Ok. There's been a lot of talk today about racism in games and I feel like I need to comment on some of the insane-o reactions to these stories. I originally was going to write this blog about a story on Kotaku that quoted Morgan Gray (the Senior Producer at Crystal Dynamics) about his feelings on black stereotypes in games, but then over here Gameboi posted about a quote from N'Gai (En-Guy) Croal pertaining to the Resident Evil 5 trailer. So I'm going to give you a 2-for-1 and talk about each separately. Strap yourselves in kids because this is going to be a long one.
First, a little background on me:
I'm the product of a white dad and a black mom. I don't really identify myself as either as I am no more one than the other, and I never even gave it that much thought until someone pointed it out to me at the age of 10. Being of mixed decent, I've had the unique opportunity of being able to see both sides of the proverbial fence. I have really rich white relatives who live in the same neighborhood as Oprah's father, really rich black relatives who could afford to buy my cousin literally a walk in closet full of toys and send him to law school, and poor black relatives who live in the heart of the ghetto where crack houses are just down the road and people shoot guns in the air on the street on New Years.
Despite the fact that my Dad is a religious right wing white guy, he raised me on NWA, 2 Live Crew, and Wu-Tang and used to blast "Fuck the Police” when the cops came to our house late at night to tell us to turn the music down (on more than one occasion). I myself tended to relate and hang out with white people more (while my little brother related more to black people), but I had plenty of black friends as well since the schools I went to had a good mix of races. My point is that I come from a pretty diverse/crazy background.
Because of my ability to blend into both racial groups (people mistake me as hispanic, arabian, and asian(?) on a constant basis), I've seen racism from all sides. I've also been the victim of racism a few times as I seem to attract white girls with extremely racist fathers. But I'm not easily offended at all, I'm not a big fan of political correctness, and I tend to laugh most racist stuff off.
But enough about me.
Let's talk about the Kotaku article first. This is the quote that Kotaku pulled from Morgan Gray's interview:
“Here's the thing: Cole Train on his own, no harm no foul. But what is Cole Train? ColeTrain is basically like every other effin' black character in a video game. Like here comesthe urban stereotype. Where is this 1990's — not even 2000 — black slang, wheredoes this fit in this futuristic world that doesn't even take place on Earth? They goreally far to do a lot of fictional justifications for this culture that they've built, andthey go right back to this urban stereotype for the black character.
I'm not knocking Epic; the game was fun and gorgeous. But it's just a lack of thought, right?All it does is reinforce dumb stereotypes and it sort of reinforces casual racism.”
Now over on Kotaku, the main reaction to this was along the lines of “All football players are like that. It wouldn't make sense if he was a scrawny white guy.” which totally misses the point. Now let's make a few things clear.
*First of all, I think Cole is the most awesomest character in Gears. The dude is hilarious and lightens up the mood when he's around.
*Second, Gears of War isn't the pinnacle of character development. Pretty much everyone in the game is a stereotype of some kind.
*Third, from what I heard, Cole was inspired and voiced by Terry Tate or more specifically, those awesome “Terrible Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” commercials. Epic saw those and thought it would be cool if you could play a character like that in a game.
All that said, is Cole Train a negative black stereotype? Hell yes. He's the stereotypical loud mouth, cocky, football playin, simple minded, out dated gangsta slang spoutin black guy. He's extremely entertaining and again, I love the guy, but this is still true so Morgan used Cole Train as an example.
But within the context of the full original article, you can see that his point wasn't about how Cole is a negative stereotype, or even that it's not ok to have a character like that every now and then, it was the fact that more often than not when black people (or most minorities) are portrayed in games, they turn out to be a character like Cole Train. This loud mouth, attitude having, stereotypical black guy. I can't stress this point enough since so many people missed it over there so I'll say it again.
His point is that 9 times out of 10, the minority is portrayed as a negative stereotype.
Morgan isn't saying there's no place for a character like that, only that he'd like to see a more balanced portrayal of minorities in games.
Now about this N'Gai quote.
A LOT of people are reading the quote and mis-interpreting it as him saying that Resident Evil 5 is racist. THIS IS NOT WHAT HE'S SAYING AT ALL. He was merely pointing out how the trailer could be mis-interpreted (ironic huh?) as being racist and how the marketing team might want to be a little more careful about it. He was explaining how as a black man, the images of a white guy shooting up a village full of crazy black people could be a little jarring ESPECIALLY out of context.
Now, when I first saw the trailer, my first reaction like most people here was “ZOMG ALMIGHTY! Look at the GraphiX!!”. Ok, actually it was “What kind of super-roids has Chris been taking?”, but while watching it I thought the same thing N'Gai did. “Oh shit. Al Sharpton is going to have a field day with this.” If you didn't then good for you. You're cookie is in the mail. But you have to understand that we as gamers know that RE is about shooting zombies so that's what we see, but imagine you have no idea what RE is or even the basic concept. Imagine you're a black person who is old enough to remember segregation and MLK being assassinated, and stories about black people being lynched or drug behind trucks and the white people who got away with it because of all white juries. Now imagine you're watching TV and the RE5 trailer pops up as a commercial. HOPEFULLY you can understand what the reaction to that might be like.
Now again we have the argument of “But no one complained about the Spanish zombies in RE4! Why are you complaining now?”. Well if you saw the “zombies” in RE4 in a quick 30 second commercial on TV would you automatically think “Hey. Why is that white guy shooting all those Spanish people?”? No because the zombies in RE4 looked pretty fucked up already and you don't really identify them as Spanish until they start talking (at least I didn't). The black zombies in RE5 don't even really look like zombies. They just look like a bunch of crazy black people. Hell, one of them is using a megaphone with his stunna shades on.
People keep saying “Well if you look for racism all the time, of course you'll find it.” or “If you keep pointing out racism, you're only perpetuating racism” which is not only retarded it's again, missing the point. If you read N'Gai's quote again, he keeps stressing the imagery and context in the trailer. That's because as a black person in America, you have this historical context of violence and oppression against blacks. For a lot of people, who grew up with this and were able to see it happen before their eyes, when this imagery of a white guy shooting up all these scary black people is presented to them with no context, they can't help but be reminded of those events. Again, N'Gai isn't saying RE5 is racist, he's only suggesting that the marketing team provide CONTEXT for the imagerywhen they present it to the uninformed, lest they want a shit-storm upon their doors.
This is ALL he's fucking saying.
There are some other points I'd like to make but this blog is already too long. Hopefully this will help some of you understand where these guys are coming from. I also recommend you watch or listen to Barack Obama's recent speech about racism. No matter what you're political affiliation is, he explains the issue we're talking about here pretty well. That's it. I'm out.