hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Why does it have to be about race?

10:00 PM on 07.25.2013 // BrothaDom

Promoted from our community blogs!

[Dtoid community blogger BrothaDom shares some thoughts on race in videogames and videogame culture. Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]

The other morning, I woke up to a group of tweets from Phil Fish, a French Canadian game designer. (He made Fez; it's pretty popular.) It shocked me at first, because I don't know much about his views on anything, other than that he is outspoken. He started out with commenting on the Zimmerman trial. Whatever, everyone has an opinion on that, but it's always cool to see guys like Phil Fish talking about non-gaming issues. (At least to me.) But then it took a turn that I hadn't expected.

"Name one famous black game developer GO." It was a simple tweet, but one that carried some intention that I hadn't expected from Mr. Fish. The replies were rather predictable I'd say. A couple names were brought up, but the consensus was Derek Smart. I'd personally never heard of him, but maybe that should be a "shame on me" sort of thing. Auriea Harvey came up as well when it was questioned if any black women were well-known. Again, a "shame on me"-type thing for not knowing. But the predictability continued with a few jokes, nothing offensive, but the eventual "race, gender, skin color, etc. shouldn't matter, only the quality of games should matter" type comment came up.

Phil Fish. Not a black man.

I've heard this argument many times in many settings. And to be honest, it makes logical sense: I get where it's coming from. But I don't think it is a thought that should be followed so strongly. Bear with me for a moment while I explain a bit about myself.

I'm 23 years old, which means that I was born in 1990. I was never aware of any ridiculous civil rights breakdowns/movements during my life as they were happening. However, I was pretty concerned with Sonic, Mega Man, Sega Channel, and Pokémon. If you had asked five-year-old me which color people were the best, I would have undoubtedly said "blue" with pride. Race was something I was cautiously warned about, but never something that I cared too much about at the time. But as I grew up, it was pushed into my view by others' efforts way more than mine.

Seriously, my life was all about this dude when I was a little guy.

I mean, I guess I sort of noticed that there weren't a lot of black characters in the games I was playing or the cartoons I was watching. (You could count Daffy Duck, but doesn't that feel like a cop-out?) But I didn't care; I was playing Sonic. I didn't expect there to be a black hedgehog running around grabbing rings anymore than his fox sidekick. Most of the mascot-type games of the time never seemed to need racial tones anyway, so it wasn't something I really thought about.

However, Halloween always got tricky once I got older in this sense. As it is probably obvious at this point, I considered Sonic my favorite game character, so naturally, this was the first costume I chose when I was a child. And luckily, no one batted an eye. Why not have a black kid be Sonic? The only skin you could see was his mouth, and it was already sort of brown anyway.

Not Pictured: 5-year-old me embarrassing 23-year-old me.

I guess I didn't really get to keep this courtesy once I got older. A 14-year-old can't really dress in a Sonic costume and be considered cool. (When I was 14, being "cool" was probably one of my biggest priorities. Now, I wouldn't care.) So, I decided to upgrade to something more "realistic"... or at least human-ish. Naturally, I chose Link from the Zelda series, because elf/fairy people are obviously realistic enough to not get laughed at in high school. Some people recognized it, which was a huge relief to me at the time. (Nerd culture wasn't cool yet.) However, one comment did come up a lot: "Oh nice! You're Black Link!" "Well, no. I'm Black. I'm just costuming as Link. And I'm not Dark Link, either."

While I can follow the train of thought, it didn't make me feel particularly good. But this was from the people who knew whom I was pretending to be. The people who didn't just assumed I was a "Black Christmas Elf." I get the Christmas elf part, definitely, but didn't understand the need for the race-qualifier. I never thought of elves as having a particular color scheme. That wasn't me bringing it up; it was the other kids. The white kids. I got a very similar response the next few years when I was Sora from Kingdom Hearts 2. I didn't feel like I was doing anything "black", other than being black wearing a costume of a "not-black" character. I wasn't playing to any stereotypes. Had I been a Mario brother wearing big sunglasses with a giant gold chain, cultural stereotypes withstanding, I'd understand why people could make the qualifier: it would be something other than just my skin color. I still get this response as an adult commonly. But now it's "Black Finn from Adventure Time", not just "Finn from Adventure Time". (I do understand if there were a bunch of people in the same costume, as it would be useful to identify someone by their skin color; another detail makes identification easier. But that's not what I'm speaking to.)

But it didn't throw anyone off when I was a gray-ish green vampire.

Similarly, growing up in a predominantly white community, I was often told that I didn't "act black". Or I didn't "talk black". Or "like black things". My main interests were videogames and soccer. I thought those were two of the most ethnically-neutral things this planet had to offer... but I guess this is why we need black developers and personalities in gaming. (And other media, for that matter.)

After all, my interest in videogames wouldn't seem so "not-black" if people knew about more black people that played games, made them, etc. I feel the same way about black characters in games/movies/cartoons. As children, we get a lot of our exposure to people different from us from media. Too often, the character that looked like me -- if he existed -- was relegated to support (often as the nerdy black best friend) or was the bad guy; I never got to be the star.

Although when your best friend is a super-powered half ghost, being support is still pretty important.

And for other children, it's logical to believe that they'll internalize hurtful thoughts if all their examples of black people are rappers, athletes, or criminals. This leads people to having a narrow view of what is really out there, which is unfortunate for everyone.

Pictured: two shirts fighting for their lives.

I'm not calling for every series to have a black lead, or even black characters, but it would be nice if there was a bit more diversity. I don't even mind the stereotypical archetypes, as people like that do exist! But what about the whole spectrum of personality types that is made to seem non-existent? That's where the problem lies. If every character was a thug, hillbilly, stripper, maid, or scientist, that would be awful and untrue; but having a few of those among everything else is realistic.

So why does it have to be about race? Because many of us were taught that it was by the same people asking that question. My question is how come it never gets to be about race on my terms, but it's able to be thrown in my direction? When I did things, my race was brought into the situation on someone else's terms. Because of this, it puzzles me that when an injustice or odd thing happens and race is one of the noticeable things, why must I assume that THIS is the time race doesn't matter? It just makes me think.

But it makes me feel better when, in the midst of people saying that it's only minorities that bring this stuff up...

...there are people noticing that other people may feel ostracized.

 Follow Blog + disclosure BrothaDom

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
Dear Playboy: Love your video game coverage, but how about you start making some topless unboxing videos? Seeing someone unwrap a copy of Call of Duty is boring. Seeing a topless Playmate unwrap a copy of anything is awesome!
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
In happier news, Level-5 is already talking Yo-Kai Watch 2's Western release, and better/worse yet, they're considering amiibo support for the series! And hey, if they can't get Jibanyan into Smash, that'd be one way to get the West's attention.
gajknight avatargajknight
I drank a glass of Ovaltine for the first time in years today. It was nice. Like drinking a glass of my childhood, complete with ignorance, embarrassing angst, tears (so many tears) and night terrors. Ah, the good 'ol days.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
[img][/img] This is just depressing. Digital classics on consoles are such a great idea, but it's like not a single company wants to really go through with it.
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
My heart will always be yours, Papyrus #2spoopy4me
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
I recently beat Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow again, but this time I played on Hard mode from scratch. Outside of dying a few times due to me being an idiot, and enemies hitting harder, it was actually easy. Like really easy.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Today I replated bacteria that I made take up a plamid hopefully stitched onto the genes generatlight. Taken from other dead bacteria and put into a non glowing species, to make it glow. Fucking microbiology is the best.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
It seems fairy farts are a fragrance, a soap, incense, a vaping liquid and a kind of nail polish. I'm clearly in the wrong line of work and need to eat more chili.
Cannibal Steven avatarCannibal Steven
"You gave the Lost Soul a big smile, like you remember she likes to do... For some reason she sort of wants to smile back..." I'm not crying. Not one bit.
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Just tried 'The Last Of Us' on PSNow Trial, only to be told... 'Something went wrong. Try again.' Game-appropriate error message or quickie plot-summary?
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
I hate when people say crap like "I admit that [thing] in games is problematic, but I still enjoy it" because it's an underhanded way of contradicting your own views while convincing yourself that you aren't a hypocrite.
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
Well shit. I knew I was more than likely going to enjoy Star Wars Battlefront (cause you know, giant Star Wars nerd and all) but holy cow, the beta is fucking great! I need the full game like, now.
SpielerDad avatarSpielerDad
Anyone here going to NYC Comic Con? Always wanted to go and lived so close, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
Mark Plechaty avatarMark Plechaty
Well I haven't seen any levels like this on mario maker so maybe it's unique the I'd is 55BD000000961CBA GIVE IT A GO and let me know what you think
Jiraya avatarJiraya
Hey Stranger ... wadda you buying ? Want some crack ? Here ya go... [youtube][/youtube]
Sr Churros avatarSr Churros
My brother caught me this Pokémon in our room yesterday. How should I name it? [img][/img]
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
Yay, I got off of work early and may have Friday off! I have a sinking feeling I'm going to work 10 hours on Saturday as a result, though :/ We ran out of stuff to make stuff with so they must ship us stuff so we can ship stuff.
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Yo yo I'm Marie and I got dat gangsta flow. High scores ain't no trip, cuz I whip that shit like Sonic quick. I-I mean no! I didn't say anything! Stupidrecordbreakingcombodolt. [img][/img]
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
I'm watching you.
FlanxLycanth avatarFlanxLycanth
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -