargir and Lossarnach are noticeably swarthy. (Where were they in the movies?)

And yes, Tolkien was hugely influential on modern fantasy. But there are other influences: the Conan stories had characters of many races.

The thing to remember about both Middle-earth and the Hyborian Age is that they are explicitly set in the prehistoric past of our earth. Therefore, Tolkien & Howard were free to do a lot, but they had to keep to a certain level of historicity. There's also the fact that world politics in Middle-earth are very different from Medieval Europe, where the amount of trade and interchange would've been much smaller due to Sauron's influence.

PanicxBoss:

Mr Pantomime:
Also, i'd like to play as a Hispanic main character in a shooter. Merely a whim though

Remember little old Modern Warfare 2? Remember Sergeant Foley persistently pestering you with comments like "RAMIREZ! TAKE OUT THAT GUNSHIP WITH YOUR KNIFE!"?

Wish granted, my friend!

I might actually play that game again. Now, for your second test, Jewish playable character

I like to consider myself colourblind. Hell, I've never actually noticed what colour skin any of the characters in my games have... Shit... /mind blown

Anyway, on topic, though: it's weird that in todays modern world, there are still people who view race as something worth pointing out.

Skin is skin. The less attention paid to it the better.

Mr Pantomime:
what really annoys me is when they have a black character in a game just to tick a box eg Sahz from FFXIII, or the sergent from Bad Company 2. I really felt when seeing these characters that the dev team just thought "ok, lets put in this black guy, ok, done, everyone else can be white as usual". I rather that game developers put in characters of different races because they wan to, not because they feel obliged. Also, i'd like to play as a Hispanic main character in a shooter. Merely a whim though

Just Cause 2 is more of a sandbox-explosions game than a shooter, but Rico Rodriguez is definitely more Hispanic than Caucasian, even if the developers do describe him as "mulatto-Hispanic".

I don't quite get you saying that about Fable, really, seeing as "black people" apparently invented gunpowder and katanas in that game's universe.
It also seems that they hate coming to Albion and are only interested in trade, but since they're apparently a combination of African and Asian people, you could argue that they were just doing the Japanese "trade only" thing.

When it comes down to it, though, I don't care if the character I'm playing is white, black or purple.
I played Luis Lopez in The Ballad of Gay Tony, it was a good game and his ethnicity didn't effect my experience (other than him swearing every now and then in a language I didn't speak, of course).

Mr Pantomime:
I might actually play that game again. Now, for your second test, Jewish playable character

I don't know about main character, but after a quick search I've discovered that Dr Kleiner from Half-Life 2 is Jewish.
Odd fact, yes, but it's true... apparently.

Also, my main character from Mass Effect 1-2 has a Jewish facial profile, he's the most convincing character I've ever made in the "create-you-own" part of any game, actually.
So, I guess games with custom main characters have room for you to be Jewish, should race actually matter to you.

One thing I'd like to see - if it's at a time or place where we'd have to deal with some sort of racism (I'm bi-racial myself) - is to play that out. Moors didn't own property in Albion (which some Moors really did), play a character that has to break through that. Asians were generally merchants? Come to Albion and play that out.

I'd be interested in that.

Of course, then you have to deal with people mistaking a story reflecting racism as being racist.

Taranaich:

Falseprophet:
Even Tolkien had the Easterlings and Haradrim. It's hard to tell if he was basing them on real-world cultures, but they were darker-skinned than the Westron peoples most of the main characters came from. Unfortunately they all fought for the villains, but they were there.

There were dark-skinned folk who fought against Sauron, too: the people of Dol Amroth, Pelargir and Lossarnach are noticeably swarthy. (Where were they in the movies?)

Thanks for bringing that up (I haven't read the books in years). So there's even more support for non-pasty white people in epic fantasy.

And yes, Tolkien was hugely influential on modern fantasy. But there are other influences: the Conan stories had characters of many races.

Taranaich:
The thing to remember about both Middle-earth and the Hyborian Age is that they are explicitly set in the prehistoric past of our earth. Therefore, Tolkien & Howard were free to do a lot, but they had to keep to a certain level of historicity. There's also the fact that world politics in Middle-earth are very different from Medieval Europe, where the amount of trade and interchange would've been much smaller due to Sauron's influence.

OK, that might be stretching things a bit. While the nations in Howard's Hyborian Age were superficially based on real-world cultures, he had a lot of cultures that didn't exist at the same time in real history as neighbours. You have Bronze Age-level Stygia and Shem (Egypt/Arabia), next to classical Argos (Greece/Rome), next to Dark Ages Aquilonia (Carolingian France).

Also, these works tend to have a lot of anachronism: how many epic fantasy novels have I read where weapons and armour technology have stayed the same for thousands of years, while bookbinding and literacy are commonplace? There might be justifiable reasons for that state of affairs, but few books ever explain why.

Perhaps it's already been said, but I remember being really impressed with Fallout 3's character creation. I created my lock-picking, scientific, conversing, black dude complete with goatee and when it went through the whole birthing sequence my first sights were of a proud, smiling, black father. I don't remember any other relatives from the game, but I remember how much it surprised me that they would get that detail right.

BobisOnlyBob:

Mr Pantomime:
what really annoys me is when they have a black character in a game just to tick a box eg Sahz from FFXIII, or the sergent from Bad Company 2. I really felt when seeing these characters that the dev team just thought "ok, lets put in this black guy, ok, done, everyone else can be white as usual". I rather that game developers put in characters of different races because they wan to, not because they feel obliged. Also, i'd like to play as a Hispanic main character in a shooter. Merely a whim though

Just Cause 2 is more of a sandbox-explosions game than a shooter, but Rico Rodriguez is definitely more Hispanic than Caucasian, even if the developers do describe him as "mulatto-Hispanic".

I always thought he was Cuban-American. He reminded me of Tony from Scarface

not really fair as there ARE African faces in the Fable 3 character creator...

I'll admit I haven't read the entire thread, so forgive me if these have been mentioned already:

- IIRC, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion character editor did let you alter features in a number of ways so you could have a darker skin and distinct African features.
- The Fallout 3 hispanic mold seemed distinctly hispanic to me. Note: I'm in Brazil.
- Character editors in sports games in general are not shy from presenting distinctive African features in character models. I can attest the Fifa series does this from at least the 2006 version.

This last one may actually say more about how developers approach the issue than one might think, since these are *sports* games. I'll leave the conclusions to you.

ChromeAlchemist:

wildcard9:

PPS: The only Mexican American superhero I could think of was Jamie Reyes: Blue Beetle. The only Mexican superhero I can think of is El Chapulin Colorado. To be fair, superheroism is more of an American thing, I suppose....

Is Jaime Reyes a popular Mexican name? Deus Ex had a scientist named Jaime Reyes. That just randomly came to mind.

"Jaime" means "James" and "Reyes" means "Kings" in Spanish. So literally, his name is "James Kings". Both are common names.

to be fair anyone who spends that much time underneath full body armor will be paler than snow

I find it interesting that none of the articles posted this week (especially this one, which seems to be the nexus of white guilt) make any mention of Left 4 Dead or especially L4D2.

Seriously, i doubt it would matter if you play as a white guy or a black guy. Its the game and its story, not the character model that matters to me.

They may have updated, or you simply didn't notice, but Black and Hispanic races are available in the Fable III Villager Creator.

kementari:
I find it interesting that none of the articles posted this week (especially this one, which seems to be the nexus of white guilt) make any mention of Left 4 Dead or especially L4D2.

A few touch on RE5; is that what you were trying to imply with L4D2?

The Aimless One:
And if we ever got to the point (however unlikely) where say, 90% of the world's population could be represented by every character creator in every game....

How do you think the leftover 10% would react?

They will be drowned out by the 90% of the world.

No seriously, it's more the fact that at the moment we only cater to the 20~30% when we can as easily (well, in a sense) cater for the 50~70%.

I think it is an intriguing concept to flesh out. I personally have never really thought about the need for racial diversity in game. I may be panned for that simply because I am a white male, but I don't think that's it. I just strike a melding balance between character avatar and my own projection of self in the immersion that is gameplay. I create male and female characters of various heights and weights in rpg's. I just never really thought about the lack of racial diversity. If I'm playing COD:MW or it's sequel I don't note that I'm playing a European SAS agent (presumably English) rather then an American. When I'm playing GTA:SA I don't note the fact that I'm playing an African/American. I can effectively balance the character design with the immersion of self.

Having said that, I really like the idea of being given more freedom when one gets to set one's avatar to a customized level. Great article. Made me think about the issue at all. :)

kementari:
I find it interesting that none of the articles posted this week (especially this one, which seems to be the nexus of white guilt) make any mention of Left 4 Dead or especially L4D2.

Interesting you should mention that. Louis and Zoey are tied for my favorite characters to play in L4D, and Coach in L4D2 is by far my favorite character to play. :)

Zero_ctrl:
They may have updated, or you simply didn't notice, but Black and Hispanic races are available in the Fable III Villager Creator.

At the time, all I could manage was three pasty white faces.

But yeah -- now you have an African-American and... well, "other color."

Which is great. I'd love to think somebody read the article and responded, but I shan't be quite so vain. :)

Thanks for pointing that out!

-- Chuck

I'll be honest - I haven't read all the comments here so I may be going over old ground.

I think the first thing that needs to be mentioned is the use of the word 'race' in the article, and throughout the comments. It has been stated that "any strategy aimed at confronting issues of 'race' and racism needs to start with a more complex and context-specific understanding of the nature of racism". Please do not forget that 'race' is a social construct, there is no biological basis to say Black people belong to a different race than Hispanic people. There is only one race: the human race. So you have to be careful when you use the word, as it can be used in such a way as to give credibility to stereotypes etc. It would be better to talk about ethnicity rather than race.

However, that does not mean there is no such thing as racism. And one thing to bear in mind is that racism is not just BNP/Ku Klux Klan type stuff - a lot of people would argue that they are not racist - "Oh, I have Black friends, so I'm not racist"/"I don't actively discriminate against people who have different skin tones". However, as the Stephen Lawrence report aptly pointed out, racism can be institutionalised - so racism is not only the obvious and deliberate forms of racial hatred but is also related to unintended and thoughtless acts that have the effect of discriminating or producing inequality. And I would argue that by limiting a player's choice in character choice/design, then it could easily be said the games industry is racist.

armchaircyclist, like you I felt motivated to register just to comment on this thread. Successful troll is successful it seems. Well played, Chuck.

And again, like armchaircyclist, I skipped the bulk of the commentary. So let me just reply to him, also at the risk of going over old ground: you might want to Google up "Lewontin's Fallacy" before declaring the human species to be "the human race." I'm sure Darwin turns in his grave every time someone parrots that threadbare cliche.

You are right about institutional racism however. For example, the kind that's so ingrained, so normative, that it's hard to pin down as "real racism." For instance, degrading an entire people as aesthetically inferior through the use of a sneery little slur like, oh I don't know, "pasty" perhaps?

Oh hang on, that'd actually be pretty blatant racism, now wouldn't it? Hmm... Like I said, splendid troll.

Why should we expect games depicting fictional worlds far removed from our own to be representative of our own? I can understand such concern in games with modern settings, but beyond that I don't get it.

Instead of answering this question the article wastes far too many words on examples of why something should change without explaining how why those examples are examples beyond "hey, there's Whitey again."

rddj623:

kementari:
I find it interesting that none of the articles posted this week (especially this one, which seems to be the nexus of white guilt) make any mention of Left 4 Dead or especially L4D2.

Interesting you should mention that. Louis and Zoey are tied for my favorite characters to play in L4D, and Coach in L4D2 is by far my favorite character to play. :)

Yep. Rochelle reporting for duty.

I just went onto the Fable 3 villager editor. Either they read your article or you didn't look very well, because you can now make villagers black.

But apart from that great article

The whole reason we have difference in race in the first place is due to the different conditions that each ethnic group found itself. African features are a direct result of living in Africa and are adaptions to that environment. If you set a fantasy game with a medieval Briton environment and climate and your back story has migration between parts of the world to be almost non-exsitant then of course you are not going to have your game populated by African facial features or asian facial features, it would be absurd.

If you were to set a game in an African environment then the idea of everyone being white would be absurd but there is much less in the way of evocative imigary to draw on when people think of Africa so it isn't done.

Why should games developers have to create fiction to that is politically correct, if they want to design a fantasy game based off of medieval England then they should be allowed to do so, they shouldn't feel that just because it is fantasy that they should throw in every single representation of human into what is likely a equivilent to a tiny area of land. Think about how far apart people are in the real world and then think about how big that game world really is. Should that 100sq miles really contain a melting pot of all human kind. If Bioware say that darker skinned humans are further north in Dragon Age and that they plan on going further north in future releases then why should the be forced to shoehorn them into where they should not be.

You mentioned Fallout but failed to mention Oblivion the other Bethesda title where you can go a Redguard who have distinctly African features and there are many Redguard in the game enen though it is set in Cyrodil which is where the Imperials origionated from.

I honestly did not like this article, I also don't think admiting that you are being overly harsh should exhonerate the article from critism. If you knew you were being overly harsh you should have dialed it back not just admit to it and then use that as a shield to avoid critism (I dont know what others think but thats very much how it feels to me).

I have no problem with encouraging the games industry to create titles which represent different sections of society. It would be interesting for example to see fantasy games set in an Arabic style land or Asian but I do not agree with the idea that every game should represent a cross section of all humans.

Kaihlik

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