I've never been able to play as one before. I've been white, African-American, Eastern European, Hispanic, and even an Argonian lizard man. Maybe I've played as one in a fighting game but their identity wasn't fleshed out beyond their ability to fight. I've certainly never felt this attachment in Fallout as you never really saw your character.
Finally in Sleeping Dogs, I'm playing as a distinct Asian character.
As a Vietnamese American man, I'm finally asking myself questions of identity in a video game. Is Wei Shen a good Asian character? How are people in this game portrayed? Does this game let me conquer the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers? All questions I can't answer for sure as I've barely passed two hours of the game. But I do feel like I like Wei Shen not just as a representative of Asians in games but as a character in general.
The game establishes early into the game that Wei Shen is in fact a good guy with a sympathetic background. It's made clear hat he was chosen for this undercover assignment because his history of involvement with Asian gangs makes him an ideal candidate for infiltrating their ranks. Deeper reading of HKPD profiles reveals that Wei's floating time between his childhood in Hong Kong, life in San Fransisco, and return to his home have left him, according to the HKPD, culturally malleable. This makes him paradoxically the best candidate to blend in with the triads and also the most dangerous candidate fo the job. As his psyche profile states, it's possible for Wei to actually integrate into the triads too much and switch allegiances if he becomes too comfortable in his new colors.
While it's true people might feel a disconnect between being an undercover cop and murdering tons of people in missions, I think it's important to note that the game penalizes you cop experience if you act recklessly like driving onto the sidewalk, running over civilians while on a mission. I naturally want to play the straightedge cop but the game rewards me anyways for trying to stick with Wei's moral compass as a police officer while acting the part as a triad gangster.
As someone has commented before in the cblogs, the web of relationships is the game's strongest point. Wei doesn't like his police handlers and they don't trust him either. Meanwhile in the triads, Wei finds acceptance amongst his wary gangsters. But even as Wei may find himself wavering between the two, meeting his old kung fu master inserts a small reminder of Wei's place and humanity in Hong Kong.
As you can see, there's a lot of duality and identity crisis going on here and I feel engaged as an Asian American. Many Asian cultures put a strong emphasis on family values and loyalty. It goes back to how deeply rooted Confucianism is and while many youths eventually learn to be individualistic and become argumentive with authority to find their place in the world, it's not uncommon under Confucian family values to learn through a very structured and disciplinarian way.
I've always just assumed people like me grew up learning their native tongue for example. I was surprised in high school when one of my friends told me she didn't know how to speak Vietnamese. My girlfriend has oftentimes asked me if I would bother teaching our kids Vietnamese and I would, despite thinking of myself as not being in touch enough with my culture to think it was worth teaching them.
When I went to middle school and high school, I often felt I was an American youth, hanging out with other people of varying opinions on their identity. Some acted like me and were very much American. But when I went home or walked around my neighborhood, I was Vietnamese. However, others in school were much more in touch with their culture and weren't afraid of proclaiming it in school. I had a friend who always used an appropriate moment to declare how she was Portuguese. It wasn't as if she said it all day, but whenever there was talk about food or a party, she said how she had it in a Portuguese
Do I consider myself Vietnamese-American? Or am I an American who is Vietnamese? In Sleeping Dogs, the way the different sides of the law are viewed can be influenced by Wei's identity as Honk Kong native. His history of violence may stem from his past in Honk Kong but his role as a police officer was an American created identity while Wei was in San Fransisco.
Speaking of Asian identity, I find myself second guessing images and stereotypes in Sleeping Dogs at times when most would lodge complaints. One way of gaining health upgrades is by finding shrines and burning incense at them. Is this a stereotypical image of Asians? Well, I don't think so because we really do that. Confucianism doesn't just penetrate life philosophies but religious faith as well. And don't try and act like food stands serving random snacks like noodles and tea is weird. In a crowded space like Hong Kong, you will pretty much find everything you need in just a few blocks.
I love a lot of things about Sleeping Dogs. While combat is right out of the Arkham Batman series, Wei won't leap 10 feet across the room to deliver an upside down spring kick to the goon you wanted to continue your combo on. I enjoy the emphasis on charged attacks and environmental hazards, and countering is less forgiving. The ramming function while driving breaks reality sure, but is very much appreciated for dealing with vehicular situations and the leaping car jack to me is just an adrenaline junkie's wet dream to the game.
Is Wei Shen and Sleeping Dogs a good chance at representation of Asians in gaming? I'm Vietnamese, so I can't say for sure if it represents the area well. But I think the representation and the game is the best we've had so far. The last time I remember triads in video games was Woozie Mu from San Andreas and he was a blind gangster who could drive and shoot much to the surprise of the main character, CJ. I like Sleeping Dogs, even as a Vietnamese gamer. What does Sleeping Dogs mean to you culturally?
Woozie Mu, the OG triad