Where are all the Black People?

Within games and gaming communities alike, there is an overwhelming lack of diversity: Fantasy games like Dragon Age or Final Fantasy have a surprising lack of black and brown people aside from the few used as plot points. The addition of female soldiers in Call of Duty: WW2 had male fans in an uproar about historical accuracy—what, were women not invented in World War 2? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey let you be gay, and again, many male fans were quick to jump on the historical accuracy bandwagon and claim that no one was gay in Ancient Greece and Rome.

The few games that have an abundance of black and brown people that know of are Madden2K, and FIFAAnd even then, there aren’t that many women or lgbt representation.

Why does this matter? Because these are fantasy games and should include all races, genders, and orientations without compromising the overall gameplay experience.


Many games that claim to be “woke” in the current political climate tend to use the collective experiences of minorities/POC while not placing them within the story. Many games with morality matrices rely heavily on slavery narratives, and oppressor-oppressed narratives and conveniently leave out the people they’re about.

Image result for detroit become human
Detroit: Become Human’s main characters (from left to right): Connor, Markus, and Kara

Detroit: Become Human strives to be a game that delves into heavy social commentary dealing with civil rights and freedom from second-class citizenry/slavery (for androids) and borrows speeches and ideas from notable black activists like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and President Obama, and applies them to three relatively white-passing androids, inserting black characters as plot points to serve as connections to the real world. It is objectively a slap in the face to black history, to have civil rights be at the forefront of an honesty beautiful  game, but have so few black people in one of the blackest cities in the United States.

The game relies heavily on black culture and iconography as character quirks for the whole game: it’s set in Detroit (a city that is 83% black) in 2038 with the music and background art of the game are borrow heavily from black culture and are meant only to inspire feelings of hope and resilience for the androids’ liberation movement. However the writer, David Cage, denies any political motives for the game considering Detroit’s actual political and racial history (like the race riots of 1943 and 1967). A game like this that can be considered a “high culture” cultural production that gloss over suffering with stoic nobility, historical memories become more marketable, more palatable, and less illuminating. It’s dehumanizing as a black person, and it’s commodifying the “it was 400 years ago, get over it” argument into a pretty game with conventionally attractive characters with a sob story for people to fawn over.

Image result for detroit become human mural
One of the many murals illustrating black people in D:BH

“There are many groups of people today who can feel the same and feel segregated for different reasons…so I wouldn’t connect this to the civil rights [movement]” —David Cage

The images in "Detroit: Become Human" are simultaneously hyper political and yet treated apolitically
Really?

I take no issue with wanting to put social commentary into cultural productions: it’s an effective way to synthesize the world around us and allows others a glimpse into individual and collective grievances that shape human experiences, but it’s a bad idea to do it like this and then ignore black people.

However, I am glad it is a game like this that allows the player to be emotionally invested and explore different open-ended storylines within one game, rather than it being something like Grand Theft Auto that exaggerates negative stereotypes of black people and lets players vicariously live the exciting and dangerous lives of black men who flagrantly break the law and use extreme violence to “solve” the problem. There’s already enough negative stereotypes of black people in the real world and real-world consequences of people acting on those stereotypes. I don’t want to see them in my video games—they’re supposed to be an escape from all that.

Get woke.

-Ishah Blasio

Harassment in VR Spaces

(Spoiler warning for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline in first two paragraphs. Links contain sensitive content relating to sexual harassment in online/gaming communities.)

Ready Player One: 80’s nostalgia trip, celebration of gamer culture, cyberpunk dystopia, hero’s quest, and – teenage love story? I’ll admit, I haven’t finished the book yet, but from the beginning our protagonist Will Wade/Parzival is smitten with Art3mis, a fellow gunter and popular online personality. He even has pictures of her (or at least, her avatar) saved on his hard drive. When he first encounters Art3mis in the Tomb of Horrors, he gives her advice on how to beat the lich king. Once they’re both High Five celebrities on the famed scoreboard, they begin a casual romance. Art3mis breaks it off when she feels their time together has become too much of a distraction from the hunt. Parzival, lovesick, sends her unread messages, flowers, and stands outside of her virtual castle with a boombox: part persistent “good guy,” part slightly creepy stalker.

ready_player_one_cover

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One has not (yet) examined gender politics on the OASIS, but it acknowledged the age-old mantra: “There are no girls on the Internet.” Even in a world where virtually the entire population uses OASIS and a game event with a massive prize, the default is presumed male. Parzival persistently questions Art3mis’s gender until he is assured that she’s “actually” female, accusations that Art3mis takes with good humor.

(Spoilers end here.)

But as we all know, there are women on the internet and in the gaming world, and they have been there since the beginning – even when the climate is hostile. Shortly after starting Ready Player One I found this article about the writer Jordan Belamire’s experience with sexual harassment in virtual reality. Despite all players having identical avatars, another player recognized her voice as female and followed her around attempting to touch her avatar inappropriately. She finally exited the game. The game’s developers were shocked and dismayed when they heard of the incident and in response developed an in-game “power gesture” that creates a privacy bubble around the player. They hope that other virtual reality developers will take harassment into consideration when designing their games. Online or in-game harassment is nothing new, but as we pioneer exciting new platforms and experiences, it continues to be a thorn in the community’s side.

Ready Player One might take place in the distant dystopian future, but in characters’ interactions with each other the culture seems closest to the Wild West of the 2000s internet – complete with flame wars and skepticism on women’s presence in the OASIS. Presumably, harassment continues to be an issue in this brave new world of the OASIS – but is the response closer to QuiVr’s developer-implemented “power gesture,” or the old advice of “just ignore it and it will go away?” Perhaps it isn’t even a talking point in the OASIS’s community – why worry about it when, after all, there are no girls on the internet?

What do you think of QuiVr developers’ response in implementing the power gesture? Do you think that this is a valid solution, or do you believe it is too much/too little?  What responses to harassment have you seen on other platforms and games?