Saturday, 6 April 2013

Variety In Race (A Question Of Racism)

Some language, including a couple of words of a racist nature, might offend. 

Bioshock Infinite got me thinking about quite a few things. Its comment on racism wasn't perfectly conveyed (we all know racism does and did exist and Infinite didn't seem to be making a particular point about it. Not that it didn't represent well how flawed a place Columbia was) however it did make me think about black characters in video games.

The thing about video games is that they are very neutral. Unless the game is making a point about racism like Bioshock Infinite and had to have all of the main characters as white because that is what the story demanded, then it can feature black people as much as it wants. Games are not dictated by what actors can play what part as they are animated and there is never an issue about who, or what race, appears in them.

That said, why are there so few black characters? Especially playable ones? I'm not even close to calling video games racist, as that word is far overused and this is far from the case here, however why is it that developers seem to shy away from making some of the main, or even the main character(s) black? 

Race isn't alone in being neglected in games though. Indeed; few games put you in the shoes of a female protagonist. This is more understandable though. More men than women play video games and to cater to that larger audience developers make more male leads. This isn't hard to get. It's a valid point from a business perspective, even if it does seem 'sexist'.

That said, you can't exactly say that more white people game than black people, and I certainly do not think that 'majority' is the case here. In a way it is simply devs wanting to play it safe.

Some people don't watch films with black actors. I, and I don't think anyone else, would blame you for calling that racist behaviour. In fact, I would probably agree whole-heartedly with you. Why would someone not watch a movie because Will Smith plays the lead character? That is alien to me and a lot of people. 
That said, racism itself is also alien to me. 

You'd think with all our technology and so called intelligence that we would have at least learned skin colour means Jack all. I don't actually understand how or why people are racist. We are not animals. We are not different breeds of animal. We are all the same, just like all dogs are the same. Except some dogs have white fur, some grey, some black; some are big, some are small - they are all different in appearance, but fundamentally? They are all dogs. And you know another thing about dogs? They don't give a shit if another pooch has different fur to them. Maybe humans' evolving FROM animals wasn't such a good idea.

It might not be true, but still a good story
That said, people who say acknowledging how people are different is racist are just plain stupid. I don't even know if you can say out-loud that someone is black anymore without being called a racist. There are 3 types of racism, people. Here they are:

1: Hate racism: This is the strongest, most evil form of racism. It revolves around nothing but pure hate of people with a different skin colour to you. We're talking people who actually kill other humans over it. 

2: Social Racism: People make racist jokes and have a laugh and that is often accepted by everyone, including people of other races. That said people still have to respect people's right to be offended and know when to stop. 

3: Unfounded Racism: There are people, mostly youths, who go around yelling 'nigger this' and 'nigger that' at people and saying extremely offensive things to black people. They do not hate blacks or Asians or anything, they are simply saying and acting this way because they either feel they have to, or they think it is cool. 
There is nothing bad about acknowledging other races and their skin colour. Nothing at all.

I have digressed on a massive scale. Where were we? Oh yeah, discussing people who don't watch films with black people in.

My main point about this film thing was to pose the question that maybe people won't, or don't, like playing as black, Asian, Chinese or whatever, people. Or at least, maybe devs are worried that is how people are.

It's hard enough to get a game popular enough to even make a profit, let alone be classed as 'successful', so you can't blame companies for doing their best to avoid all possible put-offs in their games.

That said, avoiding race is a little too far in my opinion.

I want to play as a black guy. I love black people. Why wouldn't  I? They're just people like me. So why are there minimal games that give us this opportunity? 

When I played Dead Island I was taken aback by being able to play as a black character. 
"A black guy?" I thought, "You are letting me play as a black guy?" And then I didn't pick him. 
It was sort of off putting, not because I am racist, but because I was simply unsure about it. So few games give you the opportunity to play as other races that when they do, and it is optional, I simply don't know what to think.

When I was thinking this point through, I decided to look at it from a black person's perspective. Imagine if there were all these video games and every character was black. There were little to no white guys (or girls) in them. I have to admit I would find that pretty annoying. 
I'm guessing, and this is a guess as I am not in this situation or am black, that that is kind of how black people might feel about this issue. Hell, even Japan has tons of Japanese people in games. In fact there is an entire GENRE dedicated to Japanese games and characters. 

The issues I think about when I consider why devs might avoid characters that are not white are things like: Maybe it is because people might find it uncomfortable? People might feel less attachment to the people in the game because they are not white? 

But then I think: surely this is how a lot of black people must feel about how games are at the moment. It's not all about white guys (or gals) and how WE feel. Fuck that shit.

Developers need to embrace other races. We need to see more black, playable, characters in video games, because at the moment there are very few, and it sucks.

Games aren't racist; they haven't done anything to offend anyone, however they need to expand their variety in race, mix things up. And there is no reason why they can't, or shouldn't, do that.

If you are black I'd love to hear your opinion on this matter, especially if you game too! Ah screw it: I want to hear everyone's opinion on it. This is a really valid issue and something very broad and opinion focused so I want to know what all of you think about this! Post your comments below!


  1. I am a black female.. ( I know right.. a female that plays video games and I'm but I was slightly taken aback when playing bioshock infinite.. Just because I haven't played any games where it deals with racism to this extent. Sure I played games where if you remembered back in history during that time period you would know that that was the time of segregation, slavery etc. But it would be nice to see more games where the leading character is black or if not, having options like dead island (and yes I played the black woman from Australia).

    Its interesting though that when there is a leading black male.. the only one that comes to mind is GTA San Andreas and GTA: The Ballard of Gay Tony... oh and the walking dead game by Telltale (was kind of surprised by the character because he was black and educated, not saying that there aren't educated black people.. of course there are but you just don't see that in many games.. look at GTA san andreas). Let me know if there are anymore games with black characters.

    I do agree with a lot that you said in your blog. I guess it is hard in certain areas where the black population is limited (china, japan, hell russia) but even recently in japan anime (ya I like japanese anime too) there have been some surfacing of characters of color such as afro samurai,a few on cowboy bebop and bleach.. but I mean slowly but surely we will most likely start seeing more expandable player options where you can choose the player you want or even create a player. That would be the next best thing.

    side note: you should play as the black dude on dead island.. nothing wrong with that.. I wouldn't get offended if I saw another race playing a black guy or woman..

    1. Hi thanks for your awesome comment! I appreciate that you have given an insight into how you actually feel about this as it affects you more than me, obviously. I should've mentioned the Walking Dead in the article, actually. I loved the main guy in that. He was really awesome. The thing about Dead Island is that while even though I love playing as black characters, because it is so rare when you ARE given the chance, or option, to, then you tend to feel a bit put off by it. I think if everyone just came out in the open about it and stopped trying to avoid the subject it would be so much better. Nothing is good when you keep it bundled up inside.


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