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

Speaking of games, I'm hoping for one based on the animated show The Boondocks, oy. Sony could do it since they handle the broadcasting of the show, etc. That means we could have a chance to see David Jaffe doing it!

As Austin Lewis said It does not help that we create and promote these stereotypes to our society. The whole Gansta culture didn't come out of nowhere. We promoted it and told our impressionable youth that it was cool and they should be like that. We are hypocrites when we say we are against it yet we promote it. We are not teaching our youth to think for themselves and be educated and this is the result. I have met black people that are not of the black stereotype and to me at least, I can't tell the difference between them and a white person. I see them as individuals. Now I'm not saying that we can't have different voice tones, accents, skin colors, views and attitudes; I'm just saying that we don't have to be a stereotype to be different.

"MTV Looks at the Role of Race in Video Games"

I dreaded reading the story after seeing the name MTV in the title. There is nothing on that channel that is not filled with stupidity. Even when they are trying to be serious they are stupid. But reading on my brain did start to hurt. I was laughing when they were talking about stereotypes and not once did they mention the crap fest that is 50 Cent's Bulletproof. That game wasn't full of stereotypes? But it was produced by 50 Cent so it can't be a stereotype made by the "Narrow minded white game industry".

"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 the portrayal in GTA San Andreas was pretty spot on. Try taking a trip through LA for a while and see if you don't notice any similarities in the way people talk and act around each other in the city and then compare it to the game. The results will show you that people actually behave as they did in the game. Just because one does not agree with how something is shown in a game does not make it a stereotype. In this case it sounds like the writer is trying to cover something up he is embarrassed about.

Racism is the only word in the english language that I am so sick and tired of hearing about. When my grandpa came to America from Italy in the 1930's he was ill-treated because of his ethnicity but you don't see me whining about it still.

I read reports from actual polls and studies that show people of a certain race don't do as well in school as people of another race. There is only one person to blame for that low grade. The person getting it. Although, it seems very standard to blame the guy/girl doing better in school and punish him/her for doing so well when "minorities" aren't. It's seems all too acceptable to give the "minority" group "the benefit of the doubt" because they have had to "work harder because they are in a minority" blah blah blah.

I come from two ethnic minority groups but my skin happens to be pretty white in it's tone. All of my friends in Jr High belonged to the Mesa Club (for those of you not familiar it's a club for women, hispanics, african american's and . I had 17 friends in it, and I couldn't be. Lets create a minority while trying to help those alread in one...makes sense.

There is one simple fact to recognize in all of this situation. If you are upset about the low number of people involved in , then get more people of involved in the . Don't blame the people that are involved, blame yourself for not being involved. Bottom line.

@ Neeneko

It's nice to see the conversation you and a few others have taken up, and most of your points are adeptly succinct. However, the problem in those with autism spectrum disorders seems to be unrelated to faulty pattern recognition mechanics. They recognize patterns just fine, sometimes amazingly well--where they generally struggle (and it's hard to generalize with so many varied disorders clumped into one uncomprehending net) is with attachment.

Those suffering from attachment disorders are remarkably similar (in presentation) to those who have severe autism, and the problem lies in an inability to perceive faces as important, people as something that merits special attention, and to emote on what we consider normal levels.

In some ways, people who cannot use pattern-recognition effectively are like very young children (whose brains lack the hardened and trimmed-down pattern-recognition pathways found in the brains of adults over 30) because they look at everything as new, and are therefore frightened by things that should be familiar. Certain brain injuries cause such issues, and they're nothing like autism--more like paranoia to an extreme.

Although, to be fair, your assessment does hit the nail right on the head that that lacking this ability would be devastating, because the same functions that permit us to stereotype so easily also permit us to recognize friends, dangerous animals, and so much more. Without appropriate pattern recognition, we wouldn't be able to learn directions well, and while we might not see people quite different from us as stereotypes, we also wouldn't have so established a self-identity or any real survival rate.

@StealthKnight
The problem is, the 'urban' black culture, which is essentially black culture as it exists in America today (at least for blacks 30 and under) disassociates with anyone who becomes a success through any route other than athletics, rap, or illegal means. Take, for example, Colin Powell. The average urban youth (ie. jackass) will say 'oh, he ain't black, he white' (this is a direct quote from a personal experience by the way). The same thing with Chris Gardner (the guy whose life the movie The Pursuit of Happyness is based on). But mention somebody like Kanye West (who, in all reality, doesn't do anything for any community and never lived in a 'ghetto') and they're quick to claim him as a member of their culture. Same thing with OJ Simpson.

It's an absolutely idiotic sub-culture, and it needs to be stomped out. Even more disturbing is the spread to other areas in America than urban areas. Truth be told, most children born in urban areas are doomed to failure, but when a child in a suburban area adopts the culture, he dooms himself to failure as well.

I'd like to leave my two cents on the origin of stereotypes quickly, see if people don't agree:

Basically, they are based on somewhat skewed statistic as observed by the person holding the stereotype. If not, it's going to be based indirectly on such a statistic. Since this article is about blacks in games, let's use a black stereotype as an example. Whenever I hear somebody using ebonics, I tend to affiliate that with black people. Not all black people use it, but most people who use it are black. This is an observation that I personally have made, thus it is my statistic and true to the extent of my knowledge. Presumably, others have come to the same conclusion. In and of itself, this makes no real statement about black people. However, some may extend this and say that since ebonics is grammatically incorrect by its very nature, that blacks are not capable of speaking correctly and they are thus stupid. I know people who think this way (not friends of mine in any regard).

With that opinion on stereotypes in mind, I personally don't really like how people can cry foul with RE5. If you're going to be killing a person in Africa, chances are it's a black guy. That says nothing about his intelligence, or anything. He's African, and that almost always makes him black. There's a reason the PC term for a black in the USA is "African American". It's because black people are originally from AFRICA. Of course, I'm preaching to the choir on that one.

More controversially (maybe), I don't really mind the depiction of the main character in San Andreas. I haven't played it myself (intend to, though), but I've seen my brother play quite a lot, and I thought it was fine. It's a good game, and the character actually seemed like a pretty normal guy who happened to be on the wrong side of the law and likes carrying a large arsenal of guns. I thought it was done rather well.

My personal opinion of stereotypes is, half the time when people complain about it it's because they are interpreting another's actions based on how he views his own people. What I have figured out regarding race is this:

Black people can make fun of other blacks or whites.
White people can't say anything about anybody or they'll cry foul.
Everybody else can say whatever they want without remorse.

Just youtube Russel Peters to see for yourself. He's Indian, so he makes fun of every race out there.

IMO, it's best to just forget about race entirely. I'm white, my girlfriend (and eventually, wife) is Filipino, my roommate is black, but I never remember that unless I explicitly force myself to think about it. My girlfriend is the most important person in my life, not an Asian. My roommate is my friend, not a black guy. As it should be.

Stereo types didn't come out of no where, someone started it. Gangster (yes I'm calling attention to how stupid it is with Gangster) started in the early 90s with gansta rap. Became worse with MTV, because hey someone figured out "We can milk this for all it's worse!"

@Ebonheart.

What about BET? That's one of the worst channels for propagating the most negative stereotype of that race.

And it's run by a black man!

On top of the RE5 debacle, a lot of critics don't really know anything about the RE storylines, do they? You are supposed to shoot them because they are ZOMBIES, not because they are black! If anyone needs to feel insulted and deserve justice, it should be the zombies (apologies to all the zombies out there that played these games). It's developed by Japanese company as well, so I don't think they really understand how flippin' serious racial sensitivity is with black people in the US.

@Austin Lewis,

BET got degraded so quick, and they even rejected certain types of hip hop videos on the grounds that they are "too intelligent" for their audience.

I think the world can actually learn something from people that have cultural and racial blindness due to their ignorance. I mean the kind of blindness that leads people to think all Hispanics are the same, all Asians are the same, etc. At the surface this sounds counterintuitive, but being an American you sometimes get overwhelmed by all the diversity, so some racial divisions get simplified. Ignorance IS bliss in some cases.

I heard about a Serbian immigrant in my town killing another Serb because they got into an argument over which region is better in their home country. I roll my eyes at stuff like that. People in those kinds of countries fight politically about racial issues that the rest of the world can't comprehend. I see them both as white people. Who cares if that's not specific enough. The point I'm making is that the more specific people get the more differences we discover, and we start making mountains out of those molehills.

Damn those white and Japanesse cats! Also BET is owned by Viacom.

@Ebonheart
But still run by a black man.

@ Austin

True

@Sean, et al:

Haiti is in the Americas. It is south of Florida, just north of the equator. Those of African descent who live there today are descendants of slaves who were forced to work the mines and other industries there from the early 16th century, through to the late 18th century. This would be in particular why there is an issue of racism, as the black people in Haiti are only there due to slavery.
 
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