Representations of the Other
I’ve been talking (and thinking) a lot lately about the differences between historical accuracy and the perpetuation of past culture (ie. the treatment of women in LA Noir and Madmen). I do have a genuine interest in creating representations of cultures in the past, and I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from seeing how they operate. But that also leads me to question whether or not there are some things we can ever represent fairly in an entertainment media. A friend of mine studies Native American representation in games, and she struggles with the dilemma of how to fairly represent Native Americans. If you use a feather, you are falling into stereotyped behavior. But if you don’t give any visible marking to the character, then who knows that you’re trying to represent another culture? And further, perhaps you are whitewashing another culture by forcing the “other” to become Westernized.
The more Sam and I talk about this issue, the more I am convinced that there will never be a guideline for someone of one culture representing someone from another culture (whether its geographical, racial, or even through time) fairly and accurately for profit and entertainment. There is no universal standard for handling representation because every culture is different, has a different history, has a different relationship with the representer, and isn’t homogenous within itself.
So, this seems like an impossible situation. And I wonder if it’s what leads developers to make the standard, white male the protagonist over and over, because it’s just easier than dealing with these issues. Sometimes I rage against that stance (especially when the creators of Brink or COD couldn’t have made even 1 woman protagonist, just 1), but atm I have sympathy for the quagmire.
So, since we can have no universal, but we still want representation to happen, I want to look at some video games I think “do it right.” We may not be able to draw big conclusions or emulate exactly what the devs did and have it come out the same way, but I think recognizing fair representations is a positive step. Since I am visibly marked by gender, I will stick with gender representations for now. Also, I will be following up this blog with an in-depth analysis of each of there characters.
5. Carla Valenti of Fahrenheit
4. Carmen San Diego of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego
3. Alyx Vance of Half-Life
2. Alma of FEAR
1. April Ryan of The Longest Journey
Anyway, I’d be interested to see what everyone else thinks. I was thinking about three things when I made this 1) do I feel it she a fair representation of women 2) does she add substantially to the game and 3) is her character rounded out (or in Alma’s case, intentionally mysterious).