Archive for September, 2006

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Race, Class, and Street Fighter, Part 1

September 27, 2006

Street Fighter II has one of the most interesting communities of game-players I’ve ever seen surrounding a video game. Go to Evolution next year and you’ll players of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Yes, other game arenas are gradually getting more and more diverse, but there’s something about the fighting game community that just feels different from other games. Lurk around the Shoryuken.com forums for a little bit and you’ll find this bizarre combination of nerdiness and street-savvy that, as far as I can tell, stands as unique to the fighting game scene.

First, my introduction: I started out playing SF2 when I was a wee youngun, spending my dollar-a-week-allowance on two games at the local 7-11 and eventually moving up to the SNES version. I didn’t really touch fighting games a whole lot after that, save for brief excursions into Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter, until I copped Gundam Wing: Endless Duel for the SNES while I was in high school, which led me to Street Fighter Alpha 3, which in turn led me to the BEARCade over at UC Berkeley – and the rest, as they say, is history. Since I’ve picked up the habit roughly six years ago, I’ve wandered arcades all over the world, from Northern and Southern California to Japan and the Philippines.

Throughout those years I’ve formulated my own personal hypothesis as to why the fighting game community has grown up the way it has. It goes something like this:

When Street Fighter II came out in 1991, video games were highly economically stratified. Computer gaming was still strictly the domain of “nerds”, as computers were incredibly expensive investments that were often bought as some kind of personal business investment rather than as a game machine first and foremost, and the kind of technical knowledge required to set up and support a computer as a gaming machine was highly specialized and therefore economically exclusive. Console gaming was more accessible in 1991, when the Super Nintendo had just made its debut, but it still wasn’t cheap. Personally, I remember having to pay upwards of $80 for SNES games in the mid-90s, where I recoil now at paying $50 for a brand-new PS2 game these days, and console games also required a television (at least another $100?) and the console itself ($250 for the SNES with Super Mario World and two controllers, I think).

So Street Fighter 2 entered the world with its cutting-edge flashy cartoon graphics, eight selectable characters, and adversarial arcade gameplay instead of the single-player score wars or co-op beat-’em-ups that arcades tended to specialize in pre-SF2, and took the world by storm. No doubt some of its success was due to the excellent execution and game design. But it was also due to the fact that it was perfect for the arcade game business model, which forces arcade operators to invest in an expensive piece of equipment and charges the players to play it, rather than have the players buy it themselves. In other words, in 1991 it probably cost about $2000 to play Commander Keen on your home/office computer, $400 to play Sonic the Hedgehog in your living room, and $.25 to play Street Fighter II while kicking back with your friends in an arcade. It’s comparisons like these that make me wonder why arcades ever died out.

To be continued…

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Sorry for the Delay

September 25, 2006

I apologize for the lack of real activity lately – it seems like real life has been encroaching upon my blog doings for the past few weeks. I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a proposal for a Fulbright research fellowship to Japan, introducing Asian American college first-years to race and identity, and in what little free time I’ve had, grimacing every time Tyler from Indigo Prophecy opens up his mouth. I may be working on a small project involving the Street Fighter II community and the way race and nation play into competition, so I’ll be posting periodic updates on that, too.

Seems like Survivor is all the rage right now, so I might as well admit that I’ve been devouring the new season even though I’ve never regularly watched a reality show in my life. A few brief comments (spoiler warning?):

-The depiction of the African American team is ridiculous. I’m well aware that the show has to be heavily edited to fit three days of footage into a 45 minute period, but come on, guys. In the first two episodes we have images of a lazy black man, black people struggling in the water, black people overly concerned with chicken, and a choice comment about how a knife was too dull to cut cotton. This feels like it’s straight out of a Chappelle’s Show sketch.

-I like how, in the second episode, they cut from the black team struggling to make fire with flint to a shot that’s captioned with the tribe name for the white team…of a motorboat. Yeah, it’s just taking the chicken-stealing guy back from Exile Island to the normal island, but at first it just looked like the white team was cruising around on a boat while everyone else was grubbing around the island. That…wouldn’t have surprised me much, I think.

-Go Asian Americans? In one episode they managed to win the challenge, have their ‘strongest’ member get sent to Exile Island and find the immunity amulet, and be one of the first groups to have a serious discussion of race (Cao Boi and racist jokes) on the show. My racial-sense is tingling – perhaps they’ll be the next Yellow Peril.

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The New Season of Survivor and the Model Minority Myth

September 15, 2006

Something I found while forum-hopping:

Survivor – Cook Islands: Asian Americans listed as favorite race

Gambling911.com’s large Asian American readership base should be happy with one online gambling website’s latest betting odds on Survivor – Cook Islands.

Winner’s ethnicity odds for Survivor – Cook Islands has the Asian Americans paying out 2 to 1 odds compared to Caucasians at 2.25 to 1 odds, African Americans at 2.4 to 1 odds and Hispanics (Latinos) 2.75 to 1 odds.

Ming, a Vietnamese American, was happy to see the Asian Americans with more favorable odds at Wagerweb.com compared to Bodog.com, which last week gave the nod to the Caucasians (otherwise known as White people).

“Bodog sucks!” said Ming. “They don’t like Asian players and have booted many of my friends.”

Ironically, Bodog.com’s CEO Calvin Ayre is traveling in Vietnam this week.

WagerWeb is bound to rouse some anger within the African American community however with its odds listing an African American as the first to be vanished off Cook Islands, this despite the fact that it is an Asian American, Jenny Guzon-Bae, who has the least favored odds of winning (+1700 or $1700 paid out on every $100 bet).

A group of New York City officials blasted CBS and its hit series Survivor after the network announced that the teams on the new season of the reality show will be divided by race last week.

Saying that the setup will promote divisiveness, the officials – led by an Asian American – called on CBS to reconsider its plans.

“The idea of having a battle of the races is preposterous,” city councilman John Liu said Thursday. “How could anybody be so desperate for ratings?”

The favorite to win Survivor – Cook Islands is Adam Gregory, a Caucasian, with 7 to 1 odds ($700 paid out on a $100 bet).

Bet on Survivor – Cook Islands here —-> Wagerweb.com (Visit Website Here)

In the midst of the Survivor: Cook Islands’ “tribes by ethnicity” controversy, bettors from WagerWeb.com are predicting a number of outcomes for the upcoming Survivor season including which ethnicity will win it all. WagerWeb.com, one of the Internet’s largest betting sites, offers odds surrounding the hottest issues in headline, entertainment and sporting news.

“Regardless of the recent and loud opposition of the producers’ decision, CBS says the upcoming season will air,” says Dave Johnson, CEO of WagerWeb.com. “With that, we’re obligated to post film and television odds for our bettors.”

Read more here.

Seems like even Survivor isn’t immune to the stereotype that Asians naturally work harder than everyone else.

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What About Everyone Else?

September 7, 2006

“mik” commented a few days ago, asking:

Understanding that the strapline of your site declares that yours is a blog about RACE and games, I’d still like to know what you think about the depiction of other minorities in games–specifically homosexuals. I’m wondering because the most recent CAGcast provided me the same sort of “compulsion to blog it” that the race discussion gave to you. Thanks!

Good question.

Frankly, I really don’t think that the depiction of any people on the receiving end of institutionalized discrimination – people of color, LGBTI individuals, disabled individuals, working class people, etc. – are anywhere near adequately represented in video games. I focus on race because race is what I know best, but anyone with any background in ethnic/queer/gender studies can tell you that it’s usually not that hard to understand each different axis of identity once you can understand one of them.

Now, I think that games started approaching race largely by accident. See, we make a lot video games starring human beings, usually doing something to other human beings. As the level of graphical realism increases in video games, so does our ability to render more and more realistic looking human beings – and so it starts to look weird when everyone in a game is white. So we start making characters that look different shades of brown to try and spice things up a little bit, and whoops! Now we’ve stumbled into territory that is highly relevant to the real world. Make a white happy-go-lucky policeman character who lives in a horrendously decorated apartment with his white girlfriend and tries to settle his debts by playing basketball, and you’ve got a regular character. Make him black – I’m looking at you, Tyler-from-Indigo-Prophecy – and you’ve got something that borrows from Blaxploitation films and may be substantially less innocuous.

Sexuality and sexual orientation, on the other hand, is not purely visual. Unless we start playing with visual stereotypes of homosexual individuals, American society in particular is SO heteronormative that sexuality is NOT something that would naturally enter video games in quite the same way that race would. Most characters in any readily consumable American-made media aren’t gay for the sake of being gay, they’re gay for a point specific to the media’s narrative. Since very few people are telling stories with video games that have either race or sexuality as focal points, you’re not going to see much of either. However, since an all-white cast looks stranger to the average American gamer than an all-straight cast, race has, somewhat accidentally, entered the equation earlier than sexual orientation has.

Oh, and by the way, mik, my dictionary translates “otomegokoro” to “girl’s feeling” and “maiden’s mind”. Whatever THAT means I will leave to you.