Monday, 14 September 2009

Kotaku: Race and Games Discussion

No, not the 100 metres at the London Olympics.

Kotaku yesterday (on Monday) posted an intelligent and thoroughly well prepared article on the 'Non-White Gamer's Experience', or more specifically on the lack of non-white protagonists. Author Owen Wood has interviewed a variety of games commentators who feel less then well catered for and come to some well reasoned, if controversial, conclusions on the matter. Best that you go read the article in its entirety. The comments at the bottom are particularly revealing about the attitudes of the wider gaming populace - largely that it doesn't matter ...

And , as I started to read the article, I felt the same way. Race for me has always been something of a non-issue. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't in the past noticed a character or person's race, but after they open their mouth their personality is a far greater factor in my understand and opinion of them. The nearest thing to race that has a major influence from my perspective is culture or possibly sub-culture and, besides, few games characters have felt particularly 'white', whatever that means. (Mostly they're stereotypes of other sorts: the Dennis Nedry-like obese computer genius from FEAR, the insecure man-child obsessed with comic book merchandise from Max Payne 2).

As I read on through the article, however, I came to realise that characters' race does matter but only as part of a greater issue - a need for a wider variety of compelling characters that aren't stereotypes (and not stereotypes of white western males either). Two, maybe three* examples of well written black males in the history of video games and maybe only twice as many women of any race is a pretty awful track record.

But how would I, as a white middle class western male, begin to fairly and believably write and portray in computer graphics anyone from any significantly different background without falling back on stereotypes and cliché? I can only hope to do them justice by carefully studying people around me but it has got to be better when a development team is formed from a wide range of people with different backgrounds, cultural heritages and experiences of people.

This isn't about about implicit prejudice. It isn't even about race or lack of representation. It's about sheer lack of variety and adequate attention to design.

* By my reckoning: Charlie (The Longest Journey and Dreamfall), CJ (GTA: San Andreas) and that guy from Farhrenheit/Indigo Prophecy

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