269: The Pasty White Person Is King

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I like to imagine a world where developers take the time to program multiple skin tones, feature control, characters with different physiques (which Gears of War is finally attempting to step away from) and animations to fit the new models. Maybe even hire multiple voice actors so that I can pick someone with a southern accent like mine (unlike Brad Pitt in anything that places him in the south). However, I don't see this happening across all developers. If a business tries to cater to individuals, different aspects will suffer. Here are a few options for the people that are needing a character to project themselves onto. I'm sure developers can put characters in full body coverings (or just leave a blank form to navigate the game with) and do away with voice actors so we don't have to worry about racially offensive stereotyping.

I don't see any of this happening. Developers could work on more non-descript games. Writers could focus on stories that are universal and ignore protagonists that could give any pretext to the story at hand.

In short, I play games to entertained. I appreciate your concern with how this will affect the future of the gaming community. Eventually, these features will be available, or people will just over it.

One possible solution to this problem would be for game designers to start making more extensive use of distinctly non-human (or 'humanesque' races such as Dwarves and Elves)protagonists in games.
If noone can identify personally with the main character,everyone can identify with the main character equally.
Toejam and Earl were alien to everyone in every way that one can be alien,culturally and physically.(What they were into was most certainly not hip-hop.)

It's a real pity that non-humans tend to be used for kid-friendly platformers rather than being used for an examination of the world through eyes which percieve it in ways that humans never could(outside of a game,anyway.Say,8 round display areas on screen at once in permanent infrared?) or the human condition from an outsider's point of view.

What I get from all of this is that if you have choices you should try and actually make those choices have some deeper value rather than" I can change things", don't simply have skin tones add a few distinct features as well, especially if you want to immerse the player in the game.

If you're giving character creation choices give as many choices as you can and allow those choices to change the game world where appropriate, such as having your family or offspring resemble you. Anything outside of that isn't necessary but is appreciated.

Making the whole game world a melting pot might not make sense for every setting but in DA:O they could of made your family match the apparent race or skin tone of your own character, that's lost immersion. They actually did this better in Fallout 3, I made a black character and the character's father was black as well, I don't know if your mother was as well but the fact that my father was black definitely drew me into the character.

Yes, dear author, white people are creating games with white characters in them. Therefore, I encourage blacks and Asians to start their own development studios, so we can have more authentic interracial gaming experience, without relying on whites to act like they care.

Mmm, I'm having a little trouble on this one. On the one hand, many games do piss me off with the "paint on" feature, but on the other hand, I'm a little afraid of seeing, "black face" style caricatures of race based on over stereotyped set paths. For my boyfriend and I, playing games like "Fallout 3" where you can have almost complete control over your facial features, we both find that we can pretty accurately get our Mayan noses or dropped-hispanic cheeks in authentically, with lots of work. Who cares if we aren't like the main model? We can fix it.

And in games like WOW where it is so over-the-top beyond us, Screw it, we'll be a troll. If it means we can be a more complex character than an idealized "white-knight-on-shining-horse" paladin, then I can rock my war-child troll rogue any day.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, I already see enough racist-movies in which every hispanic has an "urban-attitude" and "thick" pseudo-accent. Hollywood makes the whole thing look stupid enough. I don't want my video-games throwing me stale "token" characters, either.

So I tried out the Fable 3 villager creator and when I tried to make a villager of either gender I was presented with the option of 3 "black" faces. In fact of the 9 faces I had a choice between either time 3 were "White-British" 3 were "Black" and 3 were "White Other" to use the UK government form terms. Not only this but both Fable 1 and 2 had NPCs who were clearly not "White British" wandering around both times as fairly important parts of the story and as generic NPCs.

Similarly the Fallout 3 engine will not only allow you to create characters of just about any "race" given enough work, which given that the default starting block faces look like lumpy vegetable people is fairly impressive but it also changes the appearance of the character "Dad" slightly depending on the players appearance. He still sounds like Liam Neeson whatever though.

This article was... iffy. Dragon Age, just for example, is a serious attempt to create a fantasy setting; it works on its own rules of ethnic distribution, and creates a number of cultures of varying colours and creeds with influences from all over the place, both real and otherwise. Indeed, the distribution of various ethnicities is, if it must be accurate to ancient Europe, probably quite close, with distant ethnicities cropping up from time to time and people believing in them about as much as they believe in dogheads.

I honestly hate when people come to a serious creative attempt, and lay into it for failing to represent the real world - honestly I think it's admirable the designers facilitated the creation of ethnic minorities at all, given the lineages presented in the storyline and the level of effort went into developing the world.

Me, I found Dragon Age's representation of non-Caucasian/White races and its integration of them into the setting frankly admirable all over. The races and cultures it created, it presented all of them sympathetically and worked hard to avoid creating black and white, they're good, they're evil contrasts, or indeed, they're enlightened, they're barbarians (Blight aside). The Qunari, for instance. Setting aside the need to focus on race, for a moment, I absolutely loved the presentation of gender roles in Qunari culture. The Qunari character isn't sexist, his culture merely has deeply rooted views on gender roles and he isn't disgusted that someone does otherwise.. he just doesn't get it. It nearly breaks his brain. By the end of the game I was almost certain he'd protected himself from further mental injury by deciding to view my female warrior as a guy that happened to have boobs.

Am I looking forward to experiencing, and maybe someday getting to play a character from the non-white races of the Dragon Age world? Hell yes. And atop this, I would like to raise the fact that the world of Dragon Age is a world that all but still thinks the world is /flat/. Vast parts of the world are unexplored and entire cultures may be completely unknown, or just becoming known, to the people of Ferelden.

If anything, this issue is not a lack of consideration on creator's parts, or indeed any sort of racial bias; if this is anything of note at all, this is simply an issue of cultural consciousness - something that isn't really fixable. Sure, it'll probably change itself in time, but then someone else will probably be getting subconsciously slighted. Like Italian-Americans. Now, if a game claims to represent an ethnically diverse setting and forces you to create a character of only a limited choice of ethnicity? Or if a game creates a race that closely parallels a real-world race and fails to represent them in an even-handed fashion? Yeah, then something screwy.

Falseprophet:
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.

Exactly.

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).

Howard's nations aren't just based on real-world cultures, they are explicitly the ancestors of them, as he stated in "The Hyborian Age." After the Ice Age, the remnants of Stygia would give rise to Egypt; the Cimmerians become the Gaels; the Aesir and Vanir become the Danes and Norwegians, and many others. Howard used the Hyborian Age as a "melting pot" so he could have anachronistic nations sharing the same world, and so he could have a single hero go on just about any kind of historical adventure he felt like.

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.

In the case of Howard, it's because of the cyclical nature of civilization: once they rise to a certain height, they become decadent and complacent, and eventually collapse under infighting and barbarian invasions. This happens often enough in real history, where technologies and inventions are lost in a chaotic event. There are also violent cataclysms and sorcerous disasters to consider.

Just do what I do and play random every time. It's a game, not a racial commentary. I see where the author is coming from with this but I really don't think it is a big enough problem (or really a problem at all) to warrant an editorial. The fact of the matter is there is always going to be someone who feels alienated by the lack of representation in any form of media. Hell, people have been arguing about the weak female characters in games for years. As long as we keep making such distinctions between races/sexes the issue will perpetuate. Me, I just don't see how it matters too much. But hey, I don't care about race enough to look into it.

Gee...hope I didn't sound like a racist.

What about the upcoming Shogun 2 Total War, can I complain when it turns out that all of my troops are Japanese!? All the people that whine about "too much white-ness in games" needs to get over themselves.

this thread just shows that people just don't get it.

The complaint that chuck is levying is not something new to just gaming, but to all media. Take a look at movies and you'll see that hollywood is more than happy to play on racial stereotypes for roles, retaining the other roles for white washing.

For the exception of Will Smith and Morgan Freeman, most black actors can only expect to get positive roles in crappy Tyler Perry movies. Most Asian women usually get Dragon lady roles or over sexualized geisha roles to be conquered by the white male lead. Most Asian male actors are either asexual sidekicks, or kungfu masters. (Harold and Kumar is probably one of the fewer examples where the male leads actually get the girl) Native Americans are genuinely the noble shaman variety or none existent at all. Italitan Americans don't get much better either, with a lot of them generally portrayed as gangsters. Hispanics are more often than not immigrants, and so on.

There's nothing wrong with these character archetypes per se (in fact, these roles can still be executed extremely well), but rather the lack of characters in other roles that bothers people. It strengthens the notion that certain races only belong in certain arenas, and the exploration of these issues are often untapped potential for writing.

The movie "21", which was based on a true story, was actually done by a bunch of Asian kids at MIT. Come the movie, and the entire cast turns white.

And hey, you can say that it was a financial decision, and not some malicious conspiracy. That is probably true. But that doesn't mean it's not problematic.

People think that racism is all done with, but that's not true. Racism is alive and well. It's just not an overt thing anymore. That's a good thing, mind you, and significant progress is made. But public perception, institutional bias, and the other leftovers from our troubled racial relations past are still here.

Representation of such in the mainstream media is often a symptom of the greater issue. The fact that games refuse to challenge this is not really their fault, since it's mostly just the trends. But it doesn't mean they CAN'T challenge the status quo.

Personally, I felt that Chuck didn't dig deep enough into the issues, and kind of just skimmed the surface with talks about skin tone and racial looks in games. You can dig quite a bit into the complexities and nuances of this, if you really want. But of course, that's a topic that can spark so much controversy it's not even funny.

I also find that insinuating that white people are "pasty" is insulting.

I have no idea how hard it would be to make your family's hair/skin tone match your character's in DA:O, but I certainly noticed and wished that they'd considered this. I ended up deciding that my character was adopted! Here's a screen-shot I took of her with her "family". Spot the odd one out. :P

...When I went to make a Fable person, the whole program was just faulty. Half the skin tones wouldn't load for random facial shapes, but the white/yellow/black colours were there.

Makes me wonder if you didn't just make a big fuss about a glitch.

What I found really disappointing was simply how limited and ugly the clothing range was for both villagers and main character. And the voices, blech. I went in with an eye to make my own ideal husband/wife but the guys were enforced-ugly and the women only managed 'pretty but plain'.

There was a sense of 'game made by guys for guys', with sexy females (Elise, Victoria(?), whores etc) but no sexy guys at all. Why were the man-whores so ridiculously dressed? It seemed to me like they were trying to discourage use of them. :S

I'm an East Asian male. Whenever I'm presented with a game that allows me to choose my race and gender, I almost always become a dark skinned female. (Chicana or Desi looking)

What does that say about me?

This is probably getting just a bit off-topic, but I though I should point out something about the villager creator for Fable III. This info is a bit useless now, but they had actually added darker skin tones to choose from when it got closer to the release date (but I'll admit that whether that was because of public outcries or that the options simply weren't finished yet, I don't know).

On the whole, your article is right. There are a lot of pasty white people in games and it can get kind of tiring (and that's coming from a pasty white chick).

Article translation to follow

"Brawwwrr, I want to be pretentious about something, race is always a great button, and if I say something that in anyway demonizes anything white no one will disagree because that'll make them a racist, because anything that features white people is racist and disagreeing is a clear sign of racism."

or, condensed for brevity...

" There's no issue, lets make an issue out of nothing. Ahhhh, there, its been awhile since their has been a good pointless bitch session."

A couple of things here. I'm white and when I play games I actually never play as a human if at all possible. Sometimes I pick the female roles just because I'm tired of staring at my stupid male avatar when I play. I think its the most boring thing to play as yourself in a game that represents dream space. Then again, since I'm white I've never had to feel under represented. But you have a point that the option should be available..... in most cases. which brings me to my next point.

I understand that it is fantasy and "what sense does it make to have dragons and magic, but not include any other ethnicity?" Well...... its not so much that its fantasy in general but a specific fantasy. All of the fantasy genre you see today is cast after Tolkien style fantasy which takes place in a middle age European settings with wild images of Magic, dragons, hell fire and brimstone. Which is traditional European Caucasian Lore. So to ask them to change the Lore because you feel under represented is like asking any other group of people to alter their culture to fit someone else's. So I feel for you but its not like the genre was cast for ethnicity it was cast in a particular fashion and the changes would come across as crass or "built in." Basically, they don't care and probably never will because its like rewriting their books. Which is probably one of the reasons Sci fi and fantasy are at such odds. However, I understand that things are different then when J.R took pen to paper and the game developers should adapt, BUT that brings me to my final point.

It's all about money and stats. It costs a lot to hire a team of programmers to do anything let alone design an entire character system that includes all models and walks of life. That is why so few games can do it. The sims is sited as the best well look at it. Its made by EA, has almost a 15 year franchise history, and probably over 25 installments. Clearly they've had time and money to work out a few kinks. If they thought it would truly boost their sales they would probably go ahead and do it. But the numbers don't lie and they're making their money. So I can't blame anyone for feeling left out but do consider the details.

~~ADDED Post postedly~~

And I blame the article for this thought now. But everyone here is lumping "white" into one ethnicity. There's a lot of different creeds out there and I can say the grating voice overs of bumbling British actors in fable is a pretty poor representation of Caucasian diversity. But we won't complain about that because that's the point. Ah HA! think about that.

Maybe game designers can't imagine why someone would choose to be black!... or maybe they don't see character creation, or inclusion as a big deal. There were black people in Fable1, I remember that African teacher, and his daughter. But stop moaning about medieval videogames, in medieval times, different races tended to be the enemy, we didn't invite them 'home' right away.

Look at the Lord of the Rings trilogy, how many black people?

Lots! - It's just that they are all trolls and goblins or whatever black people apparantly descended from :D. That's a joke, it's tough to post on this without appearing racist.

And I think that is the biggest problem... it's difficult to portray a race without excluding other races, those other races ask why they aren't included. It is difficult to texture a black character without the fear of being accused of racism, just like it's difficult to model a woman character without someone crying foul, crying sexist, crying about why there are no ugly women with small tits in the game. Plain old white guy is the only guy who doesn't give game designers or artists any trouble. Add in one character, and you need more, otherwise that character is seen as a token, then you go from a desire to instil fairness and equilibrium in a game becomes a massive can of worms. It's quite tricky to texture black people without it looking rushed - but if it's a design aspect from the start, then it looks fine, actually I'd say it's particularly impressive to see a well modelled and textured black person - like in Resident Evil 5, the black characters in that look incredible... black people done right if you know what I mean.

Fallout3 cannot get away with only having white people, it's not medieval, it has no excuse so the inclusion of different races is a given from the design process. When designers and artists look for inspiration for a medieval game, they just don't see a lot of black people, don't read about them, and there's far less justification in adding them. Remember, add one black person to your game and you double the character art workload, add Asian and you triple it, then every other race complains about their exclusion. It's much easier and more cost effective to just dismiss race, go for vanilla white folk, and hope that nobody notices... it's not a racial discrimination, it's a 'pain in the ass' discrimination!

Hey CJ, Niko called, he was angry about being left out.

You know, you don't have to play the games.

Crowbarred-in "diversity" is a scourge.

Peter Molyneux has taken your critisism into consideration: in the next Fable, all malicious pedophiles will be black.

Seriously though, I've wondered about this, and I think it's mainly because most game developers are white. I don't expect that they're motivated by racism, just that when you ask someone 'think of a person', he/she tends to think of him/her self. This might also go some way towards explaining the lack of female protagonists.

Probably not the whole reason, but I think it contributes. Also not an excuse, game developers could try harder to make their human characters more diverse.

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