Blackness and Video GamesFebruary 1, 2007
Thanks to Carmen from Racialicious for the heads-up.
So one of the latest stories to trickle through the video game news grapevine is about a student-run magazine at the Art Institute of California at San Francisco. Word has it an African American student named Simone Mitchell published an essay named “Homicide” in the student magazine, “Mute/Off”, about constructions of blackness in video games. From the Los Angeles Times:
Simone Mitchell enrolled in the Art Institute of California at San Francisco hoping to catch attention with his visual art, but it was his writing, contained in an essay about racial stereotypes in video games, that catapulted a small in-class short story to the front lines of debate on the timeless “what is art?” question.
Mitchell wrote the 10-page spread for Mute/Off, a small magazine produced as part of a cultural studies class. The school pulled the magazine from circulation Dec. 6, hours after it was distributed, saying it hadn’t been approved by the administration.
Soon after the cultural studies teacher, Robert Ovetz, protested the administration’s actions, he was told not to come back for the next semester. Students and Ovetz say it was the latest in a pattern of recent censorship tactics, an allegation the school declines to discuss.
Mitchell’s essay, titled “Homicide,” centers on three African American males who address each other in vulgar street slang and go on a rape and killing spree. At the story’s end, it’s revealed that they are characters in a video game played by three white suburban boys.
I should probably note here that the rest of the article reveals it’s unclear exactly what caused the school administrators to pull the magazine; another piece were highly critical of Goldman-Sachs, the school’s owner. But in light of other racist college newspaper issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mute/Off was pulled because of Mitchell’s essay. Apparently, the administration has since announced that the magazine will be released (hopefully, with everything intact), so we can look forward to reading exactly what it was that got the Institute’s administration so worked up.
Frankly, I’m appalled that a student essay about white boys role-playing as streetwise black gangstas got Mute/Off pulled off the shelves. It’s as if it was somehow Breaking News that the image of the South Central L.A. brown gangster has been glamorized and repackaged by (mostly white men) to sell to the youth who can afford PS2s and iPods – that is, mostly white boys. They’re playing out the modern-day blackface Godfather fantasies.
Perhaps the part that interests me most about this conversation, however, is the role that the games industry – which is, again, mostly white males – have in creating and recreating images of blackness, not just in fiction (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but also in ‘semi-fiction’ (50 Cent: Bulletproof). Fortunately, others out there have started to unpack these questions a little bit. So!