Discussion 11/09: Race, “Black Cool”, and Chinese Master Chief

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November 8, 2012 by axelordz

Axel and Phillip:

Hey guys, so we decided to take on race diversity in video games, or in this case, the lack thereof. We used a combination of the class’ article with the article we got on our own (that we hope you guys read). It’s titled “Come on, Video Games, Let’s See Some Black People I’m Not Embarrassed By” and although deals mostly with Black portrayal in video games, many of the points it brings up is applicable to the discussion about diversity.

Here is an interesting article about black portrayal in video games: http://kotaku.com/5897227/come-on-video-games-lets-see-some-black-people-im-not-embarrassed-by

Grand Theft Auto is notorious for it’s controversial (and alleged negative) portrayal of Latinos and African Americans. In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, we’ve included a clip. You only have to watch the first minute to really get the hang of what the game’s like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3oVi7wpoKk

Although there can be some argument about Narcisse’s claims about “Black Cool”, many of the points he raises are valid. For example, he explains “Black Cool” as being “a kind of cool that improvises around all the random stereotypes and facile understandings of black people that have accrued over centuries and subverts them.” Even though our discussion encompasses more than just characters being “cool”, the idea that having characters that do not let themselves to be defined by stereotypical characteristics is refreshing and encouraging.

So here are some questions for our discussion, but feel free to bring any observations and experiences into our discussion,:

1. Just for fun (and to gauge the racial awareness from our class in their video gaming experiences), can you think of any video game characters that are non-White and non-Asian? And of those, which have not been portrayed racially negative?

2. Morgan Gray, development director at 2K Marin, claims that “If it ain’t fun, nothing else really matters”; a reference to the dilemma developers frequently face: If creating great games is the main duty of any developer, why does race come into the equation?

3. Do games, as an influential force in pop culture and daily life, have the responsibility of being aware of how race is portrayed? Are they bound by any moral code? Or should they “leave the social studies to parents and public broadcasting”?

4. Is there a way the idea of “Black Cool” can be applied to other races, ethnic groups, other social groups of people?

5. Morgan Gray was quoted as saying that “if Master Chief took off his helmet for the first time and was a Chinese American, would the world turn away from Halo, leaving nothing but empty servers, and the sound of lonely warthog’s engine idling? I doubt it”. How does this reflect on the importance of race in video games and the (possibly non-existent) responsibility of video game creators?

6. Does a game that portray race non-offensively have a better (in terms of pleasure, fun, sense of accomplishment, etc) playing experience?

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