[Update: Mike Sacco no longer works with Cryptozoic Entertainment, seemingly as a result of his discussion over Borderlands 2. At first, Sacco stated, "I'm gonna confirm two things: That people tried to pressure Cryptozoic into firing me, and that I no longer work at Cryptozoic."
Despite wording that implied Sacco had been fired, Cryptozoic issued a statement to clarify Sacco was a contracted worker, and had been asked not to represent the company with his opinions. According to the company, Sacco then quit, an apparently unexpected move.
"We asked him not represent himself as an employee of Cryptozoic. After the message was delivered, Mike quit. We like Mike and we are as surprised by his reaction as you are."
Sacco has since said he cast Cryptozoic in a more negative light than intended.]
Many critics have slammed Tiny Tina -- a quest-giving NPC in Borderlands 2 -- for being annoying. Until now, few of them have implied she's racist. Last night, however, writer Anthony Burch addressed concerns from players via Twitter after they took umbrage with the way Tina talks.
Mike Sacco of Cryptozoic Entertainment led the charge, telling Burch, "Hey. I really like BL2's writing, but Tiny Tina's trope of 'white girl talkin' like them urban folk!!' has got to go."
Although Burch first responded with, "Well, it's not going to," he received further criticism. Sacco went to the extreme of calling her "actively racist" as others chimed in.
"Its exaggerated stereotypical low class 'black' lingo that with Tina amounts to verbal blackface," wrote one player.
"I don't think you meant to make Tina racist but it's a reasonable view IMO. She equates stereotyped ebonics with wacky," suggested another.
Tiny Tina has fans, however, and others leaped to her defense with cries of, "DON'T CHANGE TINA." Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford also jumped into the discussion, standing by his writer and declaring that Anthony Burch was certainly not racist.
"Tina is not racist because you are not racist," the executive told Burch. "You're a pillar of tolerance and inclusion."
Despite the support, Anthony Burch went from dismissing the criticism to opening himself up for it, stating that he may now end up revising the character and her way of speaking, provided he can be convinced her dialog is inherently problematic.
"The last thing I want to be is exclusionary or prejudiced, so if Tina truly is problematic I’ll change her," he said. "I’m just not convinced that a character using lingo like badonkadonk/crunk is inherently racist. If I’m wrong I would like to know why."
He responded to Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez to say that he wouldn't update Borderlands 2 to reflect any changes, due to "technical restraints" with the game. Indeed, it would be quite a feat to redo entire portions of a months-old game due to a single Twitter exchange. Any revision to the character would be undertaken in future installments.
An interesting discussion, but one that leaves out an important factor -- there are white people who talk like this, believing it's how all black people speak. If Tina herself had been black, and using these ludicrous words, it may indeed look entirely racist, but I never took her as a character making fun of the way black people speak. She seemed more to me like a mockery of the way white people speak when they think they're sounding like "cool black people."
That was just my take on it, though, and it's far from the only interpretation. We navigate stormy waters whenever we set sail on the sea of racial comedy, and it's hard to avoid charges of racism whenever you dip your toe in that particular ocean. As we saw recently with Django Unchained, the floodgates are more than willing to open when your fiction touches upon a racial issue, and the utmost care must be taken to ensure your writing is tenable. Burch remains confident his is, but it'll be intriguing to see if anybody can change his mind.
At least the dialog between Anthony, his supporters, and critics is respectful and enlightening, rather than full of rage and insults. Well ... mostly.
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