Your Mama Was a Crack Whore: Or, (Mis)reprentations of the Other
Thanks to the great post that Alex wrote on representations of women in games I started to think about representations of African Americans in games and decided to come up with my own list of “good” characters. The only well done (playable) characters that I could think of are the ones that always get paraded about as an example of diversity in games. Here’s what I came up with:
Alyx Vance from Half Life 2
Jade from Beyond Good and Evil (who is usually assumed to be of African descent because she is darker than the usual representation of Asian)
Yeah, that’s about it. There aren’t any other positive representations that I can think of. The rest are over sexualized characters and tribalized like Sheva Alomar from Resident Evil 5 (and she turns on her own countrymen to work for the “Man”)
Drug dealing thugs straight out of 1980’s Blaxploitation films like CJ Johnson in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Or jive talking rappers who are the sons of dead convicts and crack whores like Sam B. in Dead Island
So as I consider Alex’s question of whether or not we need to represent Others in games in any specific way I ask myself if there is anyway that we can do otherwise. Anytime developers create a character who is a minority everything about that character automatically becomes a part of who they are as an Other. How are they dressed, what are their surroundings, how are they voiced, what is their back story. Does Sam B really have to have to be from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and have an absent father who died in prison and a drug addicted mother in order to be bad ass enough to kill zombies?
Game developers have a responsibility to be mildly ethical in the ways that they characterize groups of people and, sadly, there seems to be very little improvement in this area. From the early games of foot shuffling, cowtowing to the recent hard core thugs and tribal sexpots there is very little positive to be seen. I had high hopes that some of my much awaited games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution could at least not piss me off, but they haven’t managed to steer clear of that either. Even though the the protagonist is yet another white male militaristic type, the Black folks in this game are really getting short shrift. The Stepnfetchit language of the African American bag lady in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just more proof of that. I lived in Detroit for the first 30 years of my life and I have yet to meet anyone (bag lady or otherwise) that had Letitia’s linguistic patterns or colloquialisms (and my maternal and paternal families are from the South).