True Crime: Streets of LAAugust 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.)