269: Praise Diversity, Address Inequality

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Its not just games, its the media as a whole. We had a white American guy play the prince of Persia and a White Brit playing the princess. I always thought the clue was in the title.

Protagonists are mostly white (American) because thats the biggest audience. Simple economics. All those white American kids can root for the hero. You can mention games that don't but if we're honest these are exceptions. I enjoyed playing a Brit in COD4, if I'm not James Bond it doesn't happen very often.

It's not just White that has the monopoly. It's "white American". Look at all of the WWII games/TV/Movies that would have you think America was the only member of the allies in the whole war. America seems to struggle with anyone elses culture full stop. If America makes a good TV show it will be imported into the UK and enjoyed as is (with less commercial breaks). If the UK make good TV (and we can make some great TV) then an American version is made with an all Yank cast. Either the people incharge think its the case, or it is the case, that Americans can't relate to or enjoy cultures other than their own.

unabomberman:

Huh?

I haven't called people racist. All I'm saying is that those who own the means of production perpetrate a status quo full of tereotypes of minorities. Some among those people might be racist and some won't, but I'm not implying a generalized intention to defame, put down, or what have you, if that is what you mean.

My apologies, I projected past iterations of this discussion onto your statements.

Your assertion, then, is that minorities do not have the means or opportunity to produce media created by minority authors.

At what level are you talking about? If it's a very low level (writing, concepting), then what would you see as the solution?

If it's at a higher level (getting books published, movies produced, games developed), why do you feel that minority authors can't use the existing infrastructure (most forms of media are not produced by their writers)?

unabomberman:

That is a way to approach the argument, but by that same token I could say that Howard is white and society makes no more assumptions about him at face value than it does about Sheldon, Leonard, or Penny; and by contrast it would do so about Raj. That's teh sticking point here: society's view towards the other.

I could also say that I'm a mexican that tends towards the white spectrum and if you looked at me you migt be inclined to say that I might very well be a tanned white guy from, say, Spain, and I for sure wouldn't get treated much differently than my perceived pasty brethren. I would get Sheldon treatment, not Raj treatment (though on a trip to Arisona I already got myself a "spic" call once so who knows).

EDIT: Added this to avoid double post...

Racism is not about hate solely but about also willful ignorance and willful lack of sensitivity to other people's cultures and backgrounds of the ethnic kind.

As for the Drow, well, aren't they like the bad guys? Kinda like the LOTR orcs? If so, they are definitively racist 'cause, well, isn't the entire race evil?

Not all Drow are evil ;.; You have those that worship Eilistraee rather than Lolth and Vhaeraun and ....

But geekish fanboyism aside.

Fact of the matter is that India has a different culture to that of the US. Because people do get hurt too easily if one isn't cautious about what they say amidst others from a different cultural and political upbringing as you then of course they are going to be seen as 'different'.

One day Humanity will get over cultural "insecurities" and nationalism and we'll all beable to insult eachother freely with reckless abandon. Until that day comes it's natural that one group of people sharing a very particular cultural upbringing will feel somewhat offput bwhen presented by someone who is perceived as alien.

I would have hoped by the 21st century everybody could drop veiled pretentious attitudes concerning the 'politically correct' things to do. Instead we are all expected to show respect to another cultural heritage of which we know nothing about. If you offend someone with what you say, even if you didn't know that it would offend someone, you're a bad guy.

I think pretentious attitudes (what I call the 'hey, look how un-racist we are by having a couple of black guys thrown into the tv show... we're like soooooooo diversity loving' effect) towards the sanctity of culture, religion and nationalism is eventually going to start regressing society.

Why the FUCK are people still referring to themselves as "half this"? Half of WHAT!? Does it even matter? People use it as a moniker to express what they represent ... which is such a fucking ludicrous concept that serves to both infuriate reasoning, and squander any chance of just being a normal, affable person ... rather than an idiot of whom everybody has to tiptoe around because we don't want to offend them because we haven't spent a year or two studying their particular cultural heritage and national history.

So ... in short ... The Bigbang theory is representative of another problem, but no the one you posted. You say that it's lslightly racist because Raj is seen as 'different' ...

I say the show is racist because of PC idiots trying not to offend people by constantly remarking how different Raj is, and despite the fact that we can't know about his culture, therefore we should tiptoe around it because it's sacrosanct.

So we assume he's an Indian ... and that because he's Indian he's different? Why is he different? Isn't it safe to assume that Raj is going to be like 99.9% of other people in the world who just wants money, food and sex?

As soon as Humanity loses the pretentiousness that we're all 'special' because of nationality and arbitrary concepts of culture the better we'll be for it. We're not 'special' .. we're human. We want money, food and sex and we should find commonality in that purpose, but of course idiots inflate the 'importance' of culture and nationality .... in the end dividing us in ways that we can never be properly unified as a singular species.

That felt good to get out of my system x.x

If we ever wish to escape stereotyping then we have to drop the idea that culture is sacred. Embrace the idea that people are not a product of their nations but of OTHER PEOPLE.

The way I see it ... screw 'culture' (as in, the fake piece of shit concept we have of culture as referred to by arbitrary notions of geography and religion), nationality and ESPECIALLY the people that treat either as sacrosanct.

you seem to succumb to the default deformation of jurnalists: "topic A is of same value in discussion as topic B or any other". even if you admit that race isn't what makes mass effect play differently you still say it is topic worth the debate. I won't give a fuck what zombie race will I be when somebody actually makes AAA game where I lead zombie army to conquer the world. lemme help ya, every conversation over internet is jedi vs. jedi, they call you "who brought the nigga" and you should kill him off with "and who brought the retard?"

AceCalhoon:

unabomberman:

Huh?

I haven't called people racist. All I'm saying is that those who own the means of production perpetrate a status quo full of tereotypes of minorities. Some among those people might be racist and some won't, but I'm not implying a generalized intention to defame, put down, or what have you, if that is what you mean.

My apologies, I projected past iterations of this discussion onto your statements.

Your assertion, then, is that minorities do not have the means or opportunity to produce media created by minority authors.

At what level are you talking about? If it's a very low level (writing, concepting), then what would you see as the solution?

If it's at a higher level (getting books published, movies produced, games developed), why do you feel that minority authors can't use the existing infrastructure (most forms of media are not produced by their writers)?

My assertions is that minorities do have means to put their voices forth, but they pale in comparison (availability, outreach, etc) to those owned by the majority that owns the more sophisticated means of production. Not only do they get dwarfed by the total output of the majority but also by the concepts being projected about them by said majority, good or bad.

An allegorical example:

If you are inside of a room where everyone is screaming stuff about you or people like you, good or bad, you are always free to join and scream your two cents, but that does not mean that your singular voice will register as much as the other ones.

It would be nice if the other people screaming turned around, asked your oppinion, and then continued with their screaming after having considered what you said, don't you think?

Nobody has to get testy or anything. It's just being civillized.

I just realized we aren't being represented as gamers in games. Where is the overweight, pimply-faced, glasses wearing socially awkward main character? There should be a patch for every game that features us as a character. For example:

In Assassin's Creed, our patched character attempts to run up a wall, only to lean heavily on it after just a few wobbly steps. Sweat drips down, driving away friend and foe alike.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed...is anybody else thinking about a certain youtube video persona?

Halo: Reach...flabs of flesh leaking out of the Spartan armor.

Paksenarrion:
I just realized we aren't being represented as gamers in games. Where is the overweight, pimply-faced, glasses wearing socially awkward main character? There should be a patch for every game that features us as a character. For example:

In Assassin's Creed, our patched character attempts to run up a wall, only to lean heavily on it after just a few wobbly steps. Sweat drips down, driving away friend and foe alike.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed...is anybody else thinking about a certain youtube video persona?

Halo: Reach...flabs of flesh leaking out of the Spartan armor.

Sometimes the stereotyping of gamers is evident in games ... the old model of the Imperial Guard (generic force) lieutenant was a fat, bald dude wielding a shotgun. His rotund form was just (barely) contained by the guard flak armour he wore.

http://cgi.ebay.com/40k-OOP-IMPERIAL-GUARD-LIEUTENANT-fat-belly-FUN_W0QQitemZ150480052833QQcategoryZ158714QQcmdZViewItem

unabomberman:

My assertions is that minorities do have means to put their voices forth, but they pale in comparison (availability, outreach, etc) to those owned by the majority that owns the more sophisticated means of production. Not only do they get dwarfed by the total output of the majority but also by the concepts being projected about them by said majority, good or bad.

An allegorical example:

If you are inside of a room where everyone is screaming stuff about you or people like you, good or bad, you are always free to join and scream your two cents, but that does not mean that your singular voice will register as much as the other ones.

It would be nice if the other people screaming turned around, asked your oppinion, and then continued with their screaming after having considered what you said, don't you think?

Nobody has to get testy or anything. It's just being civillized.

That is an interesting take on the matter. Thank you for clarifying.

I agree with most of the article, though I do have one point to raise about the whole Resident Evil debacle:

People often forget that what might be racist in one country is not necessarily racist in another country. People in Japan, for instance, are probably only vaguely aware of imperialism in Africa, so trying to imply that the game is the result of even subconscious racism is just flat out wrong.

This doesn't get them a free pass of course. Once the developers learned how insensitive this type of game appears to a westerner they were obligated to change it. However, I don't think Resident Evil 5 was a product of racism any more than say, the Spanish zombies in RE4 were.

boholikeu:
I agree with most of the article, though I do have one point to raise about the whole Resident Evil debacle:

People often forget that what might be racist in one country is not necessarily racist in another country. People in Japan, for instance, are probably only vaguely aware of imperialism in Africa, so trying to imply that the game is the result of even subconscious racism is just flat out wrong.

This doesn't get them a free pass of course. Once the developers learned how insensitive this type of game appears to a westerner they were obligated to change it. However, I don't think Resident Evil 5 was a product of racism any more than say, the Spanish zombies in RE4 were.

I/m not sure it could be said that they are only "vaguely aware" of imperialism in Africa.
Whomever made that game was an adult. Yes, the game does offend sensibilities, but that is in large part because of the history of Africans and afro descendants as an oppresed population. You can't help but to equate it with that if your cultural background fascilitates it.

But you are right on the money on the other things you say. On grounds of merit RE5 should not be any more offensive, which is still plenty, than, say, RE2 or RE4, you know what I mean? It depends on who's looking.

In RE4 a caucasian blond white male is stomping foreign soil trying to save the daughter of the president (a caucasian blond white woman) from the unruly natives that exhibit nothing but antisocial behavior, not only towards outsiders but to themselves. Even his initial attempts to establish some middle ground are shrugged aside by their sheer brutality.

There is a peripheric scene at the beginning of the game where you can go inside a shack to pick up supplies and you have a run-un with a female corpse impaled on over the head hanging from a wall.

But In the middle of all the carnage that you both witness and partake there is always time for the caucasian white guy to engage in, well...shopping from what could very well be described as a death profiteer ("welcome stranger!").

What exactly is that about? Is it a statement of the superiority american democracy over a decaying Europe? After all, the game was made by a nation that was defeated by the U.S and occupied at the tail end of WWII, which in turn deeply shook up its cultural workings to the core, to the point of reshaping society and, in large part, its values.

Now let's go back in time and take a look at RE2 where you use the aforementioned caucasian white guy and his friend: the caucasian white girl. There they try to survive a generic american multicultural city that is falling apart all around them after a viral outbreak. How do they manage this? Blowing the populace to smithereens because they are thy are the living death, of course.

Also, a deduction could be made about the inner workings of the city by looking at the puzzles from the game. It is not hard to notice that Racoon City is an odd place, with oddly placed statues, strange key puzzles, odd architectural blunders, their odd police station actually headed by a sociopathic madman, etc., etc., etc. What kind of culture is this? Hell, not even levers work the way they're supposed to!

Even before the outbreak, would that be a place where you would feel at home? Clearly those mixed people in that mixed society had odd ways of life, noncompatible with the normal society of ours.

Odd, eh?

The argument could take a lot of different shapes but that's not to say we should not have a honest discussion about it.

Take for example N'Gai Croal's take on RE5. I would not say we should agree with him exactly on what he says, especially considering possible issues someone might have given RE4 and RE2's subject matter. Yet that does not mean we should not listen to what he says. In fact, we should, and listen well, and see where each of us stand.

A simple, honest, "I know we've talked it over, and I know it offends you, but at least know that that is not my intention. Here's why..."

It certainly beats "Screw you! I'm tired of your PC bullshit and entitlement, get out!"

Sigh.

Speaking as a black guy who isn't particularly bothered when I play as a white guy, these sorts of articles are more detrimental than the actual "issues" they attempt to tackle. It's rather like the boy who cried wolf. When someone raises a relatively minor issue of little actual importance too often, it's much easier for others to ignore it when a real issue gets raised.

Yes, it's somewhat odd that there aren't more diverse figures in video games. Stereotypical portrayals of African Americans that paint them solely as poor urban caricatures certainly aren't good. But that's not a 'real' problem. The real problem is the fact that a significant majority of African Americans are poor. The real problem is a combination of culture and historical influences keeping certain segments of the population locked into generational poverty, which includes not only African Americans, but also whites, native americans and hispanics.

Stereotypes exist for a reason. There'll always be that generic portrayal of the hide-bound German engineer, the feisty drunken Irishman, or evangelical Southern Baptist bigot. Putting too much influence on such things distracts us from real issues and just adds a label of "whiny minority" to that stereotype.

That said, to counter the specific points of the article:
I don't think that rewarding games based on their "diversity" instead of the actual quality of the work is a good idea. The goal should be increasing the cohesiveness of the American self-image such that it doesn't matter what skintone the lead character is, any more than his height, weight or hair color matters. If someone wrote an article detailing the varying hair colors of video game characters and pointed out that red hair is rarely seen despite being about 2-6% of the American population, we'd consider it a frivolous and unnecessary article. Same if we talked about the fact that pretty much zero heroes are fat or short or middle aged. The key to solving the problem isn't to talk about the superficial statistics, it's talking about the underlying issues. Why does it matter if a character is white or black? Why can't a skinny asian teen self-identify with a muscular white hero the way a short white guy pretends to be Micheal Jordan?

Yes, there probably need to be more games with a broader and more realistic range of skin choices. But that should be a purely technical issue, like getting more death animations or adding more voice clips. It is not, and should not be some sort of cultural grenade used to toss accusations of racism at the status quo.

unabomberman:

I/m not sure it could be said that they are only "vaguely aware" of imperialism in Africa.

You'd be surprised. There are people here in Japan think the "n" word is a cool, friendly thing to call a black person. I could totally see the team that made RE5 not realizing the implications of game where a white man shoots hordes of black zombies.

I hear what you're saying and have heard it before. I don't want to diminish the importance of addressing inequality either as my few friends in the minority would appreciate more appropriate representation. You pointed out the critic's praise of Spike Lee. Lee told very poignant stories of a select group of people, yet those stories still provided characters to identify with regardless of race.

With a sense of empathy, do gamers need protagonists that "look like us"?

I really appreciate this column and agree with its points--engaging in dialogue about inclusion is important, and necessary, and must be done frequently because it is so easy for these issues to be brushed aside.

Crimson_Dragoon:
A lot of examples cited here aren't trying to be racist. While its not necessarily bad to talk about them, they shouldn't be reprimanded for it.

And with Bioshock, the lack of black characters makes sense to the setting. Rapture is a city built in the 1940s or so by rich white men, and filled with people they thought were the best and brightest. It makes sense in that context that these rich white men would not include black people.

Also, it helps follow the roaring 20s theme, which we all see as racist nowadays.

1015531r:
Should't artistic freedom be more important than the skin tones of main characters? And why is RE5 racist and GTA:SA isn't? Why do people need to make such a big deal about these things? Are the Forgotten Realms novels racist because the Drow are black skinned. I realy don't understand, isn't racism about hate not just if your main character is black or not?

*facepalm* It's not, but you know why people say it is. Hint: It REALLY starts rubbing your nose in it around the midpoint.
Why. Do. You. "Colorblind". People. Play. Dumb. And. Expect. Us. As. A. Society. To. Ever. Get. Passed. This?

CitySquirrel:
As I have said before, it is easy to want to get past identity politics when your participation is not mandatory.

And it's even easier when said people can just be the straight white (American) male ostrich and keep claiming we've hit the diversity quota for the millennium since every inequality has been dealt with.

I think what the article had to say about picking one's battles was wise. As a feminist I've learned to do this too: if you're crying misogyny about everything people just tune you out. Instead, one has to learn to separate when someone is just being a bit daft and when one is truly being misogynist. RE5 was, in my opinion, just some one being a bit daft: these are Japanese game developers. They very well might not have considered the imperialism angle. Consciousness raising and all that is wonderful, but it looks silly when the complain can be boiled down to: "how dare they put black people in Africa!". There's nothing about complicity in power imbalance - these are Asian game developers. A "hey, you might want to know..." might have worked better than "that's racist!!!".

Though, seriously bro, blacks comprise 11% of the population. If 11% of major game characters (and it actually probably is about that, given that there seems to be one or more in every modern military shooter - seriously, treating Cole Train like some shining exception to the rule is utterly ridiculous; Griggs, Foley, and Truck from the MW series are all black and major characters, aside from Sev a black guy, Rico, is the major character from KZ and the only one to survive all three games, ditto major black characters in Resistance) then that's not actually all that unrealistic. Heavy Rain might well deserve your ire, but how do you think women, being 51% of the population yet nowhere near that in games, feel?

"That comes down to a simple question for developers - why does this character look like he or she does? They should have an answer."

Best. Quote. Ever.

It doesn't have to be a hugely complex reason salted with pseudo-psychology. It can simply be a reason like "we're doing a different style game, and we wanted to reflect that with our protagonist's exotic looks". But it should be an explicit reason.

Most of the games I play allow character customization, but I almost always play a "white" character because the darker skin tones usually look WRONG to me--they look like a white person with a deep and artificial tan, not a naturally black, bronze, whatever person. And I hate tanning. So I find it repulsive.

Major exception? Fallout 3.

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