March 13, 2010

Excuses for racism in video games

A blogger discusses the lack of Asian characters in video games. In doing so, he addresses some of the common arguments offered by racism deniers.

Final Fantasy XIII:  New game, same colors?

By Bao Phi
  • It’s fantasy, it’s not real. Exactly–fantasy is only limited by our imagination. If we are free to create entire worlds and characters, why do we only create ones that look white?

  • Gamers don’t want to think about politics. I hear all the time that gamers bemoan the stereotypes placed on them–that we’re all a bunch of straight male losers living in our parent’s basement, living off of junk food and deathly scared of having a conversation with a woman. I hear that gamers and game developers want to be taken seriously, and that games should be respected as a form of legitimate entertainment. Well, one thing that adults do is consider seriously these issues of race, gender, and sexuality. If gamers and game developers have indeed grown up as we keep demanding we have, then we can’t dismiss or deride any discussions on race, gender, and homophobia the way that they have been.

  • You’re making something out of nothing. This is actually a part of racism: white people think that they’re the ones that get to tell us whether something is racist or not. People think they can dismiss racism, sexism, and homophobia by blaming people of color, women, and GLBTTs for being ‘overly sensitive.’ That’s like me coming over to your crib after you haven’t eaten for a week, listening to you say “damn, I’m hungry,” and insisting, “no, you’re not hungry,” then preventing you from eating.

  • Race is not important in video games. If this was true, then there would be a lot more diversity in terms of stories and characters. Because if it doesn’t matter, then why not have more games where there’s an Asian protagonist? Why wouldn’t games made by predominantly Asian men, feature at least one or two Asian men as characters? Look at the gaming climate today–maybe we should ask ourselves, why do game developers only seem to think that white characters make compelling characters? Why are the vast majority of games being made ask us to relate to a white narrative and character? And even if race or gender or sexual orientation doesn’t matter to you, can it matter to someone else?
  • Comment:  The excuses of the apologists for the status quo apply to other minorities and genres too. For instance, to American Indians in movies, TV shows, books, and comic books.

    You can see how these arguments apply to a genre such as old Western movies. If they were just harmless fun, with no covert message, why were the good guys always white and the bad guys always Indians? (Until the 1950s and 1960s, at least.) Why didn't a few filmmakers randomly choose to make Indians the good guys and whites the bad guys?

    Answer: Because these movies weren't just harmless fun and were sending a covert message. Namely, that Americans "won" this nation fair-and-square against the savage hordes. That we were and are morally superior to everyone else, including the Nazis and "Japs" and Commies. That we're God's chosen people, just as the Pilgrims claimed when they first arrived.

    For a typical example of "harmless" storytelling, see Porky Pig in Wagon Heels. For more on the subject, see The Influence of Movies and The Best Indian Movies.

    Below:  A message somehow omitted in the heyday of Western movies.

    3 comments:

    Lorie said...

    First off, not all gamers are male. There are actual females out in the world that enjoy losing a couple of hours (sometimes more)playing in fantasy worlds full of color, sweet graphics, intricate plot lines and most likely, violence. So, cut the sexism crap and realize that there's a whole community of gamers that don't fit into any stereotypical box. I for one have enjoyed playing FFXIII, so far. Although that second boss almost kicked my ass.

    Furthermore, if you look closely at the characters in the most recent FF games, yes they look caucasion but have definite Asian features. (e.g. FF X-2 -- take a hard look at the villian -- which, if discussed, can be put in a box all it's own as far as to how minorities are portrayed and what roles they play in the main stream. Did a whole semester my senior year in college on the lack of color in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series. Had lots of statistics that backed up the empirical study that proved that minorities generally fall into the specific catagories of victim, villian or background noise. That is, until the seventh season came out and blew every statistic out.)

    My question is who developed the game? Where and what country was it developed in? Do cultural standards come into play when creating the world of Final Fantasy or any other video game? Have you read the names of the creators and developers of the game? Although it's stated that the games are created by predominately Asian males, did you do any actual research or know anything about Asian culture? And are there particular Asian features that you want represented? Not all Asians are made equally and do come in different cultural boxes. It's like always using a Plains Indian to portray the homogenized version of Native America that we have come to know and revile. We're not all equal, nor do we subscribe to the same set of rules. If we are going to discuss racism, please let it be a discussion that looks at the impact on a culture because of that lack of representation. Let's look at how that lack of proper representation and continuance of stereotype perpetuates intolerant attitudes towards a race of people based on ignorance. Let's look at how those attitudes set public opinion and create environments for hate crimes.

    So get over the lack of "Asian" representation in Final Fantasy XIII. Believe me when I say that Asian or rather, Japanese influence can be seen all throughout the newest addition to that saga.

    Rob said...

    Lorie, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that my name is Bao Phi and I'm a gamer. Actually, the indented text is his, not mine. My name is Rob Schmidt and I don't play anything more complex than bridge on my PC.

    FYI, indented blocks of text are a standard English method of quoting someone. Scholars have used this method for a couple of centuries and I've used it constantly on almost 8,000 blog entries. If you didn't realize that, you weren't paying attention.

    I thought my purpose in quoting Bao Phi was clear. To repeat: "The excuses of the apologists for the status quo apply to other minorities and genres too. For instance, to American Indians in movies, TV shows, books, and comic books." If you missed that, go back and reread the posting.

    I'm not interested in debating the merits of Final Fantasy XIII, which is why I didn't debate them. If you want to ask your questions, follow the link to the original posting and ask them there. My purpose is to discuss how the excuses for racism also apply to American Indians in other genres.

    Lorie said...

    Rob,

    I completely understood that the text you used was not yours..."by Bao Philt's fantasy." And I do understand that you were using it as an example to illustrate a point in relation to your usual subject matter. I don't necessarily want to debate the "merits of Final Fantasy XIII," either. I got off on a rant, which can happen from time to time.

    I've been reading your blogs and writings for a few months now. I understand the nature of the beast that you try to expose on a daily basis. I find it fairly offensive that you suggest that I don't have any idea how scholars operate -- by using other textual examples, written by other people to validate your own opinion. I think I showed a nice example of quotation integration in the paragraph above. If you would like me to cite you, I can do so properly.

    Now, I said fairly offensive, because I can and do appreciate a healthy dose of sarcastic wit. My comments in my earlier posting were not directed towards you specifically, just reacting to the text you used. Which, by the way, if you're going to use someone else's writing, you should let them know. You quoted a college friend of mine back in 2002 and he had no idea you had even used his quote. But it was a nice blast from the past for both of us, so no foul.

    Anyway, I hope that you continue to search out and right the wrongs! I have so enjoyed your writings up to this point. I don't always agree and I may rant from time to time, but hey, isn't that what discussion forums are for?