Race in Games - Not Caring About it Doesn't Make it Go Away

With the explosion over N'Gai Croal's comments about the Resident Evil 5 trailer, I feel like there's one issue that hasn't really been addressed yet. Basically, Croal said that we need to be careful with the kind of racial imagery as portrayed in the RE5 trailer, and a huge firestorm of comments erupted, some intelligent but most hateful, ignorant, and racist. This was particularly evident when Kotaku linked to the interview.

What really made me think, though, is demonstrated by this comment:
People who see all those little things "They're hidden in shadows, you can barely see their eyes, and the perspective of the trailer is not even someone who's coming to help the people. It's like they're all dangerous; they all need to be killed." are people who are keeping racism alive. If he was like the rest of us who didnt care and just want to play a kick ass game then racism would die a little...
Ignoring racial issues, in games or anything else, doesn't solve anything. If there's one thing I learned as a sociology major in school, it's that most things in society have meaning because they are socially constructed. Basically, over time, aspects have society literally come into existence because we agree that they exist. Race is a great example of this. Race itself, that people have different colored skin, has no meaning from a biological standpoint. It's just one of innumerable differences among people. But within the last few hundred years, race has come to be incredibly meaningful, largely as a result of slavery and colonial expansion. Just not caring about race and playing a "kick ass game" will not erase hundreds of years of economic, social, political, and psychological prejudices and injustices.

Furthermore, even if some people don't think a particular media text contains any racial issues, that doesn't mean they're not there. For example, as Croal articulates, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see the problems in having a game where you shoot dozens of Africans. Granted, the game is not even out yet, but I agree that the trailer raises some concerns.

Croal's right. If video games are ever to be taken seriously, then developers need to think about issues such as race, sexuality, and gender. And so do we, the gamers. Because whether you want to believe it or not, race exists. And until there can be honest and open discussion about it, it will continue to exist and have meaning for millions of people for a long time to come.


F. Joseph said...

Great read (I followed a link from Brainy Gamer), and I think it highlights the difference between discussions like yours and the surprising vitriol evident on sites like Kotaku. It's essentially the harder right vs. the easier wrong.

Race will always be a festering wound for us because it's easier to ignore it. It's easier to ignore the necrosis beneath the scab and imagine that it doesn't exist. It's easier to believe that the world is indeed fully homogenized and that majority rule dictates that everyone thinks alike.

Furthermore, the alternative of the 'harder right' isn't as accessible as we may think. Inadequate education, economic disparities, and a societal disregard for "free thinking" makes it unlikely that issues like racism will ever be dealt with meaningfully. Not even in video games.

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but here in America, we've become great denialists if only because maningful discussions have become too awful to endure.

Ultimately, messages like yours aren't representative of typical gamers, but instead a fringe exception to the rule. I think we sometimes expect too much of all the other consumers that happen to purchase the same things that we do.

Korey said...

Thanks for the great comment. You're right, it is much easier to ignore a complicated issue like race, because discussions can often be painful and difficult.

But I especially like how you brought up the complexities inherent in any race discussion. Race is intimately tied up in social, economic, and political institutions. Race does not exist in a vacuum, but is also affected by and affects things such as education policies.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. There's always more to be added to any discussion about race.