Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Other Can of Worms

**I Wanna Be a Minority**

Recommended Reading: Article concerning minorities in gaming.

You know what's coming.

My criticism.

The article describes a problem within the game industry - the lack of minority representation.

I see a few flaws in its arguments - flaws that crop up again and again in discussions of racial representation.

80% of video game programmers are white, says an IGDA survey.

When people say that, we assume that these are all upper-class, snooty, boarding-school guys, privileged since the day they were born - a prejudice based solely on the color of their skin. Or rather, on what we determine to be the color of their skin.

My question, then, is, "What is white?"

By lumping white into one-big-fucking-category, any and all differences are made meaningless. Is my social situation somehow less precarious, though I'm a step from homelessness and bankruptcy, just because of lack of a certain pigment?

Eugene V. Debs pointed out that it's easier for the truly-privileged to pay shitty wages and treat their employees like dirt if they foster tension both old and new - and racial tension is one of the easiest and most-effective to trigger.

Another flaw in the article, and one I knew would be mentioned (It is, in fact, the opening):

"In the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," players assume the lead character of Carl Johnson, a down-on-his-luck criminal who roams city streets, stealing cars and helping gang members knock off rivals in drive-by shootings.

"CJ," as he's known by his pals, is black -- and to some in the video game industry, that's a problem."

Guess what? CJ is a character. He is a character in a fictional, fantasy world of violence. He is not held up as the representative of a race. Neither are the characters around him. Thankfully.

**Soapbox Alert!**

Allow me to offer my own particular thought: There is no such thing as race.

Oh, there's such a thing as racism. Racism, however, requires a belief in race. If you actually, truly think that you can group the behavior or characteristics of people into such a broad category, and treat them as if they were all the same based on your perception of the general coloration of their skin, well, then, you're a racist.

Racism isn't just about negative ideas, either. Positive stereotypes are just as false.

We all belong in the "other" category.

And take note that this isn't some kind of touchy-feely idea.

If you actually understand the scientific reason for the differentiation of human features and skin colors, then you should be able to see how absolutely laughable is the concept of race.

**Back on Track**

With that out of the way, let me continue with the article. Since the author does believe in race, I'm going to treat that viewpoint as a valid one even if I happen to disagree.

What I hear from this article is this general statement (forgive me if my interpretation is wrong per author's intent):

"Video games should present more variation in the features of their characters and broaden the experiences those characters have in order to represent the broad range of possibilities available - good and bad, simple and complex."

When people start clamoring for more minority representation in media, they're often reacting to the negative portrayals that are made more glaring by a dearth of positive portrayals. They want a more well-rounded view. And I wholly support that. Videogaming can only be enriched by adding new and different voices to games.

Of course, what some of the reactions often come down to is the idea that any minority represented in media is somehow meant to be a reflection of that entire group.

The thought process, as I see it, maintains that:

1) "I consider myself a part of group A"
2) "The character I am viewing/manipulating seems to also belong to group A, to me, and is displaying behavior which I find negative" and
3) "Therefore, this artwork is saying that all members of group A are like this reprehensible character"

I don't subscribe to such a mentality.

I certainly think this is a shitty, racist thought right here:

"It's been said that a bunch of nerdy white guys are creating these games," Armstrong said. "The problem with a bunch of white guys creating the games is that the story isn't being created with balance."

Thank you, Mario Armstrong, for denigrating a majority of programmers and falling back on an old stereotype. Not to mention that, right there in the assertion is "It's been said." Who's saying such things, and why? What kind of authority are they? What kind of balance are videogame players looking for?

Now, Mr. Armstrong helped create the Urban Video Game Academy, which is completely awesome, so far as I can tell. Their goal is to help children in underserved communities get exposed to digital media. Good for them.

But, well, let's say a white kid living in one of these communities comes to the UVGA to learn. Will they be turned away? "Sorry kid, 80% of programmers are nerdy white guys. Try another profession."

**Put My Game Down, Flip It and Reverse It**

A side effect of the kind of reactionary thought that sees racism wherever someone sees race, or prejudice wherever someone identifies with a person as a member of their own social group, is the drive to stereotype a group in a positive manner only.

We have to be careful with what kind of statements such discrimination would make.

If you're trying to say that one group you've identified could never have any members do anything bad whatsoever, well, you're wrong.

Equality means that every human being is capable of being just as good, just as bad, or just as in-between as the next.


Here's a quote from the article, attributed to Amil Tomlin, in reference to San Andreas:

"Not everybody goes outside with bling-bling and listens to rap music all day."

The thing is, I don't remember San Andreas ever implying such a thing.

In fact, compared to the complete sadistic amoralism of Tommy Vercetti, star of Vice City, Carl Johnson is a Boy Scout. He comes home for his mother's funeral, makes amends with his brother, deals with his own prejudice concerning his sister's Latino boyfriend, attempts to expose crooked cops and helps out his true friends when they're in trouble. The beginning of the game plays up his disgust with how drugs have destroyed his hood and turned old friends into wasted shells; He steadfastly refuses to partake in using or dealing. He gets a pilot's license, works on black ops for the government and runs triathlons.

Yes, I'm leaving out the bad things he does, and can do, but most reviews ignore the above plot points in favor of listing the sensational violence. I've rarely seen such a well-rounded or developed character in any game I've played. Maybe it's just the way I play it.

San Andreas was a tribute to the early 90s, with specific focus on gangsta rap and the social situations and circumstances and portrayals that arose during that time.

If you remember the failure that was C.R.A.S.H., how the cops in LA really were controlling parts of the drug trade, or how they got away with doing just about anything to gang members because, after all, "they're just gang members," then you would have recognized that reflected in San Andreas.

If you remember Boyz n the Hood or New Jack City then you'd be able to see how San Andreas wears those influences on its sleeve (should that be sleeze?). In fact, just go and look at the voiceover cast list to see where those bad muthafuckahs at Rockstar got their ideas.

Don't confuse a tribute as making statements that exist only in your head.


"We're seeing, to a large extent, that the games that are being designed unconsciously include the biases, opinions and reflections of their creators."

My response to that?

You aren't going to stop that by introducing more people to the industry. And, really, what you're saying is that you want to encourage people to include their biases, opinions and reflections of themselves so long as they are what you consider a minority.

Really, open up the industry. Get more people of different backgrounds in it. Offer digital media social programs for all underprivileged children (probably, sadly, a majority instead of a minority). Let's tell more stories, explore more viewpoints.

"Jason Della Rocca, IGDA's executive director, said the industry must confront a cycle that threatens its creativity: Educated, young white males create games for other educated, young white males."

What does that mean? How do you tell if a game is made for an educated, young white male? Please, somebody, write me up a checklist.

I still maintain that a primary problem in this country is the belief in race and how that takes focus away from the issue of class. Poor folks are poor folks, no matter where the fuck you go. Open your eyes.

Damn, I got my revolutions crossed. Sorry, everybody.

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