The Racism Blame Game

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Hollywood isn't the most diverse place on the planet, but even the big studios aren't foolish enough to kick Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, or Angelina Jolie out of their film to make room for Mark Wahlberg

Angelina Jolie isn't white?

Anyways, there's actually a concept that for your movie to be successful, you either need a white protaganist or Will Smith. Let me grab where I found that... Here it is.

What sets Will Smith apart is that he's one of very few actors who can get roles that weren't specifically written to be African-American. If the role is an action hero who could be any race at all, Hollywood usually interprets that as "a white guy, or Will Smith."

The article also points out this study, which also contains things of note.

In the study, white undergraduates were given the synopses of 12 made-up romantic comedies. Along with the summaries, they got cast pictures and fake IMDB pages, which were manipulated so that each movie had six versions of the cast; an all-white cast, an all-black cast and four different versions in between.

Same plot, same characters, same everything -- just different cast members. And unfortunately, the whiter the cast, the higher the likelihood of the students wanting to see the movie.

Zen Toombs:

Hollywood isn't the most diverse place on the planet, but even the big studios aren't foolish enough to kick Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, or Angelina Jolie out of their film to make room for Mark Wahlberg

Angelina Jolie isn't white?

No she's a woman... as in not a 30 something white dude.

Anyway i completely agree, although i resent that image including Commander Shepard given that everyone knows the ONE TRUE Shepard is female..obviously.

Despite the fact that if you look carefully, until the focus group planned third game, it was John Shep. But yeah, I'd love a game about an Indian guy who moves to Australia. If any developers are reading this.

Supposing the relatability of the protagonist (in the sense of having the same race/gender as the player) actually affects sales, having the overwhelming majority of protagonists be white males seems like it would reduce the number of gamers overall. That seems like exactly the opposite of what the industry should want.

Good point, Shamus. You totally nailed the general idea. "Oh I'm sure games that are not about white males don't sell, so we're not even going to try to make a game starring anyone of any other ethnicity." As if Niko, who shows up in that poster - a guy who was born in an impoverished, war-torn country - would resonate better with white male audiences just because he's white and male, even though everything else about him is so distant from the usual video game audience he might as well not even be from the same planet.

There's also the idea that non-white, non-male audiences don't matter and shouldn't be catered to. Or worse: that they can relate to white male characters, while white male people can't relate to anyone who's not white and male. Sorry, isn't saying that people of a certain ethnicity are unable or less able to do something racism?

The solution to this problem, as everyone from Scott McCloud to Zak Smith to Anna Anthropy has already said, is to hire more non-white, non-male people to create our games. Otherwise you're not really creating a game that stars (say) a black woman, but one that stars a bunch of white men's concept of a black woman. Instead we have this human centipede circle jerk thing were games only pander to white males, so only white males think games are cool and decide to make games, so they only make games for white males, and so on forever.

Awesome to see you are writing again. I have missed ye, Shamus, and Spoiler Warning has been holding me over. But this is where I think you really shine, man. Continue making these!

Though, I wouldn't mind some more comics... Just saying. XD

Y'know, funny thing: blacks are overrepresented in the military as a whole (by about 50%)*. You'd think, with all the military dudes we've got as protagonists, we'd see a lot more black soldiers.

*Blacks make up 12% of US population, and 18% of soldiers.

Hear hear. Nothing against grizzled, stubbly white guy. But after a frustrating hour and a half fiddling with the sliders in the awkward Mass Effect character-builder, I ended up with a dusky, bleach blond fellow with epicanthal folds and prominent cheek-bones. It felt like the only way to have a C. Shepard who felt truly unique.

(In my fiction he's an ex-clubber of Inuit origin, from the Earth slums who is fully going to boff that built black dude when he plays ME3 ;)

I'm inclined to agree on most points, but when you look at the comments on racism and diversity on THESE VERY FORUMS, you see people saying they shouldn't have to play someone of a different race, or justifying the way pandering to the majority is good in a way I doubt movie fans would. I think actual gamers are the best argument against that point, Sheamus.

You live in a world where people call Obama black.

He's mixed, you know.

If he lived in Kenya, he'd probably be considered white.

You are racist.

The problem with argument is that the ethnic makeup of the major gaming markets vary hugely. Hispanics make a large percentage of The US population but are practically non-existent in Europe and Japan. The largest ethnic minority in Japan is Koreans, in France its Arabs, in Germany its Turks and in the UK its South Asians. You can't reflect the ethnic breakdown in all the major gaming markets because its just too diverse. So if make the hero a Latino what's that going to mean to German man of Turkish origin or Dutch woman of Indonesian parentage? If you start making a point of not having a white guy with brown hair as your lead, you going to annoy the ethnicities that don't get to be the lead. You will have never ending campaign groups lobbying for there own respective group. For every Indian lead are you going to have a Pakistani one? You could quickly find yourself on a pogo stick, in the minefield of international politics without even knowing it. The truth be told, the 30s something white guy is the lowest common dominator and the safest politically of the Europe and North America gaming markets. Thats why they are so common.

Shamus Young:
White people don't seem to have any trouble going to theaters to watch non-white people. Hollywood isn't the most diverse place on the planet, but even the big studios aren't foolish enough to kick Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, or Angelina Jolie out of their film to make room for Mark Wahlberg. Movie audiences are perfectly willing to go and see people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds walk away from explosions while putting on sunglasses and I don't see any reason to think the gaming public would be any different.

As Zen Toombs points out, you're right in that movie audiences and the gaming public don't have disparate levels of empathy for non-white and/or non-male characters, but you're wrong in the assumption that movie audiences have more empathy for non-white and/or non-male characters. If you want diversity, head to television.

That said, (and I'm not a sociologist), but it seems to me that culture shapes society as much as society shapes culture. So there's no reason to suspect that the introduction of non-white and/or non-male protagonists could eventually shift attitude, if developers were willing to vary it up.

Until then, I think we'll probably have to just hope for more games with custom character creators.

This. So much of this. The thing about the standard C. Sheppard in that poster though is that the whole reason Bioware designed him to look as generic as possible is because they wanted people to make their own versions. So yeah, he may be a grizzled, white, 30 something male, but that's not because he's supposed to be a grizzled, white, 30 something male, it's because he's supposed to be a blank canvas.

In fact, while I'm talking about ME, it would be a good defense against the whole 'relateable protagonist' bollocks to do a survey of how many male gamers enjoy playing as femshep in ME, or any players who make characters that end up looking nothing like themselves. I don't have any solid numbers but I have a feeling that it's more people than the industry can argue with.

I'm white, and yet both my Mass Effect and Skyrim characters are black (although that may just be wish fulfillment, or maybe not seem as my Black Shepard is also Ginger. Yeah, I'm not entirely sure how I managed that either. It certainly wasn't a conscious decision).

Danceofmasks:
You live in a world where people call Obama black.

He's mixed, you know.

If he lived in Kenya, he'd probably be considered white.

You are racist.

Obama actually does identify himself as black, though.

HobbesMkii:

Danceofmasks:
You live in a world where people call Obama black.

He's mixed, you know.

If he lived in Kenya, he'd probably be considered white.

You are racist.

Obama actually does identify himself as black, though.

Which makes him racist too. Good job.

Who offers the defense that game protagonists are generally white because gamers need a character they can relate to?

Danceofmasks:

HobbesMkii:

Danceofmasks:
You live in a world where people call Obama black.

He's mixed, you know.

If he lived in Kenya, he'd probably be considered white.

You are racist.

Obama actually does identify himself as black, though.

Which makes him racist too. Good job.

You keep using that word...

Danceofmasks:

Which makes him racist too. Good job.

I know, how about you accuse *everyone* of being racist! That'll stick it to all those other, ignorant people.

Or make you sound like a pretentious asshole by making broad accusations of racism with the subtle undertone of "...but I know better so I'm *not* racist."

Avatar Roku:

Danceofmasks:

HobbesMkii:

Obama actually does identify himself as black, though.

Which makes him racist too. Good job.

You keep using that word...

I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

While I agree with you. Can we drop the damn subject already? It's getting old.

I too am pissed off with all these blank generic white male 30-something protagonists. And what pisses me off about the excuse that they are "relatable" is not that they assume that only that type of character will be relatable to me, it's that they're choice is having the complete opposite effect!

I find all these characters so devoid of any personality or distinguishing features that I find them completely un-relatable. I can't relate to a character if there is no character for me to empathise with. I would find a character I completely disagree with and whose motivations I can't comprehend a million times more interesting and involving than just Mr. Blank Face #489. At least with a character like that I can see that they have their own persona, and I want to find out about it. I want to learn about the strange story that lead them to come to such a strange worldview. But I don't want to find out about Senior Blanco Cara, because there's nothing there to find out.

SharedProphet:
Supposing the relatability of the protagonist (in the sense of having the same race/gender as the player) actually affects sales, having the overwhelming majority of protagonists be white males seems like it would reduce the number of gamers overall. That seems like exactly the opposite of what the industry should want.

You're assuming a lot of farsightedness on the industry's part. No one cares about the industry as a whole because the industry will do fine as long as games are profitable in general. On the other hand, each individual game can make or break a development studio in AAA land. So, correctly or not, a developer for a project that costs millions of dollars is often going to make choices that they(or the publisher) perceive to maximize chances of success. If the overall belief is that gritty brown haired white protagonists sell games, then the overall gamescape is going to be dominated by gritty brown haired white protagonists.

Then again, there could just be a lot of unshaven brown haired white developers.

To use your movie example for a bit.

What do you expect when you see an overweight woman in a movie? You probably expect her to be judged on her weight or outward appearance and that the movie is about that or something else but the weight will enter the picture at some point.

This isn't because you can't make a movie with a protagonist that's overweight. No it's because writers will try and address it because for some reason they feel they have to. The character you write can't be JUST that, characters, no they need to have particular traits of certain characters.

If we take all the brown haired stubbled white guys, what are their traits? Most often they are capable of handling most firearms with ease, have excellent physical fitness despite their middle aged binge drinking lifestyles, are slightly closed off emotionally, are self reliant, don't often engage in meaningful long term relationships, etc.

The fact is even the brown haired stubbled white guy is a writing stereotype. It's not just writing what you know. It's just writing a tired stereotype because it's the easiest thing on earth to do.

I'm a middle aged white dude, but when given the choice all my Fallout characters are old black dudes with combovers.

And I made my skyrim guy old and crusty as well. Maybe I'm preparing for when I can yell at clouds and tell kids to get off my lawn....

Varil:

Danceofmasks:

Which makes him racist too. Good job.

I know, how about you accuse *everyone* of being racist! That'll stick it to all those other, ignorant people.

Or make you sound like a pretentious asshole by making broad accusations of racism with the subtle undertone of "...but I know better so I'm *not* racist."

Yo.
I know what racism looks like.

You know what happens when the government decides it's better for the stability of a nation to disallow chinese and indians from joining law enforcement and the military?
You know what happens when kids aren't allowed to speak in public using a non-national language?

What happens is a situation where eventually quotas have to be set in universitiy courses because some "races" can't compete on their merits.
What then happens is, when my relatives decide whom to employ and two dudes rock up with the same degree, he will choose the indian over the malay because whilst the indian probably needed straight As to get into an architecture course, the malay probably made it in with Ds.
Not necessarily so, mind you, he could have got As and decided on designing buildings, but the odds are less likely.
Therefore, it's just good business sense to choose one over the other.
On the occasions that it's been otherwise, the malay had to make it a point at the interview to discuss at length how he wasn't riding affirmative action.

I was 13 when I was a new migrant to australia, and you know what the first thing the year coordinator asked me was?
"You want to take ESL (english as a second language) because you qualify? It's easier to get a higher mark."
My response was a flat "FUCK NO, are you serious?"
How it would look on the report card: this dude got a free ride due to a technicality, and he probably isn't as good at english as this other guy who got a lower score.

The very suggestion offended me because the dumbfuck teacher should have known, due to my having clearly demonstrated dominance by virtue of my genius level IQ in every academic pursuit I've ever engaged in up to that point, that ESL was actually an inferior choice on every level.

I'm all for equal opportunity and all that.
If a person is as capable of doing a job, they should get equal consideration.
The real world doesn't work that way.

White males are more likely to be promoted to a managerial position, why?
Sure, most of that is due to the old boys' country clubs, but you know what? As an employer (and conversing to other employers) in Australia I can tell you that women and "minorities" are less likely to ask for raises or promotions, even when they are more efficient and make fewer mistakes, because they don't feel as entitled as the white guy.
WHICH MAKES THEM JUST AS RACIST AS THE WHITE GUY WHO DEMANDS THE RAISE.
But if you don't ask for it, you don't get it.
Bringing it back round to the problems caused by affirmative action, choosing to promote the quiet girl over the assertive asshole even though she knows the work better is a poor choice. 'cos the business culture was built by assertive demanding assholes, favours assertive demanding assholes on every level, to the point where expectations on every level makes being assertive and demanding part of being an effective manager.

Do you know why it offends me if Obama identifies himself as black?

I would think it's evident at this point.
I should never have to explain something in detail 'cos the people who need that kind of shit are slow.

OF COURSE I'M RACIST. I HAVE TO BE IN A SOCIETY THAT'S RACIST, LEST I BE CONSIDERED A PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLE.

This is also the problem with Sexism in gaming. Remember whan Activision told the guys who were making true crime to "Lose the chick"? They came out and defended it with a mixture of things, the biggest of which was that "The Chick" had not tested well with focus groups. Transaltion? A flagrant attempt to say "Well its not our fault, the world is just not ready for an action game with a feamle proganonist". Which is of course total bullshit.

Could it be that gaming audiences are most comfortable with these white, male leads because thats what our diet has basically been for the past decade. People crave familiarity. Even if she did test badly (and it wasn't just the marketing higher ups making excuses) it might be becuase it ran against user expectaion.

To sum it up; if you never do something different in the first place people will never get used to something different. You can't pin it on your audience if you have never tried. Even IF, and its a big if, the gaming masses were flagrently racist and sexist then shouldn't it be even more pressing to rectify that with postive examples of characters?

I really do struggle to believe how disconnected from reality the 'you can't connect with someone of a different ethnicity/sex' is. Do they think no one felt bad about John Coffey's fate in The Green Mile because he's black? Was that early horrific

scene in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo not scary to men, because they aren't women. Was the only Samurai anyone cared for at the end of The Last Samurai Tom Cruise because he's a brown haired white guy? It's just baffling that people seem to think this.

The lack of diversity is probably related to the stereotype some of us have about the generic person. Video game characters sometimes needs to be as generic and non-descript as possible, and for part of the audience that means white guy with brown hair. When characters are allowed to have more personality traits, the mix of gender and races becomes more varied as well. It's just a habit though, so we would easily accept more variance if games were to do it.

I would probably think it was more quaint for a video game to have a character lead with ginger hair than a black guy.

Japan have their own generic stereotypes, I think they look odd but thats probably because I'm not used to the style.

I doubt racism or sexism plays much of a part in this, the issue is more about habits than anything else.

Monoochrom:
While I agree with you. Can we drop the damn subject already? It's getting old.

Yeah sorry, subjects only get old when nothing gets done about them. When nothing is done about a problem it continues. The continuation of a problem of course bothers people and makes them bring attention to it.

You can always not read the article, but I doubt the topic is going away anytime soon.

I'll admit that I was glad to hear this particular argument because it really reflects my own. To say that white people can't enjoy a movie or video game because the protagonist doesn't look like them implies they are less capable of compassion than other races. I know black girls who are highly invested in the Twilight saga. If you asked me or any other 90's kid of any race if we wanted to hang out with Jackie Chan for a day we would have said hell yeah. Hell, the whole brony culture shows grown men can be emotionally invested in the adventures of rainbow colored equines. But if white people see a black person on screen their brain just crashes I guess.

Danceofmasks:
You live in a world where people call Obama black.

He's mixed, you know.

If he lived in Kenya, he'd probably be considered white.

You are racist.

Actually I call him President of the USA.

Generic white guy is a shield for a weak plot in most instances. If you take a look at a Japanese game the choice of a white character is a statement about what type of story they're getting ready to tell. Altair and Ezio were who they are because of the environment they were put in.

Games with better stories can use a character's ethnicity to add additional flavor to the game's world. Get better writers and I guarantee you'll see more diversity in game characters.

I agree with Shamus in this article, but unfortunately the pointless variables of the protagonist (gender, hair, skin color, and age) do have an influence on games sold or even made. I remember Yahtzee bringing this up in his Extra Punctuation of Nier, and an article claimed that the developers had such radically different protagonists for that game in two different countries because the "Japanese developers would feel bad for not having a white, teenage, male protagonist." For the "Last Guardian," lead designer Fumito Ueda also changed the protagonist from a female character to a male one because he thought she would always be in a skirt, and he doesn't want players to look up her skirt.

I really wish these games do not emphasize that bold line which pisses off Shamus, but unfortunately it is very true. Game developers should focus on making games fun for as many players/customers as possible, not to a dominant group.

The argument that the generic white male protagonist is needed to appeal to consumers does contain the implicit assumption that the majority share of the games market is white and male.

I'm pretty sure that's simply not true.

To be honest I'm not entirely sure what your point here is Shamus, you seem to be walking on the fence a lot here, trying to say both that you think they should change the ethnic makeup of video games to be more diverse, but at the same time it shouldn't be forced and you really don't think anyone should be made to do it.

To be honest I'll also say that I think this issue, at least as far as it's come up on these forums is marred by ignorance, with statements being made based on a very narrow political position designed to empower specific people and representitives.

The issue we're increasingly seeing is less a matter of race, and more a matter of culture, and the problem is guys like MovieBob being unable to distinguish between the two enough to realize that racism pretty much doesn't exist in countries like the USA, but cultural conflicts do, and as cultures can be drawn along racial lines some confusion is possible.

This is pretty much why guys like "Will Smith" and before him "Bill Cosby" were the exceptions to the rule, the black guy that could be interchangable with a white guy in a leading role. The reason for this is all about how that act, what they believe, and how they present themselves when they perform. Despite some occasional ethnic referances when roles require it (especially from Will Smith) both are pretty much well assimilated into mainstream society, believe in adaption, and don't generally walk around acting like there is something special inherant in being black, or that they are owed anything on those grounds. Of course at the same time, both actors are also considered to be sell outs by a huge percentage of the black community... the classic "ho ho"... black on the outsie, white and gooey on the inside. That kind of analogy being made by black culture to attack anyone who fits into the mainstream especially on a large scale.

The thing with most black actors is that when they get involved in a movie inevitable their prescences brings a lot of fairly offensive pro-black, and anti-white statements or implications along with statements associated with the characters they play that are both ignorant and anathema to most of society. Your basically looking at the representation of an obselete counter-culture that still exists on a large level, and is actually responsible for most of the tensions that exist, rather than any actual racism. Guys like Bill Cosby (who has a PHD in Children's Education) has gone off about this, and has shown himself to be quite aware of his perception on both sides of the fence.

The thing is in evaluating a lot of these actors, a lot of it comes down to an individual level whether or not an actor has shown himself as leaving that kind of thing behind at least when he performs. A lot of these actors however wind up adapting the roles to what they want to say and how they want to present themselves.

In a lot of cases when you look at a movie, you can tell by a mostly black cast and leading roles... unless specific people who proved otherwise, are present that there is going to be a lot of anti-white ando/or pro-black garbage inserted into the movie, whether it belongs there or not. Incidently this doesn't mean a soapbox political speech, or any kind of call to violence, a lot of it can just come down to attitude and casual statements that are made. Such movies DO appeal to the large counter culture that believes in those messages, but to everyone else it's pretty much obnoxious. There is also a tendency to actually feel that supporting such things is counter productive because one of the big challenges in society right now is to deconstruct that counter culture entirely so everyone throughout society becomes *ahem* a sell out as the critics of guys like Will Smith or Bill Cosby would call them.

I'll also be quite blunt in saying that politics do enter into this, as does the talent of the people involved. Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall both could have become (or remained) Will Smith types, especially Eddie, but some of their political statements (especially Arsenio, when he had his own talk show) kind of put them into a a catagory where they became difficult to seperate from what they stand for even if they can resist the temptation to put it into a movie. That, and as many people will point out Eddie Murphy had a few big hits, but he's also well known for producing movies that perform well under the expectations, as opposed to someone like a Bill Cosby or Will Smith who have more consistantly been part of quality products. I've given Eddie Murphy enough chances, where despite liking him, and thinking he's very talentd and funny, I feel his products tend to be garbage overall. So basically when I see an Eddie Murphy movie, I think fondly back to the good stuff he has done, but tend to dismiss the movie as crap because he just doesn't pick good projects... his taste blows chips. Someone like Halle Berry is neutral enough where they could have been more of a break out start to carry "mainstream" leads, but to be honest she doesn't seem to be as talented as a lot of people think. She had a chance with things like the "Catwoman" movie and we all see how that turned out. She can carry the role of a major supporting character or a co-star for someone else doing a lot of the heavy lifting. If the big selling point of a movie is simply that she's in it... I'm not going to get too excited. The only thing she did as the lead that I thought was decent was "Gothika" and that was just okay.

When you look at black actors, one thing you'll notice is that most of them almost invariably play one thing: the angry black man. That anger is almost always aimed at society due to white oppression. Someone like Samual L. Jackson has pretty much made a career by being versatile enough, and wise enough, to adjust that schtick into a more general direction. While he has played roles with a lot of racial overtones (Die Hard, etc..), he has also played the same kind of role without all of that nonsense, to the point where Samual L. Jackson can carry the role of being a "badass" without nessicarly having to tie it into being angry at the evil white man and "social injustice" that doesn't actually exist.

Then when you look at black comedians and such, that can be a touchy thing as well when a lot of the humor is pitch black humor based on both simultaneously mocking and glorifying some of the worst things in society, many of which are embraced in one way or another by this dominant counter culture. When you consider that a lot of people live in fear of rampaging gang bangers, drug dealers, pimps, and other assorted things especdially in the inner city, it's a style of humor and presentation that doesn't work as well when taken from say stand up to a movie persona. Someone can say make movies involving redneck humor because while there are isolated incidents nobody really thinks Rednecks are all that dangerous. On the other hand jokes about pimps, drug dealers, and gang bangers... well we have people like that holding neighrborhoods in terror and killing people every day. Someone like Kat Williams might pull down a successful stand up act, but I think there are reasons why he hasn't been able to broker that into a universally accepted TV show or Movie career like a "Larry The Cable Guy" or whatever.

That's my thoughts at any rate, and a lot of it applies to video games. You take your minority character, black or anything else, and you decide to have them act like a normal part of the mainstream and people will sit there and consider them a sell out and make jokes like "Storm is black, wow... I never noticed she always acted white..." (from comics). You start having them act black, and then you've got the issue not only of it becoming an offensive parody to someone, but also of pissing even more people off because of all of the things that make the subculture in question differant.

The mainstream is mainstream for a reason, it's safe territory, and if you want a successful product that's where you stick. In general minorities are less likely to be offended by playing a game with a mainstream white protaganist, than say the majority reacting to controlling the a member of a counter culture. This is before you even get into how a lot of these counter cultures interact, despite the liberal point of view it's not everyone against the oppressive white guys exclusively. Black culture, latino culture, asian culture (especially) and others all come into explosive conflict with each other. When I was kept advised of such things regularly, we always got warnings about the potential explosive potential of blacks and chinese together and to watch out. This because of all the cross traffic to the casinos we got from Chinatown districts in New York and Boston and how the dominant gangs running the less pleasant things in the casino were all Asian and operating out of the "Club International" and/or Baccarat pits. These guys being directly opposed by black gangs, with a lot of actual racism involved from the Chinese. There was always some concerns that someone would try something major related to that at the casino, I wasn't involved in anything that went beyond the petty or minor level though, but then again I had
a bit of a knack for handling incidents. The point here being is that while all minorities can usually at least tolerate the mainstream in buying products, catering to one minority or counter culture can literally drive off others. There are always going to be exceptions, but in an overall sense I think that part of the equasion is things like how if you have a Black protaganist, that means your going to lose a decent part of the Asian market at least in some large areas like New York which can be a factor. On the other hand if you have your neutral 30 year old white dude both groups might bellyache about too many white guys, but both will probably buy the product... it's a point I don't think a lot of people consider. There is more to it than white/mainstream against everyone else, people tend to forget what counterculture vs. counterculture can do, or about racism between minority groups so far as it still exists as true racism.

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