Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Perspective: Playing Video Games as a Black Boy

I Can Only Be White

That sends out a strong message to children.  Only white people can be heroes.  In fact, not only can only white people be heroes, but only white people can be arch-nemesis too.  Black people in video games are relegated to a status of not 2nd class citizens, but 3rd, 4th or insignificant class citizens.  And, while some gaming companies make a minimal effort to include darker hues in their heroic characters, the characters remain white for all intents and purposes.  They are white people with a tan, nothing more.


Black Wizard
Too often white people think of only their perspective on things.  If Black people speak up and say anything, white people overreact and claim that the Black person is being illogical and uncompromising.  It is quite the double standard.  Most white people that react this way are not being intellectually honest.  Obviously, the white perspective on things is not the only perspective on things.  Even those white people that propose to try and help the Black man, can only still see things from the white perspective.

I am presenting, the real perspective of gaming from a Black man's perspective, mine.  I am nothing, if not intellectually honest about the entire situation.  Now while there are those who control gaming companies to put in storylines that seek to hammer home messages of "continued poverty is good" for everyone, this is not my focus for this particular article.  Yes, I know it goes on and we all suffer for that.  And, if you need me to do an article on that, I will.  After all, I am Libertarian, I see the system that seeks to pit all of us against each other while it grows to mammoth size in plain view.  Yes yes, you have my ear on that.  But, this article is for you to understand how Black children are continually made to feel inferior while "being entertained".

Kneejerk Reactions to Black Perspectives

Most often, white people will have a kneejerk reaction to Black people that speak up about their situation or their perspective on any given topic.  It happens all the time in politics.  Now that the president is half Black, these reactions occur more and more often.

Let's set the playing field for this gaming discussion.  Noone will have a kneejerk reaction until the entire article is read.  So often people read the first paragraphs of my articles and write a comment.  I have to then point out that what they were reacting to was completely refuted in the last half of the article.

I watched a video of a Black man that also is a "gamer" discussing Blacks in video games.  The reaction that the white commentators had were just out the box.
  • Censorship - some said that it was unnecessary to even make such a video.  While this might seem like a very warm and caring comment to make, at the end of the day it's censorship.  So if he followed those guidelines, he would never speak, i.e. censorship.
  • Hate - some reacted with poor hatred, as in "don't play the game then".  Apparently Black people can either pay their money and suffer through the annoying treatment of Black people in video games or not play any video games.
As you can see both sides - the caring side and the hating side - had the same end result: shut up Black man.

Black People in Video Games

Black Buddha
One of the most popular and ... over the top violent game series to date is Grand Theft Auto.  If anyone takes two seconds to look into it in real life, they would see that white people have cornered the market in this underground industry.  There have been movies made about it, books, news reports.  While the game is not strictly focused on GTA, it is a component in the game.  The focus of this game series, for those who do not know, or for those who are too dense to realize what is going on, even while they play it, is that your hero, and that term is used lightly, is attempting to climb the ranks of some organized crime organization / family.  There was an entire expansion dedicated to a Black version of the hero.  He did sound "black".  He did have a bunch of Black friends.  In all the other GTA games, the hero climbs the ranks of an organized crime syndicate.  For the Black installment of the game, he's just a gang-banger.  And, as far as sounding "Black", it's a caracature of how Black people are portrayed on T.V. today, no-class, no-school, rapper, jail-loving, shuckin and jiving negros.  Apparently, Black people, once again, cannot be organized.  What is strange is that all other installments of the game, went througout the world to find a particular ethnic organized crime syndicate to portray in the game.  With the Black installment, they ignored the thousands of Black organized crime syndicates and just put South Central in the game.

Black Heroes in Games

As mentioned at the beginning, Black gamers are relegated to the outside when it comes to playing heroic characters.  Young Black boys, who play video games will quickly get the message, subtle or otherwise, that to be heroic, you must be white.  I probably have over 500 video games sitting next to me in my library.  Other than GTA, as mentioned above, all the heroic characters are white, or worse, a white woman.  And, before you get up in arms about the word worse, understand that the target for 90% of video games are boys / men.  Making the hero of a story, a violent story at that, a woman, messes up all sorts of gender issues: violence again women for starters; emasculation of men.  Playing a white, female, hero is not something you should want your little Black son to be doing.  It's bad enough the games are violent.  You definitely do not want him identifying a female as the focus of his persona.

For the most part Black characters fall into 3 categories:
  • The Monkey - the screaming, permanently angry boss type non-player-character that is "over there" and that you only see when you have done something wrong, so he's angry and throws poop at you.  It is very subtle in its delivery, but this is how the portrayal is.  You can find this in movies too.
  • The flunky - the fodder that you wade through to get to characters with lines or boss fight.
  • Invisible - you can have a game with a city system with 1 million people in it, and there won't even be a Black face in the crowd.  I don't know if the developers are just wishing there would be a city like this or what, but it's amazing to see.  FYI, Black people are in every city in the world.  No, not African-Americans, Black people, you know the ones form Africa.
The message is clear:
  1. Black people [who look and act like real black people, not two dimensional stereotypes] cannot be heroic, smart, smooth, eloquent, daring, brave, charming, dashing and wise
  2. Black people cannot be villains who are: conniving, sinister, daring, geniuses, educated, powerful, resourceful.
  3. Black people cannot even be victims: damsels in distress; worthy of saving; innocent; by-standers; beautiful; alluring; hopeless.

Think for a second, if you were making a fantastic story, those 3 things would be all you need to make it epic.  And, this is not how Black people are portrayed in 99.99999999% of the games.

So many years, I have played games where you couldn't even pick a Black person.  I could choose between a white man and 20 different sub-human races, including animals, but not a Black man. LOL  Isn't that crazy?  I could be a werewolf, but not a Black man.  I could be a two legged goat that talks, but not a Black man.  I could be an Elven female with breasts that could float the Titanic, but not a Black man.

Black Wizards, Witches and Paladins?

It has been argued that there can't be Black wizards and paladins in video games because that was only in Europe.  Well, sparky, unless you're a complete lunatic, there were no white wizards, mages, sorcerers, conjurers and magicians in Europe either.  The entire premise is fantasy.  And, if I read history correctly, the most fantastic tales of magic come from the African continent.  White explorers were actually afraid to venture there because of the tales of high magic.  Even those that did travel there, for a long time stayed on their ships, because they were afraid of going into the deep interior due to these tales.  And, no it wasn't about lions and tigers they feared, remember they hunted those, it was the fear of magic.

Morpheus = God of Dreams
It amazes me that people can believe in a white wizard, but a Black wizard is just too unbelievable.  I understand that little to no knowledge of the largest continent on the planet is taught in schools, but surely someone has picked up a book somewhere and read about the snake king, or the virgin birth magic, or the kingdom of gold.  Am I blowing your mind yet?  I bet you don't know anything about those tales.  One of them is completely true.  The others... I assume were just wive's tales.

A comedian was doing a skit and he said people are stupid and here's why: "in the harry potter book the author revealed that Dumbledor is gay.  People were up in arms and said they could not believe he was gay.  But, they could believe he was a wizard, but not that he was gay."

That's the same way I think about the Black wizard argument.  I just shake my head when people say stuff like that.


For me, it's too late.  I'm not impressionable any more.  But for your young Black boys, please choose their games carefully.  Do not reinforce the message that only white people can be heroes.  Do not buy them games like that.  Yes, that means you have to sit down and look at the game.  Yes, that means you have to be a Black parent to your children.

If you're one of these new age parents that have to hold a conference with your child if you say no, go ahead and get them to first understand what is going on, and get their agreement, that it is better not to play the game. [in my day if Mama said no, it was no.  There was no U.N. meeting about it.]  But, make sure you get agreement from them that it is better form them not to get the game.  This way, they won't sneak and get the game behind your back.  Go and research games that portray Black people are real live heroes.  Go and research games that show that Black people can be evil, nuclear physicist geniuses and not pimps and prostitutes.

It is going to take someone like me starting up a gaming company myself, I believe, before Black people are fairly and adequately and EPICLY portrayed in video games.  Let's face it.  You don't play a video game to watch someone plant tomatoes.  Oh wait, that stupid Sims game does exist.  Ok, normal humans don't want that.  They want larger than life heroes and larger than life villains.  Ergo, visa vis, concordantly, the Black people in video games should be: larger than life.  Black people in video games should be Heroes, in every sense of the word.  Black people in video games should be villains, in every sense of the word.  Black people in video games should be victims, in every sense of the word.


A Black actor put his resume online and asked to be written into a series as a Black gamer.  Everyone white person that commented on his profile all came with hate and told him to shut up and not bring up race.  On the show there are no Black people.  Not even in the background. LOL  It's a double standard.  Don't bring up race, but we don't want Black people on the show.  Makes me laugh.


Spaz said...

It never really occured to me but now that I think about my games lol.

Well I did play some (but never finished lol) FF7 and I know Barret is not a main character like Cloud is but he is a good character. He took in Marlene and raised her like his own even though she's not his and is white. Yea he is kind of bossy and feisty but that to me is because he believes in what he is doing (AVALANCHE) is right and fights for Marlene's future. So I think those are good qualities to look up too.

Fable, is a game based pretty much on England history. The land is called Albion lol. Everyone speaks in a English accent but in Fable 1 there were two black Heroes (And they were called this) but they weren't main characters. They were siblings called Thunder and Whisper, and yea you kind of kick both their asses lol. In the storyline Thunder has a "girlfriend" but hes getting kind of old and isn't the badass king of the fighting arena anymore but you're younger and you win blahblah. (But you can choose to take his "girlfriend" or not lol) Basically the girlfriend just wants a trophy husband. (But later you choose to reveal her dark secret or not which can result in ruining her.)

In Fable 2 there are no black heroes (Heroes, black and white were killed in panic riots like witch hunts in between 1 & 2, 500yrs had passed.) In Fable 1 Thunder and Whisper came from a land called Samrakand (sp?), I think the riots they stayed over there.

But in Fable 3, who knows maybe something will change. I would like to travel there, :)

GTA = Never played it lol.

Women characters = Ehh, to me its cool if theres a chick avatar but if not I don't care. I think I might prefer male characters over female ones lol.(Ezio, -drools-)
But I know a lot of female gamers get worked up over this and consider it "sexist." But not me, maybe its because I'm a tomboy? lol.

So from your standpoint and by what I've mentioned I can see why you would feel disappointed. Sadly I will admit I know nothing of Africa,(except for Egypt). I only know a little bit about the Spider stories, I forget how to spell his name lol. Hes the tricky little Spider dude, Anasti? I think?

Also I wonder how many black gamers are into Fantasy, Role Playing games? I can only think of three, including you lol.

Robert Reed III said...

Nice post. The major problem is that only 2% of individuals in game development are black. If black people want to see themselves represented well in games, then black people will need to enter the game development business. It is a folly to expect white and Asian game developers to do so.

There are black film/tv/theater companies and groups, black literature companies and groups, and black music companies and groups. But as far as I can tell, there are no black gaming companies or groups. There is no gaming equivalent to Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, not Jay-Z.

I am a black aspiring game developer, and am designing a few indie titles. And I plan on having at least a proportionate enough number of black characters in my games. One of them, a futuristic JRPG, will feature a black character, but will be multiracial. Another one is a "clone" of the Goeman (Legend of the Mystical Ninja) series, but is set in medieval West Africa. Right now, it is easier than ever to become a game developer. Find someone who can make a variety of music, someone who can do pixel-art and/or 3d modeling, and most importantly, find someone with computer programming skills.

Shakaama said...

Excellent post Robert Reed III. You're absolutely right. I was in a game development group but it fell apart, due to women lol i.e. people got married and such. We wanted to expand with another group at the time, but they wanted to make a space game and thought that fantasy RPG was saturated. Mind you, world of warcraft wasn't even whispered yet. Can you imagine how dumb we looked when it came out and exploded on the scene?

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