The “discourse” on race in games has to change…
As always it begins with a tweet…
Let’s just establish that we rarely get to have nuanced conversations about race and games, but esp. about race IN games. The immediate thing I’ll get is “it’s just a game!” Or why are you forcing me to be black/female/queer, etc. For now, focusing on race tho’. There’s always the idea that a non-white lead is pandering, or someone needs a thesis length explanation for why a black lead. But we never question why a white dude lead in a game is the lead, cause that’s just “how it is!” & told to accept it. Nah, not anymore.
But when we have a game like Mafia III or Watch Dogs 2, we get not only whining about having to be a black character, we get other BS. Like why does the game have to mention police brutality, or remind a player they are embarking on a slur filled journey to vengeance? Simple, the world does not let me or any other non-white person forget that we’re Black, latinx, Asian, etc, ever.
For a game with a black, Asian, Latinx or other ethnicity as lead to ignore that, it does a disservice to the story & POC players. Now this doesn’t mean the games story should be all woe is me I’m not white, the world hates me. Cause that’s shitty story telling too.
Adding in this reply from @EvNarc on twitter re: games that have a non-white protag and do a good job of not making it an issue, or that the non-white lead gets to just exist without race being a defining factor. Remember Me did this, well. I remember the discourse and the replies I *STILL* get when discussing Nilin or bringing her up as a representation example when I give talks.
But if your game has a non-white lead? Especially if it’s set in present day or AU equivalent? There’s things you can’t ignore. Like for Marcus and Horatio in Watch Dogs 2. Being two brothers in Silicon Valley has issues that go with it. The game addressed it. [YT link]
They took note of how Horatio would deal with micro aggressions and hate from a racist white co-worker. That was important. And it was woven into the narrative, not just shown and forced to prove they know these issues exist for black folks in tech. Granted I got issues with Horatio’s fate, but nothing is going to be 100% on point with representation. Get that idea out your head now.
Yet, I saw a disparate way in how WD2 was covered depending on race of the author. Same with Mafia III. Woo y’all. You saw that ridiculous RPS review in progress that claimed fatigue of the N word after a few hours in game after binging Luke Cage. You’re tired? Try 40+ years of hearing nigger as an actual, harmful slur then holler at me. But that’s the kind of BS folks were on. I got a chance to write about Mafia III for @ontologicalgeek and addressed some of that foolishness. You can’t ignore race y’all.
You can’t ignore the very real harm and danger black folks face every day or the shit we deal with if you make a black lead/party member. Oh don’t think I forgot about fantasy games or far future settings. Nah they don’t get left out either. Buckle up buckaroo.
Re: Fantasy games and having non white leads/any POC.
That flimsy ass excuse is always used to explain away a lack of diversity. Um, y’all got dragons, elves, magic but no brown folks? Nah bro. A fantasy setting is made up, whole cloth by a team of people. So if you can make a whole ass race of non-humans, you can put some POC in. So there’s no good reason not to have POC in your fantasy settings. Also can we get out of faux medieval Europe? There’s a whole world out there!
Oh and future settings don’t get a pass. Again, y’all can make up fifty-eleven kinds of aliens. Yet not have decent black hair or POC leads. Oh and having a character generator isn’t a get out of jail free card either when the game doesn’t acknowledge race depending on your choices. I sort of got time but let’s not ignore how everyone will fall for a damn alien babe but ignore men & women of color characters for them. *Looks right at my fandoms like this is the Office* go look up how much fanwork is dedicated to Liam, Jacob, Marcus, Lincoln. I’ll wait…
Now look up Jaal, Peebee, Vetra, Liara… hell people even ship Lincoln and Georgie Marcano. >_> Or what’s worse? People code aliens and non-humans as POC. *cough* Qunari, Iron Bull *cough* but won’t actually invest in black humans. Realise that if you have a black character, or non white character you can’t just palette swap and go about your day. Especially if you have a setting that is modern or in history. There’s things that will need to be addressed, mentioned that are daily life for POC, for women etc. You can’t just go I don’t see race, whoops! And then ignore it or do the Deus Ex thing & reach but fail miserably.
How do you do this? Diversify your Fucking teams on your games. Get diversity consultants, do basic research FFS. Google is a start, that’s the dev side. As a player? Get over yourself because two or three games make you a non white lead. You won’t die from it trust me. Hell I been forced to play a white dude every time I pick up a controller except for sports and shooters. It ain’t killed me yet.
You’ll be ok. Know why? Cause you’ll be white when you turn off the game and go out in the world. You got +100 cloak of privilege I don’t. Oh and when folks talk about race in games? Don’t fix your mouth to say they are making it about race, why do you gotta do that? Cause the world does it for me. I can’t be anything but black cause I get no reset, no character edit option. I get -100 on privilege. Hopefully folks will listen, go forth consume and make games responsibly.