February 1, 2007

Blog Highlight: Token Minorities

Filed under:News, Race, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:46 am

I recently discovered the blog Token Minorities. As far as I know, it’s the first video game blog focusing primarily on race. (It’s been around a few months, too! How’d I miss it so long?) Check out blogger Pat Miller’s mission statement:

Token Minorities is a blog devoted to discussing issues of race and racism in video games. Race is a touchy subject that doesn’t get a lot of airtime or word count in the video gaming media, but it’s certainly not for lack of content. As the gaming medium grows, its capacity to handle increasingly mature themes grows as well. Token Minorities was created out of the growing worry that the greater video gaming community is blissfully ignorant of the racialized content that is becoming more and more prevalent in modern video games, and more importantly, the potential impact that content has on our racial common sense – both the good and the bad.

Pat’s posts includes antiracist critiques of games, media watches, and links to calls for papers.

Racism and sexism are very deeply intertwined, and very present in video games and gamer culture. I hope Token Minorities will remind me to discuss race more often in my own blogging.


July 24, 2006

UBC Study on Race in Video Games

Filed under:Race, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 4:57 pm

A recent study at the University of British Columbia Finds Top-Selling Video Games Rife with Racist Asian Stereotypes. UBC grad Robert Parungao, who conducted the study, says:

These images have gone unchallenged for the past 20 years or more. Parents, government and media watchdog groups have protested the widespread violence and sexism in video games, but the blatant racism has gone largely unnoticed.

I think Parungao brings up a good point: even images the mainstream would acknowledge as racist are ignored in favor of critiquing violence and sexism in video games. All are valid criticisms of video games.

I’m still trying to sort out racism in video games. I play games with roots in Japan and the United States. I don’t know how race is constructed in Japan, but regardless of origins video games join the rest of the media that contributes to our perceptions of race. Something apparently harmless in Japan may carry entirely different connotations when translated for a North American audience.


Dr. B on the PSP Adverts

Filed under:Race, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 3:56 pm

I hadn’t commented on the racist Sony PSP advertisements in Holland because, well, they left me speechless and depressed. I didn’t want to deal with the white gamer backlash who defend the ads by deciding they’re not racist or even argue they’re examples of reverse racism (American Racism Manifesto is a good, quick read if you’re unfamiliar with my view on race).

Dr. B. brings up a good point that Sony pulls racist white/black ads (but keeps others). She links to two racist (and sexist) videos of PSP ads that run here in the United States that have not been pulled. Why is it easier for us as Americans to criticize racist media in countries other than our own?


May 21, 2006

Terra Nova Discusses Colonialism in World of Warcraft

Filed under:Race, Videogames, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 8:03 am

In response to my post yesterday on Race and World of Warcraft, commenter Dave linked me to a recent Terra Nova article on Cultural Borrowing in WoW. Blogger Greg L quotes an undergrad paper:

The clearest indication of colonial awareness can be seen in relation to the excerpts concerning the Horde and Alliance cities. The majority of the respondents note that, in some form or fashion, that the “Horde seem to be more tribal or barbaric. Much more primitive or backward…. The Alliance cities are paragons of sturdiness, whimsy, technology, and nature. This reinforces the idea that the Alliance are the ‘good guys’ by being more advanced.” Part of this thought process seems to reflect a certain measure of acknowledgement for the ‘European’ or Western bias built into the good vs. evil dichotomy in the game. As one interviewee puts it, “Alliance cities are cleaner and more epic. Even the music is epic.”

No wonder there are so many more alliance players than horde!

The post was slashdotted, so there is a huge discussion going on. If you have time to wade through the comments, feel free to pull some of them to discuss here.

The Terra Nova post also links to a Gameology call for resources discussing Race and Video Games. Commenters were able to find some references, but race in video games seems even less examined than gender is. I wonder if most writers don’t feel qualified to write on race, like it’s something other people experience. It’s not; white is a race, too, and we can talk about it.


May 20, 2006

Racialized Trafficking of Bodies in World of Warcraft

Last quarter, in my cyborg anthropology class, I wrote a paper called “The Traffic of Virtual Bodies in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.” I was nominated to share my paper in my university’s scholars week, and joined two of my classmates to present a fifty minute talk on World of Warcraft. To embody how ubiquitous World of Warcraft is, the classroom was standing-room-only. My first classmate showed us a slide show of the gamer’s architecture and talked about the ideas of real world cultures invoked by Blizzard. My second classmate logged in the game and showed us her tauren. She discussed how taking on a virtual avatar is a posthuman experience. I spoke last and discussed how I categorize the virtual bodies in MMORPGs by the individual, social, and political bodies and how they partake in the game’s economic body and are all trafficked for real world currency. Our presentation was a hit, and we had a great Q&A with the audience. I’m happy my first presentation to a big group (outside of the classroom) went so well. I closed by saying although I believe video games in many ways are sexist, racist, and classist, it’s okay to both critique and enjoy them, and that I’m optimistic people like us can demand games become more progressive.

As my classmate pointed out, Blizzard invokes what the (supposedly) mainstream male gamer wants. I left thinking about this, and wonder how much the audience becomes what the game designers think it is. Gamers may become the audience through a self-fulfilling prophesy when we either conform to their status quo or drop out when we’re told this game isn’t for us.

I personally find it racist for cultures to be appropriated and re-marketed as what the hegemonic white male gamer is told he should want (which gives the message that you’re the secondary audience if you’re a person of color and queer and a woman). I’ll use the tauren race as an example. As my classmate pointed out, tauren villages are decorated with long houses, teepees, totem poles, and a dream-catchers to represent a pan-Native American culture. Thousands of indigenous nations are lumped together, painted primitive, and sold to the Western gaze.

During my presentation, I brought up Ed Castronova’s finding that female avatars sell for 12% less than male avatars. I notice that because gender doesn’t affect the mechanics of gameplay, people are paying more for the desired social role in the game. I find this phenomenon fascinating, and I hope I have a chance to study it more in school and blogging.

I realize that cultures are appropriated and sold in video games, and gender influences the trafficking of virtual bodies (as feminist theorist Gayle Rubin points out, women are trafficked for gender alone), so I wonder… how is the traffic of virtual bodies racialized? I don’t have an answer yet. Your thoughts*?

*I expect you to respect my opinion that race is a social construct and racism is institutionalized when participating in discussions here. Do not derail the conversation to argue otherwise.


January 16, 2006

Same Old in Nightstud

Filed under:Race, Sexism, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 1:52 pm

I apologize for the quiet weekend; I was refraining from blogging as a motivation to write a school paper. I found a link to a game called Nightstud on Sex & Games a few days ago but accordingly refrained from critiquing the game’s webpage (alas, I’ve no desire to actually play it) to use as a reward for finishing my school assignment. And to think, most people probably rewards themselves with dessert or a few hours of gaming.

Right away, the description of the game has me bristled. From the description of the game:

Your objective in the game is to be the top stud, or by other words:

To have sex with as many women as you can

And for that you will have to go frequently to local Bars and Discos to pickup women. In each game mission you will have different goals, like having sex with a number of women, sex with virgins or celebrities, have a certain amount of cash or reputation points in a specific time limit. You will start each game mission with just a couple of dollars in your pocket but many expectations to be the local top stud!

Okay, so the game is for heterosexual men–like most games. But few so blatantly illustrate the unequal power in the current paradigm of heterosexual relationships in a patriarchal, white supremacist society. The game is supposedly about “satisfying women” (they pay the player after he has sex with them), but it is really reinforcing the slut/stud double-standard. Certain “types” of women are sought to be conquered. Virgins and celebrities are more challenging and hold more prestige when they are “won.”

From the game’s list of selling-point features:

  • Different kinds of women: Blondes, Latins, Brunnetes, Orientals and Blacks
  • I’m assuming from the heteronormity and androcentricity of the webpage the “blondes” and “brunnetes” are white while women of color get divided into their own categories, equated with hair color in whites, as people to be collected like they are Pokémon.

    And speaking of catching them all:

  • Medical Clinic where you can make penis enlargement operations, treat STD diseases and restore health
  • STDs are an acknowledged risk of this “studly” lifestyle (in reality, this is hardly the only “type” of person to catch them), but written off as easily treatable by a visit to the doctor. (Not to say that people with STDs can and do enjoy healthy, safe sex lives.)

    I’d like to see a game featuring sex that doesn’t continue to spread misinformation or reduce women to objects to be collected.


    January 13, 2006

    Run, Logan, Run!

    Filed under:Gender, Race, Reviews, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 11:24 am

    My cyborg anthropology course has an adjunct, one-credit film class called Folk Science in Film where we meet weekly to watch and discuss scifi films through an anthropological lens. We’ll be watching Equilibrium, Ghost in the Shell 2, Star Trek: TNG Best of Both Worlds I & II (the episodes where Picard is assimilated by and deborged.), Crash (the old one), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Gattaca. (Offline friends: guests are welcome, so send me an E-mail for the time and location.)

    Last night we started off with Logan’s Run, a classic scifi cheeseball from 1976. In 2274, people live in a dome and are are summoned to a die at age 30. They go willingly into the carousel, before a peppy crowd of their peers, for a chance at renewal. Logan is a sandman, a police officer of sorts who hunts down “runners” who try to flee the city instead of going to carousel.

    My brother’s name is Logan, so that was reason enough to eagerly watch the film when it came on television. I was frightened by the carousel (I couldn’t go on merry-go-rounds for years) nor bring myself to watch the movie again until I was a teen. This was my first time moving beyond filling the plotholes to actually analyze the movie.

    Pam Noles’s essay, Shame, was still fresh in my mind when I watched the film. She noticed, as a little girl, that there were no people of color in Star Wars. Logan’s Run was released a year earlier, so I wasn’t really surprised the only person of color any of my class spotted in the film was a black man with an afro and bright gold bracelets, in a crowd shot. We’ve got one token person of color, the black man, for the entire “utopia.”

    No surprise, my 21st-century, radical feminist gaze took note of the gender roles in Logan’s society (or 1970s Hollywood?). The sandmen are all men, and the only other characters who actually have “jobs” beyond looking pretty are a plastic surgeon at “new-you” and a ditzy female assistant who has difficulty doing more than act sexy (ironically, it is the female heroine Jessica who rescues her). Besides Logan, all of the clients at new-you lobby are women–because women are the ones who care about staying young.

    Earlier in the film, Logan flips through a teleporter “circuit” to find a lover for the night. A man appears first, and Logan shakes his head in disapproval and moves on to meet the heroine, Jessica 7. When she refuses his advances, he asks her if she’s a lesbian. Logan’s buddy shows up with a woman on each arm and Jessica slips away. Logan ponders at her absence for a moment, but is quickly distracted when the two willing women jump on him.

    Logan forces Jessica to return later because she won’t come to see him willingly. He tells her she’s the most beautiful woman he’s seen and he won’t force her to have sex with him. He’s giving her a choice about what to do with her body. Whether Logan’s authority comes from his job as sandman or simply because he is male is unclear, but sandmen are only men. In a film released three years after Roe v. Wade, women’s freedom to choose is a privilege granted by men. This strikes very close to real life where women’s freedoms to choose–from voting to reproductive choices–have been given, and particularly the later teeter dangerously close to being taken away.


    January 11, 2006

    More on Whitewashed Scifi/Fantasy

    Filed under:Gender, Literature, Race, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 6:05 pm

    My internet has been down more than up recently, so I’m relying on the university’s computer labs and wireless to get online. (Don’t fret, I’m changing providers. Thank goodness we have not one but three high speed internet options in my city.) Since my internet outage interrupted the World of Warcraft post I was brewing up, in consolation (this is better, really–I wish I’d seen it before I wrote my Race and the Future post) I bring your attention to Pam Noles’s essay Shame on bonding with her dad over scifi movies:

    I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn’t have black people back then. He said there’s always been black people. I said but black people can’t be wizards and space people and they can’t fight evil, so they can’t be in the story. When he didn’t say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn’t say anything else.

    When Noles was a little girl, not finding characters like herself made her think people like herself were incapable of being the heroes. It’s disheartening to see something I love so much–scifi and fantasy–contribute to internalized oppression, and it isn’t just race.

    I don’t know firsthand what it is like to be marginalized by the things I enjoy because on my race, but I do because of my gender–and feminism has shown me how the two are very interwoven (and not to try and measure which oppressions are “worse” than others). When I was a little girl, so many of the books and television programs and video games I enjoyed featured one token female, if any, that was a one-dimensional stereotype. She was into her looks or flirting, and I couldn’t identify. When playing make-believe with friends, I lived through the male characters. They were complex characters in their own right, defined by more than their gender, and I could identify with their strengths. They felt like real people, not paperdolls.

    Noles’s discovery of A Wizard of Earthsea is really touching:

    And because Le Guin snuck up on it, let us thrill with Sparrowhawk as he made his way, the Revelation came as a shock. I do remember bursting out into tears on the living room couch when I understood what was going on. And the tears flowed again when Mom came home from work and I showed her the book while trying to explain. Sparrowhawk is brown. I think he’s like an Indian from India. And Vetch is black like from Africa. There’s a bunch more and they have real power. Not the girls, though. But still they are also the good guys. It’s the white people who are evil. And Sparrowhawk is also Ged, and he’s going to be the most powerful one of them all, ever.

    Her experience is reminescent of the times I found a character I really identified with, a strong person like me in the fictional worlds I loved.

    And my last favorite bit:

    Le Guin’s racial choices in “A Wizard of Earthsea” mattered because her decision said to the wide white world: You Are Not The Whole Of The Universe. For many fans of genre, no matter where they fell on the spectrum of pale, this was the first time such a truth was made alive for them within the pages of the magical worlds they loved.

    Yes! I love Le Guin for it, and strive to remind myself that as I catch myself enacting on my privilege to be oblivious to race.

    I suggest reading the essay. I really can’t do it justice, especially to Noles reaction to Star Wars as a girl and her critique of news media for ignoring the whitewashing of the Earthsea miniseries.

    Via Whileaway, which also alerted me to Invisible Universe: a history of blackness in speculative fiction that I can’t wait to see.


    January 7, 2006

    Race and the Future

    Filed under:Literature, Online Communities, Privilege, Race, Science Fiction — Lake Desire @ 4:10 pm

    Like a typical geeky 90s kid, I grew up inhaling scifi and fantasy YA books, fashioning my NES controller into a belt to emulate Captain N, and revolving my schedule around any mediocre scifi TV show. I didn’t realize until I was older that most of the pivotal characters–the captains, the princesses, the superheroes, the predestined saviors–looked like me. Why should I think anything of it? Thanks to my annual MLK assemblies, I thought diversity meant a person of color was present to serve as an ambassador of their race.

    Being oblivious to my own race was part of the privilege being white gave me. I wish I would have discovered Ursula K. Le Guin when I was younger. She was one of the earliest fantasy and scifi authors to have nonwhites star in her novels. She had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.

    I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.

    I have heard, not often, but very memorably, from readers of color who told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they’d found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds. Those letters have been a tremendous reward and true joy to me.

    So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I’ll listen. As an anthropologist’s daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance. In a totally invented fantasy world, or in a far-future science fiction setting, in the rainbow world we can imagine, this risk is mitigated. That’s the beauty of science fiction and fantasy—freedom of invention.

    (On a side note, Le Guin says in the same article that she had difficulty getting publishers to accurately represent characters on her book covers because they thought featuring a person of color on the cover would hurt sales.)

    Although I do wish I’d read Le Guin when I was younger, I don’t know that, as a child, I wouldn’t have been one of those oblivious readers. I’d been trained to ignore race until I hit university and realized my experiences weren’t as universal as I thought. I began noticing how race was portrayed in the literature and movies and video games that I enjoyed. So often a person of color (or woman, or person with disability, or… the list goes on) was included as a token, as someone who had made it into the white world. Scifi did this, too, and if any genre should be free of tokenism, it should be scifi. The freedom of invention Le Guin mentions is an ideal tool for showing, for inventing, other possibilities. And in scifi, the excuses for the same old white dominance get rather contrived than they do in fantasy. Globally, whites are not the majority. If the world were to move onto the galaxy, wouldn’t that be reflected in the people we’re seeing in stories and films?

    I’ve role-played online since I was a knee-high, and was oblivious, like most privileged whites, to race in the scifi and fantasy games I played until a few years ago. Around the time I started university, I founded a play-by-E-mail role-playing club based on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn. The story took place ten years after the planet Pern had been colonized, several hundred years into a future where humans dealt regularly with aliens, nations of old were long dissolved and humans had founded colonies across the galaxy. I had a hard time getting players to veer away from creating peaches and cream Britons and red-headed Irish-folk (it didn’t help the heroes of McCaffrey’s novel were Irish). Too many others, rather than writing characters of ambiguous lineage, empathized how exotic their “dark” characters looked–further enforcing the idea that white is the norm.

    What was my gripe? Five hundred or more years down the road, I didn’t picture such a racial homogeny. Maybe it was the optimist in me hoping for a future without white supremacy, without white men (or the token woman or “minority”) continuing to be the picture of authority and normality. Role-playing is self-indulgent, and I certainly didn’t want to role-play in a world like that, I had real life. At the same time, was it wrong of me to ask players to play a character who looked different than them?

    Submitted to the Radical Woman of Color Carnival: