Monday, August 30, 2010

Racial stereotypes in games

Bruno Faidutti, noted game designer, wrestles with changes required in the art for one of his games over at his blog.  The game involves exploration of an island populated by tribespeople, and the tribespeople were originally drawn as black guys with really big lips.  It's interesting - he realizes the old pictures were bad because he's been told they were, but he doesn't really get at the gut level why the old pictures would be condemned here in the US.  He's even able to figure out some of the historical reasons why (especially in his note down at the bottom) but (if I read him right) he winds up thinking Americans are just touchy and too politically correct. I think that's sometimes true (see my earlier posts on the King Phillip's War game), but not in this case.

I suppose Bruno probably wouldn't want to hear that the art, even after the changes, would still be considered in bad taste by many Americans, even though it's being marketed by an American company.  Not the screaming bad taste that the outrageously swollen lips in the original art showed, but still not representing people of color in a positive light.  The bone-in-the-nose thing, which he thinks is not offensive, actually would be - see here for an example of racist thinking at work in another venue.  The feather ornaments and such, too, probably.

Caricature is tough - you want to exaggerate certain features for humor, but you don't want to slide into stereotype.  Some political cartoonists have chosen racial stereotypes drawing Obama (see the Tea Party Comix for an extreme example); others have emphasized other features, like his slight physique and his ears, to get at more humor value without awakening past racist traditions.

The solution for this game?  Easy. Make the tribesmen white (or gray-green or something) and the explorers multi-ethnic (and multi-gender).  No big deal, and nobody's offended (other than maybe white supremacists). It's not like it's an actual representation of real history, right?  It's a simple game, and the ethnicity of the people isn't important.

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