True Crime: Streets of LA

August 9, 2006

Sorry if things have been slow here; I just flew back from Japan. And boy, are my arms tired.

The discussion on the Escapist article is still going, although it’s gotten kind of sidetracked into Carlos Mencia and sociology. A handful of people have mentioned it on their blogs, too, which makes me happy.

One of the readers on the forums, Lara Crigger, asked me what games I think have handled race well. While I don’t think there are a whole lot out there that have handled it “well”, there are a few examples I’m seeing out there that are starting to push the envelope.

True Crime: Streets of LA piqued my interest when it came out a few years ago; mostly, I’ll admit, because it appeared to be a Grand Theft Auto clone with Snoop Dogg as a playable character. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that our protagonist is one Nicholas Kang, a (possible spoiler alert?) Chinese American of half-Asian, half-Caucasian descent, voiced by Russell Wong of Romeo Must Die fame, and his partner in the “Elite Operations Division” of the LAPD is Rosie Velasquez, who self-identifies as Latina, and is voiced by Michelle Rodriguez, of S.W.A.T., Resident Evil, and Lost.

(Fun fact: I haven’t finished the game myself; I was supposed to review it for Applelinks.com, but it ran so poorly on my computer that I ended up passing on it. This was mostly gathered from a script text-dump)

The story itself is a mix between cop-drama and kung-fu movie: drugs and counterfeit money lead Nick and his teammates into a series of shootouts with the Chinese Triads, the Russian Mafia, and the Korean People’s Army, which in turn reveal the truth about a sordid tale of police betrayal in Nick’s past. Unfortunately, I never played far enough to figure out where Snoop came in.

To be sure, it’s rare that we see mixed-race individuals, especially protagonists, in any video game, so props to Nick Kang for holding it down. I could most certainly do without him and his brother knowing kung fu, but it appears that the game was designed as a very intentional cross between cop drama and martial arts flick; according to the Wikipedia entry, the operating title in development was “Nick Kang: Kung Fu Detective”. In this light, I’m guessing that our protagonist is intentionally mixed-race as a kind of symbol of this East-meets-West genre mixing and less as a willful statement on race, and somehow they seem to have accidentally stumbled on an acceptable portrayal of an Asian American man. Likewise, it would be nice to have a Latina that wasn’t involved in gang activity, but this is a story about the “streets” of Los Angeles and so I suppose as far as cop dramas go it’s about par for the course.

Anyone out there played it and care to comment? How about Romeo Must Die? (It’s one of my favorite movies ever.)



  1. True Crime: Streets of LA was horrible. If I recall, it was very similar to GTA in regards to race (aka Asian Triads, Italian Mafia, etc). I’m not 100% sure though because I beat it in one night and then never played it again. And they never could properly use the talent of Christopher Walken. What a sad, sad waste.

    Anywho, a game that I recently began playing and still am that I think handled race well, though some might call the writers idealogical nincompoops, is Tales of Symphonia. Sure, they deal with race in a very dichomatic (I think I made that word up) fashion, Humans Vs Half Elves, but it is the most progressive game that I’ve played in a while. It critiques race in a way that very few other games have even bothered to address. And sure the main character is a white boy with spiky hair (anime protagonists tend to share those characteristics) and as far as I can tell there isn’t a single black, latino person, and sure the Asian character is a ninja, I still think that it addresses issues of race in a very interesting manner (and while my mind is too burnt out to give examples, since you know me I hope you can believe that it did start to tackle though not properly sack topics of race (wow that sentence was stupid)). Another thing I’m curious about is your take on topics of race in Japanese games ported over to America.

    I’d also like to say your escapist article was interesting. Since I’m too lazy to register for an account over there, I’d like to say that I agree with a lot of your comments. I think representations of race have been stereotyped much in the manner movies have. However, I don’t think representation is essential. I mean if there’s only one minority in a game and everyone else is white, does that mean its perpetuating whiteness? Do we need equal representation in everything, or is that just another way of bringing race unneccesarily to the forefront? (I don’t know the answer to that) I care more about how minorities are represented even if there only is one minority in the game. I agree totally with Lara Crigger when she says “Perhaps an ideal situation would be where I could describe myself as an Asian race-car driver, a hispanic scientist, or a white kung fu sifu and nobody would bat an eye.” I say this because even in our Asian American community over at Pitzer (woot) we sometimes do not allow white people to explore Asian influences without ridiculing them. Lets take “White Tiger”. The guy takes an interest in Asian cultures, dates an Asian girl, and he automatically is “masturbating” on our Asian culture. The whole reason I bring this up is because when I’m playing CS or something like that, I feel like everyone is more concerned about perpetuating their own racial imperative than actually perpetuating a progressive world where people are equal. I know I’ve definitely seen Asians say “you aren’t good enough to be Asian” or at least I can only assume they are Asian when they have names like AzN_NigHtStaLkEr. I’ve also suddenly become other players best friends when I’ve told them I’m Korean because they’re Korean. I feel like online games reflect how racialized everyone is. IMO games aren’t so much about minorities having to speak or type or play in a certain manner to fit their role in a white gaming community, but rather online games are places where every race is trying to establish their own space that is just as racialized as any other groups. Wow, that was confusing to write. Anyways, I think you should try to make this blog an independent project. Its cool. Hope things are good. see you in a few weeks.

  2. cool idea for a blog. havent played True Crimes, but thinking about race, specif representations of Asian American, in vid games takes me back. anyone remember the protag Grace Nakamura in Sierras “Gabriel Knight” adventure series?

  3. re matty:

    I’ll have to give True Crime a shot, especially if you can beat it overnight. Certainly I didn’t mean to say that the portrayals of Asian triads, etc. are really constructive or helpful in the least, but it does seem that in the designer’s quest to unite to film genres they ended up with a somewhat palatable Asian American character. I’ll have to try Tales of Symphonia, too. Japanese games tend to recommend a wholly different common sense than ours – sometimes it works, sometimes it gives us guys with fat lips and dreads in Loco Roco.

    The rest of your post I’ll probably talk about in an actual blog post, or email you or something.

    dks: thanks for stopping by!

  4. I like and play all sorts of mafia games myself, they are very fun to play. There are so many different types on the net. I am more into fast paced games, then the slower based mafia games myself. I like mafia games that have a lot of players in them that makes them a lot more fun!

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