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Community Chat: Racism and Stereotypes in Games


Welcome back folks. It's been awhile. But we are here now and it's time for another Community Chat. This time the subject is: Racism and stereotypes in games. I threw out the topic and some questions to the community, twice even and have compiled the answers, along with wrong (yet funny) pictures. Before we get too deep into this, I must warn: I have what some say is an offensive sense of humor. I'm not going to go out of my here for a laugh, but I might just offend someone. I was raised to believe you can either laugh or get pissed. I usually always go with laugh unless it's too horrible. That's me, take it or leave it.

What spurred me into writing this originally, is I've been playing games almost my whole life. A lot of my friends have as well. I may look like a white boi, but I'm actually (mostly) Mexican and Iranian. I've dealt with a lot of bullshit due to that in my life and so have a lot of my non-white friends. A lot of us feel let down by the lack (or stereotyping) of representation in the video game world. It's almost as if the industry only caters to suburban white kids and Japanese folks. Maybe that's the biggest market, but gaming seems much more diverse to me. That could just be us here at Destructoid though. I don't know, but I thought I'd see what some of you had to say on the subject as well, so let's get going. Community members names will be in bold, followed by their original comment from one of the blogs linked above, anything I have to say on it, will be in italics AND bold.

As a white brunette guy with a buzz cut who was raised in a primarily suburban society, I can completely empathize with anyone who is bored of seeing white brunette guys in video games. I have to fucking look at one every time I see a mirror. I play games to ESCAPE this universe. I've always wanted to write about how the mainstream publishers seem to think that I'm just going to want to see a mirror image of myself in every game with a billion dollar budget.That's not true at all. I was drawn to AC: Liberation in large part, due to the fact that protagonist is a caramel skinned goddess.Also I know that a lot of people hate him, but Cole was the only fucking character I gave two shits about during GOW. It's undeniable that other cultures sometimes bring a sense of character that a quick-witted tussle-haired white boy just can't.I just wonder how developers and publishers would feel if they knew that even their exact target market was completely bored to death with their shit.

EDIT: sorry for all the type-os, my iPad likes to change my words I type to other words for no reason.

I miss this guy. He was too short lived a Dtoider. Had a good heart.

I feel like there's different types of racism in games, depending on where they were developed: A lot of Western games have racism in them, but it's a lot more subtle. For the most part, I think the Western world is pretty diverse. So there are still stereotypes, but they are toned down, at least on the physical level. As an example, Gears of War has a lot of stereotypes in it. They aren't necessarily negative (at least not heavily) but it's inspired by what most people see in popular culture. Show me some blockbuster titles where the Latino isn't some wiseass or prankster. Show me some blockbusters where the black guy in just a normal hero, instead of some loud-mouthed musclebound hulk. They exist, but it's rare.

On the flip side, racism in Eastern games is a lot more apparent and worn on the sleeve. Look at the way black people are portrayed in Japanese video games (especially more than five years ago). They tend to be extremely dark, with exaggerated features. Somebody who's Middle Eastern might wear a turban or something. White people tend to have blonde hair and blue eyes. Latinos are overly animated and colorful.I feel like in some ways, the Eastern racism and stereotyping is a little more acceptable though (to me at least). The Japanese don't have a lot of exposure to other people and other cultures. What they know about the world is often only exaggerated caricatures. Their lack of true exposure to other parts of the world makes it a little more innocent and acceptable to me. They also don't seem to stereotype the behavior of other cultures as much as they stereotype their appearance.In the Western world, most of us have had exposure to other cultures and so we have a more reasonable expectation of what people look like. For the most part, you aren't going to see a Mr Popo-esque black character in the Western world anymore. People would go apeshit over something like that. However, we've taken two steps forward and one step back. In the interest of appearing "real" we cast cultural behavior into stereotypes: the smart Asian, the grumpy Asian storekeeper, the tough black guy, the black football player, the Latino gang members, the Latino drug dealers, the white collar white guys, the gay white guy, etc. Western developers fall into the trap of portraying the world as "real", which really means just conforming to stereotypes people are already familiar with.

At the end of the day, I think that the Western world is a lot more racist than it would like to admit. Sure we cast a diverse group of people in our TV shows, movies, and video games. But the "other" races are almost always behavioral stereotypes and two-dimensional characters. When the end credits start to roll, you can bet it's going to be the white MAN that saved the town and is riding off into the sunset. That's just the way Western media tends to be.

Griven makes a lot of good points, especially about the Eastern racism thing. I had never really thought too much about how they ended up that way still. I totally 100% agree about the Western world being more racist than it likes to admit.

As an Arab-American, I'm pretty used to not seeing a lot of non-terrorist Arabs in games or movies. Sometimes it can be annoying, but it honestly doesn't keep me up nights very often. I thought it was annoying that they whitewashed the Prince of Persia in 2008, but I still forgave the game because he's a traveler from outside the region, and the game is just fantastic in general. I get tired of all the middle eastern war games out there, but I don't think they're going anywhere. I don't personally play them, so it doesn't really affect me that much. There's clearly an audience for it. What do I think should be done about it? Not much really. The industry is there for people to get into if they want to get involved, and I don't think there's any racial barrier preventing Arab-Americans from getting into game design, so I really can't complain honestly.

I'd just like more new IPs, and more creativity in general, just in basic game design. But everything is getting very homogenized because costs keep skyrocketing at the same time that sales are stagnating. That's just how its going to be, and there's really not anything to do about it right now. Creative people out there might feel inspired to toss in Arab characters at some point, and more power to them really. That 1979 game looks pretty interesting, so if it sells well and people prove there's a market, we'll probably see more people open to experimenting with different locations and perspectives. That's really all I can realistically ask for right now.And besides, I'm not really that bound to my real life gender/race in gaming. I like fantasy, and I enjoy playing as characters that aren't like me in any way at all; whether it's vampires, ninjas, fighters, magicians, or even animals in Tokyo Jungle. I'm not one of those people that tries to make myself in character creators, because I just find it more exciting to be something radically different each time. In short, I think things aren't that bad, and I think they'll organically get better on their own if people support new IPs, and products that take a chance creatively. Take Sleeping Dogs for example. We honestly don't ever see games with an Asian male lead in the open world/urban genres. It was something new, and it felt fresh and I bought the game. I loved it. I loved playing in a new location that was different from the norm, I loved the moments when the cast alternated between English and Cantonese, and I loved the cast. But guess what, the game didn't sell that well, and SQEX posted losses for that financial quarter because of it. So what am I to complain about here?The audience has to step up and put their money behind new things if they want publishers to take a chance. Talk is cheap.

That last paragraph, pretty much covers everything I had left to say. Nothing but dick jokes and Anti-Dutch propaganda from here on out.

You know what i've always wondered? What's more racist:

-advertisements full of white people or

-advertisements stuffed with people of every color just so they could look like they care?

I personally despise racial rainbow stuff. Those matchups only happen at the DMV. Besides, no fucking way that Asian is kicking it with that Black dude or the Mexican, unless he's getting some sweet herb off them AND we all know the Mexican overcharges. So he gets pissed the Black dude got the sale, they start fighting and the White dude and Indian lady sit back and awkwardly stare at each other.

Honestly, gaming handles races pretty well, as far as your regular Black, White, Asian, etc. There are times where you run into the weird and very old fashioned stereotypes (see: Deus Ex: Human Revolution), but those are very rare. However, there does seem to be a lot of racism in fantasy games. For instance, take the Warcraft series. It's always been about the Horde vs. Alliance. However, there are parts of the story where they have a partnership together, like to fight against a
bigger threat, like the Burning Legion or the Lich King. I like having a change from the racism where the races put aside their differences and work together. Lots of fantasy games seem to use racism in one way or another, but not many cast aside their racism. I like it when it's handled that way.

I like it when bullshit like racism is cast aside too. I'm not setting out to say games are rife with racism these days or anything, I just think we could do a lot better when it comes to diversity and the handling of different races.

I think theres a difference between racist jokes and actual racism. In my mind (it's quite warped and not really in the same universe as the rest of yours) racist jokes are a good thing, they belittle actual racism. They make a joke out of it. Humour is the best way to combat something. Another way to combat it? To make it common place. I'd like to point out something comedian Donald Glover said: "I think white people should start using the "N" word in common practice. Call everything a N****r, from a seatbelt to a mailbox, and soon the word will lose it's meaning." Look at the word shit. Does anybody find it offensive? Unless you're a granny or overly christian (i.e. not a person), no, you don't. Why? Because we've used the shit out of it. You know a word people do find offensive? Cunt. Why? Because it isn't in wide circulation. A word that means vagina is apparently more offensive than a word that means that you have incestual relationships with your mother (motherfucker). Anyway, I got waayyy off topic. Racism only has power if we give it power. If we treat it as a taboo, then it's harder to shake it. In my mind anyway.

I totally agree on the humor aspect. You should hear the shit me and friends say to each other, hell even some Dtoiders and I get nasty with the language when no one else can see or hear. It's one thing though to be genuinely be laughing at the absurdity of the words, it's another to be laughing because you truly find the meaning and effect of saying a racial slur, funny or entertaining.

Fraser Brown
I live in a country where 98% of the population is white, so more often than not I barely notice a lack of ethnic representation in video games because it's probably more than representative of the ethnic make up of my own country. That is not to say that there isn't an issue, just that it's one I have to force myself to notice because where I'm from, it doesn't look all that odd to see a hell of a lot of white folk and not much else.Seeing as that I don't really think the games themselves or the developers are racist, outside of smack talk in online games I really don't see much racism in video games. However, there is a definite lack of non-white protagonists and really the only way I see that changing is if more non-white writers and designers "step up to the bat" (Yep, nailing that American colloquialism malarkey). It's not that I think a white person is incapable of writing from the perspective of another race, that's demonstrably not the case, however I do think it's probably easier and maybe even comes across as more natural when writing a character who shares your ethnicity. Though it's certainly less so the case than it was fifty years ago when there was a much greater disparity between ethnic groups. I guess it really depends on the game in question and the setting.

It's probably a cop out, but I think that, much like in the case of creating better female protagonists, it comes down to the people who aren't well represented making themselves more represented, because I don't think anyone else is really going to do it. Like so many of the good things happening in our industry right now, I think it's going to be up to independent developers to bring about this change. Thanks to things like Kickstarter or Indiegogo they don't need to sell a non-white protagonist to a cowardly publisher, instead they have to sell the concept to the consumer, many of whom more than likely want the same thing. I realise that I'm talking more about representation than racism, but that's because I think it's a far greater issue. I could probably write a whole other (far too long) comment about stereotypes as well, but I'm far more interested to see what everyone else has to say, so I'm keeping it as short as possible by not mentioning it all.

The best way to see what everyone has to say is just post a blog about something you want to discuss, copy everyone's answers, paste them into your own blog.... HEY WAIT! I'm giving away my secret! Nooooooooo :)

Did anyone else find the racial abilities in Skyrim really strange? Especially the black guys getting a stamina boost? Maybe Iím reading too into it but....they just seemed weird. Iíd love to see more minorities as protagonists, frankly I donít understand why there arenít more already, executive cowardice? I imagine Japan might catch some shit on this topic (sometimes deservedly so) but Iíve always found it strange that even they under represent their own people, Iíve said it before but the Yakuza games are the only Japanese games, set in Japan, staring Japanese people, I find that bizarre. As far as antagonists go weíre stuck in the 80ís, Iíd really like to shoot someone other than Russians. As an Irish person, I suppose thereís some stuff I could get upset about, I just did a mission in Borderlands 2 where I couldnít get into an Irish wake unless I was drunk enough, but meh. I wonder if that would make me a hypocrite? Pandora is basically Planet Redneck and I didnít mind the other stereotypes on display.

Hey Handy, we don't just shoot Russians. Middle Easterns too. Maybe some Koreans

It's everywhere really, I think. It's just usually not obvious stuff, it's mostly either that other ethnicities/cultures get ignored or they're simply not represented very well. Japanese games seem to have a lot of weird racism, as other people have pointed out; but I'd also say a lot of modern war games do aswell - the Russians in MW2 and Iranians in BF3, are really bad caricatures, for example. I think almost every mainstream game I've played has had some sort of problem with stereotypes or misrepresentation - RE5 being an obvious one, but the Uncharted games have a lot of dodgy characters with bad accents in, and Deus Ex: HR had not only that black lady but some very dire sounding foreign-accented voice-acting. Also, lead characters almost always being white men, and games treating ethnicities as a white/black/asian thing, when there are hundreds of different ethnicities across the world. That always seems weird to me.

Well said Panza........... TINY PENIS

I think in terms of stereotypes, the main thing that is offensive when it comes to depictions of Irish people is how unfunny it is and how wrong it is. I mean, we don't mind people trying to take the piss out of us, but it has to be funny and we do it to ourselves all the times. But we don't just say the word "potatoes" in a high pitch voice and then a wave of unforced laughter ensues. There are some damn right awful Irish accents going on in Knights of Amalur for example, which is peculiar given how they are then subsequently authentic actual Irish voice actors in the game too. I often find it funny but not in a negative way that most fairy-esque/elven characters in lore based games are Irish. Again Amalur's faery folk and most of the elves in Dragon Age are all pretty much Irish, apart from the Welsh Merrill, but again Dragon Age suffers from having authentic Irish people and yet still using non Irish people with horrible accents for NPCs. Why not just get the Irish actors to do NPC's, no one will care and they can just change their voice a little.

But in saying that I get why maybe Irish accents are given to this sort of character because there's a lot of fairy legends on Irish folklore, but what gets me is that there are more and well known at that, tales of warriors in Irish folklore and mythology. We've a whole bunch of them, from barbaric battle hungry warriors, to the more peaceful romantic type and yet I can't think of any game company that's put much thought into giving a warrior class character in an RPG ect some Irishness.I have to commend Dragon Age a little though, in Origins there's a heap of Irish words, from old Irish too which is wonderful, littered around the place. The Thaig's, Arl's, the names like Eamon ect (even if the pronunciation is pretty rubbish for them all).

In general when it comes to chucking something or someone Irish in there I think what most Irish people dislike is just how inaccurate it is or how helium high pitch pixie the characters sound. If you have a cast of actual Irish people, then just use them for other NPCís and ask them to change their voice a little, itíll save you time, money and embarrassment. We donít sound as jagged, sharp or fairy like as media makes us out to be. I for one sound like a farmer woman who might constantly be smoking pot.

So from someone who is actually Irish through and through and a hardcore gamer, whatever that means, itíd be cool to have more characters who arenít as forced and who represent my people/lore a bit better. Weíre a small nation now, but that doesnít mean we havenít had a big influence on the world, so donít take the piss and if you are going to, put some effort into actually being humorous or unique"

Sooooo, you guys really don't just take turns saying potato and laughing? Man, fuck Ireland. ;)

So that's what some of our c-blog community had to say on the subject. Thanks so much, to each and every person who contributed to this and helped make it happen. Please, feel free to add more in the comments and... OH CRAP! I forgot one last entry I had received.... hold on.... Ahhhhh, here it is:

smurfee mcgee
Sorry about not joining in the first time. I couldn't come up with anything useful.
I was busy spying on my Mexican neighbors out my blinds.

Isn't he just a peach?
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About PhilKenSebbenone of us since 9:50 PM on 04.21.2009

Formerly known as Miguel Martinez. A total piece of shit, and burning in hell now. He was almost 38 and old, and one of your former Community Managers. He will never be Andy Dixon, but thankfully he will never be Wes either. He probably hates you as well (He's lying about that). He loves the cock though. He used to run The Low(er) Tier, he podcasted (and was on PStoid, led by dudes in pants) and got into development and then fell out of it. He says he enjoys nothing (his fat ass loves tacos though), but his known interests (besides games) are: reading, cooking, dying, hiking, playing with his kids, yelling at old(er) people, collecting various urine samples, stalking Smurfee, bad MSPaint work, thinking about working out, itching his bare butthole and seeing how long he can go without smelling his finger and Batman. He loves old school cars (Chevy), football (Packers & Niners) and of course: Vidya Gamze! You can see him all over the net with the same username, but mainly over at The Takeout.

His favorite games as a wee lass were: SMB3, Gunstar Heroes, Commander Keen, Blake Stone, Doom/Quake, Excitebike, Anything from Sierra/Lucasarts and MK. Now days he barely has times for games. Keen on TBS and Roguelikes still though (Spelunky ftw!). The replayability makes his dick hard. He also is known to be playing FPS online and headshotting your ass. He's always down to game with anyone, so feel free to hit him up on whatever you see I'm on. He's been on Dtoid quite awhile now (almost 10+ years) and has been involved in numerous off the radar things like contests, recaps, Community Managing, fucking dogs and spreading his AIDS. You could find him lurking mainly in the forums (fucking RIP), or on Communitoid, but yeah. Now he's a simple qpost whore. He also checks for spam and spreads his love here and there in cblogs and the fp. He loves you sick bastards. In a sexy non-sexual way. Mainly sexual. You ever need help, or an ear to vent to, DM him.

He is also on that thar Tweetarr @MikeMcPhil. Feel free to hit him up, He is always down to chat or lend an ear to someone in need. Or he'll send you some horrific or weird memes. Your choice.

Him Roberto Planktonfied:

Him Turvey-fied:

A fucking Xeno:

His career interview by Nihil

His Community Interview

Phil on Communitoid

Some Low(er) Tier Podcasts

Fapcasts can be found here

Twitch.tv Profile

His theme from the amazing Alphadeus:

Xbox LIVE:PhilK3nS3bb3n
PSN ID:MickGuerrera
Steam ID:hillbillysk8


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