June 11, 2011

"Racism, Stereotypes, and the Digitized Indian"

An excellent article analyzes the video games Gun, Custer's Revenge, Turok, and Prey in detail:

Native Americans in Video Games:  Racism, Stereotypes, & The Digitized IndianTomahawks, bows and arrows, feathered headdresses, a connection to the spiritual world—these are just a few of the stereotypical elements associated with the “Indians” of popular culture. Generally, these features, among others, are mixed together and poured into a cliche “Native American” mould that characterizes them as either an outdated civilization of savages or romanticizes them as mystical, nature-loving warriors and shamans. This mould has only strengthened over time, and has taken form in a variety of entertainment mediums, starting with literature, then film, then television, and most recently, video games. A few notable Native American characters that have appeared in video games include Mortal Kombat‘s Nightwolf, a tribal warrior donning feathers and face paint, who wields a bow and arrows, a tomahawk, and can also transform into a wolf to defeat his adversaries, Street Fighter‘s equally stereotypical Thunder Hawk, and Banjo Tooie‘s magical shaman Humba Wumba, who lives in a “wigwam” and becomes oddly sexualized in the following game. We tend to glance over these highly stereotypical portrayals as fun and harmless, but can these simplified, misleading images of Native Americans have a negative impact on consumers? Many of these stereotypes, whether they have some sort of basis in history or not, are certainly not relevant to the contemporary Native American. In fact, the common perception of these people as antiquated and exotic could possibly hinder their ability to synthesize with mainstream society, as it greatly affects society’s understanding of them as well as their own sense of identity. That said, it’s interesting to consider the Native American’s place in video games over the past thirty years as they are certainly under-represented, occasionally portrayed in a negative light, and almost always plagued by long-established stereotypes that separate them from the dominant majority, just as they are in film and literature.Comment:  I'd post this whole article if it weren't unseemly. I suggest you read it if you're at all interested in Native stereotyping issues.

For more on Natives in video games, see Videos on Video-Game Natives and Chieftain's Challenge and Wargle.

Below:  Feathers, fringe, and skin are apparently a Native's defining characteristics.


Jaine said...

glad you didn't post the whole article Rob, the blatant racism and misogynism in 'Custer's Revenge' is completely sickening

Anonymous said...

The Indians in Red Dead weren't that bad, the one's in Gun however was obviously racist

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Nightwolf is a parody of Thunder Hawk. Also, it should be noted that EVERYBODY in Mortal Kombat 3 could turn into an animal; it was one of the finishing moves. The ur-example is Liu Kang, who got, ahem, scaled up and turned into a dragon in MK2. (Okay, that's a bit stereotypical too.)

Oh, Pokemon features an all-male bird species in the next one called Braviary. Didn't get the usual colors right (because it's, you know, Japan, and also because all the black and white mons are butt ugly). Before Braviary, though, there was Xatu. Goddammit, I am not a bird.

Yeah, Custer's Revenge was sickening. That's actually one big reason Nintendo went so hard to prosecute pirates, after what happened to Atari. What's really bad is, you just know somebody fapped to the idea of raping an Indian woman tied to a cactus. Whether that's sadistic (the rape) or masochistic (the needles in your nuts) is a YMMV thing.

dmarks said...

Jaine: Rob's covered that game extensively in the past.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is T. Hawk a bit mukokuseki?