Since Black History Month is wrapping up I wanted to touch upon an issue that is relevant to it and me: the general state of minorities in gaming. Now before I get started, I want to clarify what I mean by the term “minorities.” Since the standard use of the word refers to all people of non-Caucasian origins, that will be the definition I’ll be referring to. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a list counting down my top minority characters in gaming. The response was a little different than I had anticipated. That surprising response made me take a long and hard look at gaming culture as a whole and I thought that this feature would be a good outlet for me to share my thoughts.
Reading through the comments and tweets about my top 10 list, I found a few people that enjoyed the article and maybe had some suggestions for additions to the list or even some constructive criticisms of any additions or omissions. The majority of the responses were anything but helpful, though. I’ll come back to this point in a bit. What I wanted to focus on now was the list of candidates I had compiled for my list. Coming up with any number of minority characters in gaming isn’t THAT hard. The hard part is finding some that aren’t blatant stereotypes. Black characters are portrayed as either thugs and gangsters like Playboy X or Dwayne Forge in GTA IV, the loud and loyal soldier like Cole Train from the Gears of War series, or the bumbling, funny sidekick like Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII. Latino, Asian, and Native-American characters, for the most part, aren’t portrayed any better. Yes, there are good portrayals of every race but they are few and far between. I’d love to see more game devs giving minority characters the spotlight without having them fit into one of the mentioned stereotypes. Ubisoft has shown that doing extensive research to get historically accurate representations of characters and cultures is a feasible method. I’m not saying every studio needs to go out and hire minorities or spend huge amounts of money and time researching people of different backgrounds, but if they’re making a game set in modern times, how hard would it be to go talk to a few people of different ethnicities to make a better minority character than a typical stereotype?
Going back to the responses I got, for the most part they were either dismissive or downright negative and hostile. This is, in my opinion, one of the gaming community’s biggest problems (myself included). When any sort of criticism comes our way, whether deservedly or not, we go into instant hyper-defensive mode. We immediately accuse the offending party of being too uptight or not being able to take a joke or being ignorant. Too often, someone makes a race/gender/sexual orientation joke and if anyone objects, they are instantly put down as not being able to take a joke. As an art form how can we expect gaming to grow and evolve if we don’t take a step back and accept some criticism? Another negative is the blatant racism (and sexism) that seems to be part and parcel of playing online. I had my fill of being called a “f***ot”, “n***er”, or “fucking terrorist” pretty quick after first playing online and stuck to playing offline or in a closed party with only friends. Since most of my friends are from a minority background, the gamers among them have their own bigotry stories. This video in particular showcases some of the ignorant, hateful speech some people have to deal with.
This is a far reaching issue that can’t be fixed over a short period of time. There has to be changes from the developers down to the consumer level. Developers can try to design games around more minority characters or at least stop basing the few characters of color that they do design on useless stereotypes. I know I’m getting tired of playing as a grizzled looking white male with brownish hair. I’d like to see more heroes and heroines of different races like Faith from Mirror’s Edge, or Lee from The Walking Dead. I feel that seeing more and more diversity in games people are playing will curb at least some of the bigotry running rampant in online gaming. It would be hard to call someone a nigger if their avatar was of African-American character. I’ll never forget something I heard from Polygon’s Justin McElroy at PAX East 2012 during a panel discussion; which was (and I’m paraphrasing here) if you’re not a white male, the gaming industry needs you to add your voice to the discussion. How the gaming community deals with this major issue could affect how we are perceived by the world for decades to come. If this topic interests you, i would highly recommend reading Evan Narcisse‘s recent articles for Kotaku, David Brothers‘ article for Comics Alliance, and Louie Castro-Garcia‘s article for Venture Beat. With so many different outlets reporting on this topic, I hope that more people will become aware of this problem and join the struggle to resolve it.
(Graphs via New Scientist)