MTV Looks at the Role of Race in Video Games

April 9, 2008 -
Tracey John of MTV Multiplayer is running a weeklong special report, Black Professionals in Games, which features in-depth interviews on the role of race in games and the game business.

The first installment featured Newsweek's N'Gai Croal (left) who offered his view on why there aren't more black game designers:
A lot of black students go to college with a different mission in mind... It’s very pre-professional. It’s pre-law, it’s pre-med... things like that... given the racial history of [the U.S.], given the fact that we approach parity in terms of income, there’s still an asset disparity...

So my point is that if there’s an asset disparity... then it’s going to be hard for your family to support you in a profession that doesn’t pay well, assuming the [low paid] entry-level position we’re talking about is [game] testing...

...in terms of the enthusiast press, there’s probably also some invisibility there... It’s like just knowing it’s Spike Lee... starred in his own movies... For me as a 16 year-old, that was really powerful... I’ve gotten a number of e-mails from black students in high school and college who’ve written me and said that it was inspiring to them — to see my photo on the blog and read my stuff.

Croal also considered whether diversity is important to the game biz: 
We don’t yet know how important diversity is in the games industry because the industry is not as diverse as it could be... I know from my own experience video games are a powerful draw in [black] communities...

You say to yourself, if more black people had access to the means of production in video games... what would you see? Other people could share their stories and their experiences... there’s so much more that games could be...

As to the depiction of black characters in games, Croal said:
It’s been largely stereotypical portrayals but video games tend to be very much about stereotypes... there was some criticism, which I think was fair, of “Gears of War” for its portrayal of Cole Train... people don’t realize how colonized their minds are by stereotypes.

I don’t think “Def Jam Vendetta” is a bad thing; I don’t think featuring rappers in games is a bad thing. I liked the portrayal in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”...

In the second installment, developer Morgan Gray of Crystal Dynamics discusses Gears of War and Cole Train:
Cole Train on his own, no harm no foul. But what is Cole Train? ...basically like every other effin’ black character in a video game. Like here comes the urban stereotype...

There’s not a lot of black folks in games. I used to joke that I can’t wait to go to E3 and see all five of them and hang out... I think when people think of games they think of Japanese cats, they think of white cats. They just assume...

I am sick of playing the average white dude character. I’m just done with it. And I’m sick of playing a black stereotype... the fear is that if the industry is dominated by white cats, then the characterization is going to be extremely shallow and extremely one-dimensional...

Gray also dished on the portrayal of black characters in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and last year's controversy over Resident Evil 5.
I’m not saying Rockstar is a bunch of racist evil dudes, but... when it comes to [GTA] “San Andreas,” ...it was so close to their perception of the real world [racial stereotype] instead of knowing it was pure playland. So that’s where that game kind of scares me a little bit because this is doing more harm than good...

[Resident Evil 5 is ] absolutely not racist. Zombies in Haiti? Hmm. I think they’re gonna be brown... where was the outcry for the poor Spanish villagers in “Resident Evil 4“?  ...I don’t really see it on this one. I think Cole Train bothers me more. [laughs]...

Comments

@Rhade

It would still be us marveling at the extent of his stupidity, and calling him out over his blatant lies. Except now, instead of being idiot gamers, we'd be RACIST idiot gamers.

@Rhade

I don't understand. Which might be the point...

@Ebonheart

That's the way I usually see it. A non-racist pays less attention to skin color than a racist after all.

I'm so sick of people talking about how bad it is Resident Evil 5 is taking place in Africa. You know what else is taking place in Africa? Far Cry 2. No outlash there, though.

Cole Train......

hhhmmmm....

[...] wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptTracey John of MTV Multiplayer is running a weeklong special report, Black Professionals in Games, which features in-depth interviews on the role of race in games and the game business. The first installment featured Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal (left) who offered his view on why there aren’t more black game designers: A lot of black students go to college with a different mission in mind… It’s very pre-professional. It’s pre-law, it’s pre-med… things like that… given the racial history of [the U.S.], given the fact that we approach parity in terms of income, there’s still an asset disparity… So my point is that if there’s an asset disparity… then it’s going to be hard for your family to support you in a profession that doesn’t pay well, assuming the [low paid] entry-level position we’re talking about is [game] testing… [...]

I am SOOO glad someone of color finally stood up and rebuted the "racism in RE5" thing. IF it was a black guy in Poland fighting white zombies, I doubt White people would be crying foul. Context is everything, and protestors need to realize this.

Stereotypes aren't around because they are baseless, are they? Let's just ponder that idea.

I'm not 100% confident on speaking to any of the examples that were mentioned... but I do believe that oppression can be found almost anywhere assuming you look hard enough.

These things, coupled with the general demographic of video games, have me thinking that this supposed racial insensitivity is just another over-inflated non-issue.

Side note: I wonder what life around here would be like if JT was black. hmm

I just wanted to say the default main character in Mass Effect was black and I didn't hear anybody praise it for that.

As I think the simple fact that make a difference between two races makes us racistsin some small way. We treat the other as different from us, works with every difference by the way. In the end we're all human beings. And thats what matters most

What about Seargent Johnson?

@Rhade

Actually, stereotypes are around because they help people simplify complex differences between their social group and another social group. Stereotypes aren't necessarily baseless, but they aren't representative of anything.

Rhade: No different. He'd still be John Bruce. That simple. There would be absolutely no difference. He'd just be another attorney / religious zealot with an ego-trip and superiority complex.

----
Papa Midnight

@Guiguibob80

Like pretty much every other character in Mass Effect, the main character (Shepard) is supposed to be multiracial. Take a close look at all of them.

@ TheSmacker

Ding Ding Ding!

@ Dark Sovereign

My point was that Stereotypes exist because they are, in some observable capacity, true. To break that down, and flame-proof myself a little, I mean that some percent which is large enough to justify the existence of said stereotype. I believe they have a base. Of course this is only applicable on a per case basis, some stereotypes are less supported than others.

And yes, I understand that it's basically a manifestation of self-preservation and tribal instincts, taken to the absurd nth degree with a few other ingredients mixed in for good measure.

Well, despite being of the opinion that a good game will sell itself, regardless of the race of the person who wrote it, it would be good to see more non-whites getting into coding and game design. I'm pleased to say that at the Uni I study at, not only is there a wide spectrum of races, but also about a 50/50 mix of genders as well.

That said, it doesn't help with games like 50Cent bulletproof helping to forward a 'black' stereotype whilst being promoted by a non-white, that sort of thing certainly doesn't help the situation.

@Rhade

It has a "base" in that it takes the most glaringly obvious difference from oneself in one or two individuals and applies them to all of the people in a certain group. For instance, Texans are often stereotyped as gun-toting, hat-wearing, gay-killing, cattle-ranching idiots. I have serious doubts that you could find a single Texan with all of these characteristics. All of these things are rarities, yet they are ascribed to everyone born in Texas. Stereotypes are the equivalent of seeing that most rappers are black and then assuming that all blacks are rappers.

@ Dark Sovereign

"I have serious doubts that you could find a single Texan with all of these characteristics."

Really..? Reeeally? Drop the ridiculous assertion that people perceive Texans as murderers and I'll take that bet.

"Stereotypes are the equivalent of seeing that most rappers are black and then assuming that all blacks are rappers."

Another poor example, IMO. Perhaps I'm over-estimating the depth of 'common' stereotypes.

I am not sure how much diversity would help the indunstry as a whole, but I can say that having a good split of people in a development team has generally been a positive experince.

When I look at teams I tend to see differnt types of people has healthy. When I see a workgroup that is nothing but dumpy white guys then I worry a bit. I worry a lot ;p

The best teams I have worked on were about 50/50 male/female for instance. even 75/25 does pretty well. 100/0 or 'odd man out' always seem destructive.

@Rhade

I don't see how you could percieve any stereotype as being "deep". And yes, I do stand by my assertion. I've been to the cattle ranches. Aside from the actors at historical sites, the ranchers wore blue jeans and baseball caps. Guns are almost never seen in public, aside from police officers. I've seen two gun shops, one of which was an Academy. We also get stereotyped as being bigots and hicks, but that's bleed over from us being "Southern". If you want concrete examples I'll give them to you: "Because it's Texas, there was a gun nearby" (taken from the comments back in the "kid gets shot during God of War" article), "If any state is going to pass anti-video game legislation, it would be Texas" (GP comment) "Texas is still a slave state" (Californian), "Where's your horse?" (New York), and one of my favorites, "Texas? Isn't that where all the hicks live?" (Ohians). Stereotypes are based off of pure ignorance, not some keen observation.

IMO, there must be diversity in particular in video games themselves. Enough of the zillionth FPS or RTS dealing with "modern combat" Enough of the zillionth fantasy-based MMORPG. There are so many historical periods to cover, so many subjects to treat, and so many game genres to rediscover (bring back adventure games !).

@ Dark Sovereign

/facepalm

K..

Stereotypes are, in my experience flawed, horrible, and never end up being a good thing. It is, in my experience, far better yo determine what a person is like based on that person's actions and words, not on ethnicity, skin color, or income class.

I'm with him, up until the Japanese cats, that just confused the hell out of me. I think he means the slang term, but my brain is registering it as a metaphor. Cognitive dissonance rules the day.

Stereotypes never tell the whole story, but they are useful if you don't want to go into that much depth. If you just want a generic black guy to balance out your generic white or asian characters, stereotypes really come in handy. I mean, it would be nice to flesh out all the characters, but that isn't necessary or appropriate in every type of game. Besides, it would be awfully strange if every character was a walking stereotype except the black guy, and if I was a developer, I'd also be afraid of making my black characters nothing more than stereotypical white guys who got a makeover at the last minute. I'm not sure if that would be much of an improvement.

From N'Gai Croal: "So my point is that if there’s an asset disparity… then it’s going to be hard for your family to support you in a profession that doesn’t pay well, assuming the [low paid] entry-level position we’re talking about is [game] testing…"

This is utter BS. Sure, Game testing positions do not pay a lot. But the average Game Artist position starts out around 40-50K. Programmers make even more loot when they start in the industry. Sure it is hard to break in, but that is just because one has to have have serious skills and not because of any other factor. Have the skills? Pay the bills. End of story.

And if people are tired of the same old characters in games then they need to vote with their collars and not buy those games. if enough people do not buy the same old games with the same old sad tired stereotypes then hopefully game devs will get the message.

Heh. When I think about it, I'm actually rather amused at how people stereotype stereotyping ^_^

Humans are pattern recognition engines. Every single person one encounters you have some baseline idea of who they are and how to interact with them. It is possible to take it to far and be a negative thing but having internal patterns built up is absolutely vital to communication.

I've known people with versions of autism or aspergers that do not have this mechanism in place that allows them to have these internal models and it can make social interaction absolutely miserable and draining to the point it isn't even worth it and they withdraw. Some will not even bother interacting with anyone new because of it.

"Humans are pattern recognition engines. Every single person one encounters you have some baseline idea of who they are and how to interact with them. It is possible to take it to far and be a negative thing but having internal patterns built up is absolutely vital to communication. "

I agree, except I would even suggest that these biases are an intended consequence of nature in order to preserve the species.

IE.. "He doesn't look like me, he isn't from my tribe, he might be dangerous, be aware."
-hypothetical sub-conscious

Some would consider that a racist thought pattern, I think it's survival 101. I don't need to distinguish it further.

@Rhade

I agree, it is natural. However, that does not make it less wrong. It is hyporcritical for a human to act as though he is superior to his dog and then defend his faults with "it's natural".

@Rhade

>IE.. “He doesn’t look like me, he isn’t from my tribe, he might be dangerous, be aware.”
>-hypothetical sub-conscious

I think that is a big part of it, esp at the low level, but there is also a constructive modern component. When one encounters a person they also think 'what mind this person find offensive? what are thier cultural cues? '. Esp when dealing with people who are from significantly differnt cultures it becomes really useful to start with thier baseline and then adjust if an individual says otherwise.

A classic example would be, if you have visiting japanese execs, learn some basic japanese politeness and protocol. If they say 'that isn't necessary' then adjust. Otherwise it communicates that you are taking an effort to know them and their culture while they are visiting your's. You would be amazed at how positive a response you can get off someone if you learn a few words/protocols form their region... for that matter, even getting them wrong (or getting one region over) can have really positive results.

@ Dark Sovereign

I'd like to believe that some people can really understand where you've been coming from, but I can't. At least not to the extent where I can have a productive conversation with you. I'll take the fault, my bad, carry on, etc. When I read your responses.. I get tired.. like energy is literally being sucked from my body. No offense.. just.. that's what's going on.

@ Neeneko

Exactly. And, IMO, that same modern component is also part of the reason for silent racism, or avoidance behaviors. While attempting to cater to the cultural/racial differences, some people are so consumed with the fear of offending a person different than themselves, that they simply stay away from the entire ordeal. Which is what I kind of think this article was hinting at as well.

@Rhade

If you are getting tired reading it, then it's my fault, not yours. I'll try to be less... bullheaded.

I just want to point out that stereotypes do not have to do simply with race, religion, or ethnicity...

Just for the record EVERYONE has stereotypes (generalizations about something). The problem is hate towards [insert group here]. Hence racists suck.

Case in point, society in general has stereotyped gamers. Is it right? No. Is it always wrong? No. The point is a human being with a rational mind should keep this in mind and try their best to not rely on their stereotypes for everything unless they want to become a hypocrite. We have 5 wonderful examples of such people in an earlier GP article.

Anyway... Just my two cents.

Wait why is MTV talking to us about race? They can't even get MUSIC right, hell 23 of 24 hours is reality tv (do note that is an over estimation for effect purposes) And is it me or is it the people who just yell "rasism" Are themself racist?

@ Ebonheart

Yes.. something very disquieting about MTV taking on massive issues like racism. Although.. they did have a BRILIANT Ad campaign about the Police State that's emerging in America. Google those vids, they gave me shivers.

@ Rhade

I don't listen to a thing MTV says they are called "Music Televistion" but play reality TV.

@ Dark Sovereign

Honestly when I think "game creators" I think developers as a whole. I chouldn't care less if the lead designer in a game was X race.

@ MTV

Just because your "white" doesn't mean your a sterotypical "white cat" hell he COULD be a French man born in Indonesia and now lives in British Columbia and has a refined hatred for Escargo. So lets stop hating on Whitey, or Darky or Guan Ping and realise just because of skin color doesn't mean they have diffrent or like opionions as you.

You know, looking at those last two quote sections, a thought just struck me. He took the characters that were over-the-top stereotypes on purpose and took them as indications of a larger issue, and then stereotyped black characters in video games. They pointed out Cole Train and GTA, and indicated that those are representative of the whole, but forgot about characters like Sargeant Johnson and Michael from Rainbow Six: Vegas. I never thought of Cole Train as a black stereotype though. I always saw him as an American Football player stereotype.

all the GTA games except SA have a white main character even though they do the exact same things CJ does, just because CJ is black GTA is racist, i don't really know what to say, litteraly.

The whole racism in games is utter bull...

Eli Vance
Sargeant Johnson

Wheres the stereotypes there?!?!?!

@MonkeyPeaches

You could make a case that CJ is acting like the stereotypical black gangsta and therefore is a racial stereotype, but what really shocks me is Resident Evil controversy. Slaughtering Spanish villagers? A-OK. Slaughtering blacks in Africa? RACISM!!!

@Altair

I had completely forgotten about Eli.

Eli? Forget Eli, Alyx Vance is the one to consider, she has more screen time and far more development.

@ Altair

Are you kidding me? How can you not see they're racists! They're black!

Though I do wonder since Niko in GTA is Slavic, why my step brother isn't pissed off. He is slavic after all.

@Ebonheart

Because anyone with fair skin isn't able to be prejudiced against, unless they're Jewish, it's common knowledge.

I really hate to make myself open to flamers, but living near Detroit...I have to say that it is becoming increasingly hard to not have some stereotypes for blacks. I would like to point out that literally 9/10 of the black kids at my school (a whopping 10 kids) dress "gangsta" and act like it. I've seen many of their grades too...It's truly sad.

That being said, I don't think we need to tip the scales to allow more blacks into an industry they may or may not be inclined to join. If they want to join the legal system, power to them, if they actually are more or equally capable than their white competitors

Also, racism is present in any game that has more than one race. If a major game designer made every black person with a very standard white guy voice and white guy attitude, I would bet that at least some blacks (or whites) would call that demeaning and unrealistic. If it only has one race, then obviously it will be labeled racist for a lack of diversity.

One more thing...If a game is taking place in a pre-dominatly black/minority city, or modeled after one, you can bet that many of the characters will be a black/minority. Yes, GTA San Andreas takes many of the stereotypes much farther, but if I strolled into Detroit, I can see the racial divides, the gangs, lot's of stuff that you'd see in GTA, just toned down alot.

@Rhade
"Side note: I wonder what life around here would be like if JT was black. hmm"
@Rhade

Well, he would call all of us racist idiots instead of idiots, but I doubt that would matter since fox wouldn't let him on the air...and politicians wouldn't listen to him...

@ chadachada

Dude, your racist! how dare you be racist! Just kidding, yeah I know how that is except being in Kansas and going to an upper middle class HS of the 1300 students 15 where blacks and the whites acted more sterotypical "Gangster" then the blacks.

I find it pretty hilarious that he uses Cole Train as an example of racism. Seriously, this is Gears of War we're talking about...not to mention the fact that that completely overlooks Dom. But to me, citing Cole as an example of racism against blacks is just incomprehensible...he may be a two-dimensional character (hell, one-dimensional) but SO IS EVERYONE ELSE. It's not like Marcus' motivations and character are explored in depth or something; the most "character development" you get for him is in the first minute of the game, when you 1) find out he's in prison, and 2) see his scar. That's about it. Do I think Cole is stereotype-free? Not really. But he's as much archetype as stereotype, and there's nothing wrong with that (though it may be a bit unimaginative). And if you do find the characters in GoW racist, well...the annoying/whiny one is Baird, who's a white guy. So give them a break. At least Cole is awesome and can hold his own.

I haven't played San Andreas, so I can't comment meaningfully on that. But I agree with him about Resident Evil 5. And there are plenty of games with white bad guys, nothing racist about that, so I fail to see the problem (unless for example, a particular developer or publisher had a disproportionate numbers of black/hispanic/asian/whatever bad guys throughout a number of games).

Wait a minute he says that there isn't enough black people making games, that it's mostly dominated by whites, then wonders why most main characters are white guys or black stereotypes.

Can he not put 2 and 2 together?

"Like here comes the urban stereotype"
Oh man, the 'urban stereotype'.
WHO THE FUCK IS MTV TO TALK ABOUT URBAN STEREOTYPING?

The black urban stereotype isn't so much a stereotype as it as an overwhelming reality. Anyone who's met 'urban youth' can tell you this. Its a culture where intelligence isn't approved of, and the only acceptable paths to riches are illegal or athletic achievement. Urban youth are among the most idiotic people in the world, and although the schools have something to do with it, the culture is just as much to blame.

"I don’t think “Def Jam Vendetta” is a bad thing; I don’t think featuring rappers in games is a bad thing. I liked the portrayal in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”…"

Def Jam Vendetta is crap. Featuring rappers furthers that urban stereotype that you bitch about. What a fucking retard. Glad to see MTV is doing its job as being the ass-end of intelligent disgcourse.

"I’m not saying Rockstar is a bunch of racist evil dudes, but… when it comes to [GTA] “San Andreas,” …it was so close to their perception of the real world [racial stereotype] instead of knowing it was pure playland. So that’s where that game kind of scares me a little bit because this is doing more harm than good"

Actually, having lived in that kind of place before (a ghetto, for lack of a better word) I can tell you that that is a very accurate depiction of such a place. San Andreas was right on the nose.


This man is a complete and utter jackass, like everyone else on MTV's staff. Of course, what else can you expect from an organization that has helped to make America hated around the world?

Hrm... I just thought of something else. I think it's a pretty safe guess that the average Japanese development team is almost entirely Japanese and male. There are, admittedly, some very stereotypical white and/or female characters in Japanese-made games, but certainly not all. If they can create characters and games that don't offend us (and even appeal to us!) despite coming from a very different demographic, why can't we (ie. whites) do the same with blacks and other minority groups? If a problem exists, I don't think it's with the race of the developers.

@Ebonheart

Oh yeah, we have our fair share of "gangstas" here

but only about 1/20 of white kids here are like that, whereas 9/10 of blacks are...just pointing that out...

Okay. In short, we need more characters of diverse ethnicities(non-stereotypical). Especially as main characters, oy.
 
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MaskedPixelante3DS version.09/12/2014 - 3:23pm
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