While we have overcome serious issues of racism and prejudice in the public sphere since the Civil Rights Movement, this is not the case with online gaming systems.
Not only are there limited options for choosing skin color for one’s character/avatar, but racist comments and segregated places are made in gaming systems today. In the hope of finding an article that explained why there are limited options for skin color in gaming systems, I came across an interesting article that discusses “The 5 Prejudices that Video Games Can’t Seem to Get Over”. Personally, I find it ill-fitting how a society that sets the norm of deeming it unacceptable to make racist, antisemitic, homophobic comments in public is comfortable with hiding behind a computer screen to do so. While the users are the ones committing such actions, this article made me question who is really at fault? Is it the users who make prejudiced and stereotypical comments, or is it the creators of the games themselves who facilitate and encourage such actions? As addressed by the author of the article, J.F. Sargent, the only black character in Final Fantasy VII “uses heavy weapons, and speaks in broken English” (Sargent, 2012), which further encourages the stereotypes of black people. Even more shocking is the gaming franchise, Mass Effect, “which is usually considered smarter and more progressive than most other games, has only one possible black romance option — and if you pursue it, he cheats on you and gets another woman pregnant” (Sargent, 2012). Clearly this game is not as progressive as it seems, and it is the creators of such games who create discriminatory worlds. Essentially, game makers create limited and confined worlds that promote racism, prejudice, and stereotypes, and the users are simply acting in the ways they are allowed to.
While Sargent does recognize that improvements have been made in online games, such as Elder Scrolls allowing a user to “choose real-world races” (Sargent, 2012), the points and statistics that are given to a user are based on race – and not on how well the actual individual is playing. Proponents of stereotypes in gaming argue that “they still need to make the enemies consistent and easily, instantly identifiable” (Sargent, 2012), and race is the easiest and quickest way to notice an enemy. To me, this is just pure laziness and an insufficient excuse, which is exactly what Sargent asserts. He says that the creators of online games are not necessarily racists or trying to undermine minorities. Instead, “the sadder truth is that all this bullshit stems from simple, old-fashioned laziness” (Sargent, 2012). Sargent goes on to give countless examples of prejudices that exist in popular virtual games, and race is not the only issue. Gender stereotypes are furthered in gaming as well, as seen with female characters and how they are continuously sexualized.
Image courtesy of Flickr User Whitfield-In-World
Female characters are made emotionally dependent, submissive, and wear little to no clothing. They rely mostly – if not entirely – on the other male characters; therefore, perpetuating the never-ending cycle of prejudice on these gaming sites. Even further, Sargent finds that homophobia of men develops in these realms as well. Some games allow lesbian relationships to form, but relationships among men is not option. Why? Sargent believes this is linked to the whether or not the creators are willing to take a risk because sexuality is a “touchy” subject and that lesbians are seen as “kinda hot” (Sargent, 2012) to its users. Similar to the issue of race in gaming, simply leaving out the option of being homosexual is much easier, yet very unprogressive, lazy, and immature.
Although the creators of these games are clearly at fault as they can use their advanced skills with games to reform how people act in games, it is also up to the users to stop these prejudiced games from forming and maintaining popularity. What’s most shocking is how the minorities who are underrepresented in the digital world are the major players as “African Americans and Latinos play more video games than any other race” (Sargent, 2012). Even though it may be hard to give up a game if it is an enjoyable hobby for someone, protesting against discriminatory games by not participating in them may just be the leading factor in stopping prejudice and racism in these virtual worlds.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Dominic Dominic Jacques-Bernand