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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.

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4 comments

  1. I was just thinking.

    If gays are born that way, doesn’t that effectively mean they ARE a race?


  2. No gays aren’t a race because being homosexual is a matter of sexual orientation and I’ve never seen any evidence of when two gay people have childeren naturally that the child is gay.

    Besides saying gay people are a race is like saying albinos are a race.


  3. I would be hesitant to call gay people a race, mostly because even if the hypothesis that they are born gay is true, it’s unclear exactly whether it’s hereditary or not, and issues of race tend to be related to issues of nationality, colonialism, international politics, etc. that don’t quite come up the same way in LGBTI communities.

    However, when you look at them as simply a group of people on the wrong end of a certain axis of identity – sexual orientation – then it’s certainly easy to compare them to people of color communities in the U.S., or working class communities, and so on.


  4. I think a related question in this is what exactly we mean by “race”.

    Is a race a biological speciation of humanity, or is it an insular community with a common culture?

    If the former, then gays and albinos are clearly not a race, but if the latter – gays, albinos, the deaf, various nationalities, all are races. So, too, are nerds. Most religions would qualify.

    So is it more productive to view race as purely biological, or to view it in a social context? If a group of people behaves as though they are a race, how are they not a race?



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