Gaming while Black
January 21, 2015 8:39 AM   Subscribe

"Just because I sit here and say I haven't felt overt racism or harassment doesn't mean I don't know what it is and that I haven't experienced it elsewhere in my life, or that my mother didn't grow up in a world where there were colored drinking fountains," Harvey said. "This is stuff that happened and stuff that we think is relevant still today, on a lot of levels. And I think many people are very aware of this, a lot of gamers are very aware of this stuff in their daily lives. Games are a way of processing, a way of playing through an experience that is maybe more intense than you've ever felt it – you're sort of living in that avatar's skin. I guess, in a way, we're trying to put them in a skin they're maybe not used to, or maybe they would be interested to inhabit."
Jessica Conditt looks at the realities of videogaming's treatment of race and is cautiously optimistic.
posted by MartinWisse (7 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
When I read that "One thing that Planet Money found notable about computer ads in the 1980s was that they featured 'just men, all men'" I immediately thought of the Apple "1984" ad... but that doesn't actually show the woman using a computer.

One of the things that's always bugged me about Mass Effect is that, even though you can make Shepard black, and there are other black NPCs that you can interact with that are pretty good (Anderson, Cortez, Traynor), the only black squadmate in the trilogy, Jacob Taylor, is just about everyone's least favorite squadmate. I don't think that it's racism on the part of the players, I think the character just isn't written well; during his loyalty mission (one of the missions in ME2 that have you doing a personal favor for each squadmate, getting more of their backstory in the process), I kept thinking of ways that it could be better.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:55 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know what game the third image down the page is from? With the two kids sleeping one on an island and one in a sci-fi setting?
posted by edbles at 9:12 AM on January 21, 2015

That'd be Double Fine's Broken Age, edbles.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:14 AM on January 21, 2015

From the article:

Freelance gaming and media writer Sidney Fussell summarized the pushback as follows:

"I've been writing about blackness and games for about two years now and a huge majority of the negative feedback I get boils down to this: Race doesn't belong in video games. White commenters tell me racism in games isn't a problem. Only attention-starved reverse racists, dragging it up for clicks from white-guilt-addled gamers, still want to talk about racism. This is the burden of being a black gamer: I love games, but if I want to talk about them critically, my motives are questioned, my social ties are strained and suddenly I'm a member of the 'PC Police' who wants to go around ruining everyone's fun."

Fussell continued, "I know that there's a space for black gamers who don't want to write and research extensively about blackness in games. And that's cool. Not everyone needs to be Langston Hughes. But what is it about the intersection of race and videogames – similarly, gender and videogames, etc. – that threatens these gamers?"

This quote is both a fantastic description of the dynamic in general and (unsurprisingly) of what happens in the comments below the article. It's also what I want to ask this particular type of commenter, what are you so worried about?

Also thank you, trunk muffins
posted by edbles at 9:43 AM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Great article. And yes, I mentally created a bingo card in my mind before reading the comments and pretty much got the spaces filled. With so many articles like this the comments illustrate many points being made. I emphasize because the pattern is similar when it's gender being discussed as the past months have shown with the whole gamergate thing.

It sucks that as I was reading this and nodding that the main thought that popped into my head wasn't about the content itself but 'gawd I hope this author doesn't get targeted for writing this....'

I've seen most of what the author talks about in play over the years. I know exactly what she means when talking about isolation into private groups. I've played a lot of MMOs over the years with voice coms and I've heard the remarks to the sound of someones voice. I've spoken out against it as well as left groups because of it. At least it's possible, though sometimes difficult, to find a group of people that won't put up with any crap around (race, gender, sexual orientation) and regulate the norms themselves. Step out of that group though, say to visit another groups coms for an event, and it's at many times horrible.

Because of gamergate I've been thinking a lot about this wall and backlash against even talking about issues of diversity and representation in games.

Why is it so threatening? It's a good question.

I think the answer is complex but in my mind I've dumbed it down to pre-school level.

A bunch of people are used to having their toys just the way they like them.
They just don't want to share because they're scared their toys will get wrecked or they won't have as many (that they like) to play with.
posted by Jalliah at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2015

Why is it so threatening? It's a good question.

I think the answer is complex but in my mind I've dumbed it down to pre-school level.

A bunch of people are used to having their toys just the way they like them.
They just don't want to share because they're scared their toys will get wrecked or they won't have as many (that they like) to play with.

I don't think it's that malicious for the most part, though it frequently manifests as malice. I think people intuitively understand that race as a social phenomenon creates a power hierarchy which constrains and constricts far more people than it empowers. As long as race doesn't exist for you, you can't be constrained by it -- never mind that the very ability for it to not exist for you means that you probably never will be so constrained. If race does exist for you, then your position in that hierarchy, and the amount of pain and harm caused by that hierarchy, must be acknowledged. People would rather cause you pain deliberately and directly than acknowledge that they hurt you inadvertently and in ways they don't understand.

But then, a lot of the time, I don't think they even think they're trying to hurt people. I think the logic is something like: if race is a construct, and that construct hurts people, and I say race doesn't really exist, aren't I moving towards a place in which you do not get hurt? And if that's true, but you insist that race does exist, aren't you insisting on being and acting hurt despite my best efforts to help you not be hurt and despite the fact that you don't have to be? And if you're insisting on being hurt when you don't have to be, what are you trying to gain by it? If you're not irrational, you must be manipulative, deliberately causing pain to yourself in order to gain some kind of power over me.

A lot of times, the argument I have about this eventually boils down to a question of whether you believe that reality is entirely self-created or whether there is an external / objective reality that persists outside of your perceptions. The funny thing is that that's not usually me saying so, that's the people telling me "you make your own reality, this can only hurt you if you want it to", which I assume is the equivalent of asking me to pull myself up by my phemonological bootstraps. Especially in America, people who have been told all their lives that they can be and do anything do not like the idea that their potential is not universally independent
posted by Errant at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

The quote edbles highlights is a good one.

Maybe my experience is a bit out of date, but on the game boards I tended to visit (often cRPG), the typical thread that covered this topic is full of people who are not seeing race and don't like people bringing it up, since it's all just a game anyway.

Until there is a black character in the game, in which case it is OK to notice race and discuss things like how the developer is obviously just trying to be PC, or there were no blacks in medieval Europe so they shouldn't be in your fantasy game, or people living in cold climates need light skin, or how they find it immersion-breaking. (Same with minor variations on women, Asians, etc.)

It was I assume a relatively small number of people being myopic asses that drove threads, but the bottom line is it was much more acceptable for a community member to discuss why minorities didn't belong than to argue there should be more of them. The blue hairs watching Shakespeare got over color blind casting pretty quickly, gamers couldn't (can't?) seem to shut up about it.
posted by mark k at 10:07 PM on January 21, 2015

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