When I was little, I used to watch Looney Toons every day after school. Bugs Bunny was, I thought, the epitome of comic genius, and Daffy Duck's angry antics made me giggle. I was less fond of Sylvester the Cat - his endless pursuit of Tweety Bird simply annoyed me - but I could tolerate him as long as he was chasing Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all of Mexico. You remember Speedy, don't you? He said things like "Andale, andale, arriba, arriba!", wore a sombrero and was the only Mexican mouse that wasn't horrendously lazy or drunk. He was, in other words, a complete stereotype.
Speedy was a product of another time, when the average consumer would blink in wide-eyed bafflement at the notion of "racial sensitivity." Times have certainly changed since then, and our entertainment has slowly evolved to better represent all kinds of people. Except, it seems, when it comes to videogames. Our heroes are rugged, square-jawed men, our heroines sexy ladies wearing as little as the censors will permit. And more often than not, they're both white. Minorities, if they appear at all in games, are usually relegated to one of a few stock characters: the wise Asian who's either a scientist or a Kung Fu master, the fiery Latina who'd just as soon shag you as shoot you, the black gang member with a tenuous grasp on basic English grammar and a gun shoved into the waistband of his low-riding jeans.
It's clearly in the industry's best interests to make gaming appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so developers' apparent reluctance to stray from shortcut stereotypes and cardboard characters is all the more puzzling. But dealing with racial issues isn't - pardon the pun - as black and white as we might first assume. The League of United Latin American Citizens, for example, argued that Speedy was actually a positive depiction of Mexicans, because of his altruistic and hard-working nature. This week's issue of The Escapist tackles the touchy and sometimes troubling issue of racial sensitivity in videogames.
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