Lots of people are talking about representations of race in video games, provoked by the recent flare-up over N'Gai Croal's remarks about the Resident Evil 5 trailer. In particular, I'm grateful to Dan Bruno for his essay on the hateful public responses to Croal's comments and Mitch Krpata for his analysis of the RE5 trailer posted way back in August.
Croal should be commended for pointing at the elephant in the room and doing so in a way that demands critical reflection. What he's really asking, it seems to me, is for designers and players to consider representations of race more thoughtfully and deliberately than they have in the past. We can do better, but we must first want to do better. We can be more sensitive and still make great games people want to play.
Of course, the issue of race connects to the larger issue of diversity in video games, broadly defined. Tracy John's interview with Morgan Gray (this piece follows the N'Gai Croal interview and is part of her series on Black Professionals in Games) discusses several useful ways developers can increase social awareness and diversity, both in game design and in the games industry.
This interview sparked another interesting essay over at Lesbian Gamers that looks at the question of "social narrative" and wonders why Gray's observations about "old stereotypes and run-of-the-mill archetypes" can't also be addressed by depicting gay and lesbian characters. The essay questions whether or not the community that embraces racial diversity will also stand up for sexual diversity.
Anyone who saw or read Barack Obama's recent speech on race in America knows that it's possible to think and speak about social issues in ways that respect differences but insist on justice. Despite the overt racism, xenophobia, and gay-bashing displayed by commenters on Kotaku and other sites, I'm encouraged by the fact that Croal, Gray, and others in the gaming community are confronting these issues and engaging in these difficult conversations within the context of video games.
If we truly believe video games deserve artistic and cultural status in our society, then we cannot exempt ourselves from grappling with the important issues of that society. If we believe games matter, then it's up to us to help make them matter in ways that benefit and enrich all of society.
I'll return on Monday with an update on my RPG syllabus project.