Posts Tagged ‘racism’


“Sambo” Is A Viable Scribblenauts Term

September 23, 2009

…and it summons a watermelon.

Good going, guys.

There’s no point to writing any kind of in-depth insightful commentary on this one – intentional or not, it’s hilariously fucked up.

Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Scribblenauts and see what kind of offensive stories I can put together, though.

Read up more here:

Ian Bogost – Gamasutra


pat m.


Designing Games That Highlight Race

April 22, 2008

I’ve decided to take my own advice and try to bring the Race and Games conversation into a more positive place; having attained my goals of “Ranting About Resident Evil 5 Two Weeks Longer Than Everyone Else”, and “Becoming the Number One Google Search Result For ‘Shooting White People'”, I think this blog could use some more creative thinking.

About a year ago I wrote a short post called “Race and Player Characters” that talked a bit about the need for a player to “project” themselves upon the player-character, and how making characters racially ambiguous a la Jade from Beyond Good and Evil was not the way to do anything other than stunt the growth of a video game’s potential to tell a story.

Frankly, I think making a completely nondescript player character is in most cases lazy writing. To be sure, there are places in games for less detail; the Security Officer in Marathon and Master Chief in Halo (both Bungie titles) are both shrouded in mystery, Crono from Chrono Trigger never speaks, and the Vault Dweller in Fallout gets no details beyond what you write yourself. But the anonymity of the first two becomes a major plot point, the Vault Dweller gets his or her personality from your decisions as a role-player, and Crono’s purpose is basically to highlight the rich characters around him. The thought that characters like JC Denton from Deus Ex (great game, horrible character) are what designers ought to strive for to make a game better, however, is just wrong.

When I think about it, it seems like there are plenty of existing game mechanics that could be used to further explore race and racism, precisely because even in the most vaguely defined player characters, there’s always something that sets them apart – after all, that’s why you’re playing as them and not one of the random schmoes you steamroll in your quest to save the world or whatever. From there, it’s not a stretch to see how existing game dynamics could begin to explore race, gender, and other kinds of axes of stratification.

I’ve been playing The World Ends With You a bit lately, and I’m really digging it, except for the fact that the protagonist is painfully emo (this is what character designers are afraid of, I guess. Good thing the rest of the game is awesome). Instead of walking around and talking to every passer-by like a typical RPG, though, Neku can scan the minds of everyone on-screen and see what people are thinking about, generally yielding things like “XYZ is so cool! Why doesn’t he notice me?” or “I wish I could afford the 300 yen instant noodles!” But what if our “Neku” was a young black man walking through a lily-white neighborhood? I’d love to play – or hell, design – something like that.

I could go on like this forever. A dating sim where you’re a young Asian American man in high school, negotiating the model minority myth and coming to terms with the popular media image of Asian men as impotent. Phoenix Wright and the problems with trying to win over a jury of your “peers” when you’re not-white and everyone else is. An FPS that puts you in the place of a Native American warrior resisting colonization and subjugation. I’d play ’em all. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!

pat m.


The Litmus Test for New Racism

April 11, 2008

MTV Multiplayer is back with two new interesting pieces, one of which is the extension of the Black Professionals in Games series – an interview with Felice Standifer, of Sony US, on being a black woman in the industry. It’s a good read, and I dig that it opens up the race and gender angles a little more, especially after the first two pieces were with black men.

The other piece is N’Gai Croal of Newsweek’s Level Up, again, this time on the Resident Evil 5 controversy that I posted on way back when.  This piece, and the subsequent trainwreck of a discussion that ensues in the comments field, is typical for practically any conversation about race, but especially race and video games, that happens on the Internet. Sadly, plenty of people are convinced that if you’re not wearing bedsheets or gassing people of the Jewish faith, you’re not a racist, and anyone who talks about racism these days is “making it an issue”.

So! In the spirit of public education, I’m going to offer a brief questionnaire. It’s like one of those stupid quizzes from Cosmo, except this time you get to out the insidious racist depths of your soul. The test is simple: first, read the article, then go ahead and give yourself one point for each of the following sentences you could conceivably agree with:

“People who call this racist are being too politically correct. Relax! It’s just a video game. Save your energy for fighting Real Racism – talking about things like this could just make people not like you.”

“How come it’s only racist if there are black people in it? I think THAT’S racist. No one cried foul when the white zombie inhabitants of Raccoon City were killed by the dozen. Or the Spanish villagers in RE4!”

“It was made in Japan, so it can’t be racist! They probably didn’t even know what they were doing!”

That’s it! Got your score tabulated? Let’s see…

3 points: You’re hopeless. Stop reading this blog now. You’re probably one of the dozens of annoying commenters I’ve added to the spam filter.

2 points: Also hopeless, and one of the annoying spam-filtered commenters, but you might have slightly better sense than the 3-point people. Still, you should probably go. That way.

1 point: I was pulling for you, you know, the way you made it through two of the sentences without agreeing. 1 point? Really? Was it that profound that you just had to nod your head? Get out of here.

0 point: You’re probably writing this blog entry.

As you may have figured out, those three sentences were all paraphrased from the comments section; in general, the detractors have all more or less fallen into at least one of those three groups. Let’s take another look at these responses and see what we can dig out of them:

People who call this racist are being too politically correct. Relax! It’s just a video game. Save your energy for fighting Real Racism – talking about things like this could just make people not like you.”

1. This way of thinking presumes that we have finite amounts of energy when it comes to locating racism. Wrong! It’s actually surprisingly easy, once you get the hang of it, because there’s so MUCH of it.

2. You’re right that it might make people not like me. However, the people who wouldn’t like me because I point out that it’s racist are, well, racist. Suffice to say that their opinion doesn’t make me sleep any worse at night.

3. I am relaxed – you’re the one getting all defensive over something that’s “just a video game”. Maybe you’re getting defensive because you’re, um, racist? Just a thought.

4. You’re drawing distinctions between “real problems” and “not real problems”. Protip: Yes, starving children in XYZ country is indeed a problem. But so is an industry that makes billions of dollars off of exploiting racist imagery. Especially when the people who consume those images are the people who are in general positions of economic privilege, and who will eventually end up in a lot of the world’s important places. Besides, if you want to preach at us like that, sell the PS3 and join the Peace Corps. Then maybe you’ll have a leg to stand on.

“How come it’s only racist if there are black people in it? I think THAT’S racist. No one cried foul when the white zombie inhabitants of Raccoon City were killed by the dozen. Or the Spanish villagers in RE4!”

1. Because most of the people doing the commenting on this are commenting from an American perspective, and the USA was built on the backs of black people in chains. This country has a legacy of systematic oppression of people of color – a legacy that continues to this day, mind you – so of course history is going to affect the way we read certain images. And no, saying it isn’t doesn’t make it so.

2. As my previous post indicated, shooting white people is a surprisingly popular activity. That’s why most people didn’t complain about the previous REs. Everyone loves shooting white people. We people of color felt kinda bad about the Spanish villagers in RE4, but that was because they were poor, and we knew what that was like. They’re still white.

3. I think you’re a moron. A racist moron. 

4. Ever wonder why there weren’t that many zombies of color in Raccoon City? Probably because we all had the sense to GTFO at the first sight of white people doing crazy shit like eating brains. You’d be surprised at what kinds of survival skills brown people pick up when living among the color-challenged folk.

“It was made in Japan, so it can’t be racist! They probably didn’t even know what they were doing!”

1. The original intent of the author doesn’t hold nearly as much weight as the cultural and historical context in which the text itself is being consumed. That is to say, it doesn’t matter if Capcom Japan knew what they were doing or not when they created the RE5 trailer, it’s still being watched by Americans with a certain racial common sense.

2. I can’t think of many parts of the world where black people haven’t had to put up with some racist shit or another. Certainly Japan has its own racist baggage with black people, so even if we were to say that the author’s intent did matter, it hardly lets them off the hook.

3. You clearly don’t know what you’re doing, but that doesn’t make you any less of an asshole.

Peace and love,

pat m.


Talking About Talking About Japan

February 20, 2008

No, that’s not a typo.

Racism and xenophobia in Japan is a fairly reoccurring conversation in certain circles of the Internet (probably because White People Like Japan), and since Japan has such a significant presence in the video game industry, the subject of racism and stereotypical imagery in Japanese-made video games comes up a lot; most recently (although briefly) at Insert Credit, which was then pinged by Kotaku. Perhaps somewhat tellingly, it seems to come up (and is certainly more readily discussed, at least, from my experience) than racism in American-made video games. I don’t know if it’s bad form to quote a Facebook note, but my colleague David Ayala sums things up pretty well:

“Japan is a racist nation, not unlike any nation that has come before it or after it. It has a long history of violence and imperialism against people whom it deemed inferior racially, culturally, etc. And the reasons for this, as has been discussed already, is the fact that Japan is still a homogeneous nation which receives most of its interaction with diversity through media.”

“So why make a post pointing out what we already know and what has been said before countless times? I’ll tell you why. It’s the endless struggle of whiteness and white culture in America to navigate their identity in a racist world, which by and large they created (and continue to perpetuate). Most of us here do not live in Japan and are not a part of Japanese society. So for us to sit around, furrowing our brows, and asking “What’s to be done about these racist Japanese?” is completely useless, self-serving, and blind to the actual problems we can help fix.”

Inevitably, these conversations tend to go in one of two ways: at their worst, the participants all chime in with experiences of their own discrimination in Japan or other foreign countries, to the tune of “See? People say the U.S. may have problems with racism, but they’re nothing like this.” – and thereby exonerate their own racism. What can I say. White people have it rough.

Possibly the best outcome I’ve ever seen in a discussion like this, however, is a bunch of well-meaning people standing around clucking and shaking their heads, while occasionally commenting on what a shame it is. Believe it or not, this outcome really isn’t that good either.

I’ve had numerous conversations with one Ms. Shiyuan about the pitfall that many white, middle-class, liberal classmates of ours have fallen into while trying to engage conversations about race and privilege. It reminds me of the “disaster porn” critiques my policy-debater brethren employed in the good old high school days; feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understood it, the idea was that seeing things like pictures of starving infants and having an entire room of people acknowledge that it was a horrible, horrible thing made people feel really good about themselves. Plenty of conversations about “diversity” end up this way; you get a cookie and a pat on the back for being able to “see” racism and privilege in things like pictures of black people getting lynched and so forth. Extra bonus points if it makes you start a sentence with “I feel…” and maybe talk about some person of color who profoundly affected your life when you were little.

Let me clarify something.

Yes, discrimination and racism exists in Japan. A lot of it comes from sheer ignorance, plenty of it also comes from fear, and both of these are ultimately connected to Japan’s relative cultural and physical isolation. And that really, really blows. It’s never any fun to be reminded that the entire country tends to think that you don’t belong there, whether it’s the little kids staring at you or the widespread stereotypical imagery found in Japanese media, or the thousands of micro-interactions that come together just a little differently than they would have if you were Japanese, just to accentuate the fact that people are going to treat you differently because you’re not one of Them. Wherever these conversations about Japan and racism go, it wouldn’t do any of the participants justice to deny that – yes! Even well-off white people can face discrimination in Japan.

But by no means should the conversation stop here. Because, frankly, whatever sense of alienation and discomfort and righteous indignation that you might have felt when a little kid asks you why you look like a foreigner four times in a row is qualitatively different from being a visible minority in the U.S. Talking about these kinds of experiences only barely begins to scratch the surface of what it’s like to call a country that was founded upon the subjugation of people of color your “home”. It is profoundly unsettling to realize that, no matter how much you try, you simply can’t feel like you completely belong in your home. Yes, I imagine it must be a startling revelation to discover that there are places in the world you might not feel wholly welcome. Now imagine that you had to discover that you’re not welcome anywhere.

This experience often extends to American visible minorities who travel to Japan, as well. I hear of Asian Americans describing a certain ambivalence to phenotypically “passing”, especially for ethnic Japanese Americans, who constantly have to explain that they don’t speak Japanese natively because they’re third- or fourth-generation Japanese, not because they’re mentally impaired. I don’t even think Japan knows what to do with Chicano/Latino Americans. And, for the love of God, everything Japan knows about black people probably comes from Bob Sapp, Bobby Ologun, and the recent rape story starring a black Marine and a fourteen-year old girl. In my case, I get to deal with daily visible discomfort because people aren’t sure if I’m Asian or white or Brazilian or anything else. It was almost comforting to me to hear some of the white people among my fellow American students describe their own experiences encountering racism in Japan, but even then, the social reactions white people tend to inspire here are far different from any response anyone else gets.

Perhaps someday I’ll get to tackling an actual conversation about racist imagery in Japanese video games. For now, though, this will have to do.

pat m.