Video games without people of color are not 'neutral'


#1

I wanted to share a Facebook discussion about a certain web article and see what some CoGers think. Names have been replaced with letters for anonymity.
What do you guys think of video games/choice of games without females or without people of color?

The article:

M
This is the problem. No matter what we do, white people are normal and everyone else is not. It’s a problem in all of western society. POC are always an afterthought, even thogh, you know, they are STILL PEOPLE.

D
Our understanding of fantasy is defined by the history of it. It’s defined by All of the media we’ve consumed that we define as fantasy. Dragons are considered the norm in fantasy because… well, it’s the norm. Same with orcs and the different races… I mean, if all fantasy right now is just drawing from Tolkien… there were no PoC in the fellowship. There were no women. We need fantasy media that includes non-white non-males because we already have this extended history which excludes them. We need to challenge what is okay in fantasy.

M
I just become so appalled at the people who have the gall to claim “historical accuracy” in fantasy spaces, like. hello, dragons aren’t real, there is literally no historical accuracy to dragons, or orcs, etc etc etc. The fantasy genre is getting more and more stale every time a new piece of media comes out–we need to change that.

T
This post makes me want to read the Bordertown books again.

B
I think it depends on the context and setting. If it is something like the Witcher series, then it makes perfect sense that there are only white people there. It’s like mediaeval Poland or something.

M
please read the my other post to see why the “historical context” excuse is invalid

T
I disagree. A fantasy world can be “this place, with dragons” It doesn’t need to be completely unique and unlike anything else. Vibrant world with strange culture, history, and societal rules that we aren’t used to seem like a good way to make the viewer/reader/player feel out of place and disconnected. The more new and alien a setting is, the less we can engage with it. I’m not saying that there is no place for wild, crazy, diverse, unique settings… But I do think ‘normal, except dragons’ is a valid storytelling tool, just an overused one.

M
why are poc not considered normal though, it’s most of the human population of this planet

T
Societies change slowly. The media is shaped by society and the media shapes society in turn like a giant inductor/capacitor oscillator in the meme circuit. Not defending it, just trying to explain.

M
i understand how it works, i just had a 200 reply-long discussion about it in the post above :’)

T
Then why ask?

M
i wanted to see if there was going to be a justification beyond “it’s the current status quo” haha

T
You know me better than that I would have hoped lol

M
YOU NEVER KNOW TBH i’ve had people come really out of left field with stuff i wouldn’t expect before. glad you understand the problem though @_@


What about PoC?
Superfluous Physical Attributes
Older development thread (The Aegis Saga - Blood)
#2

It depends entirely on context. Like the example the article you linked uses as an example, Witcher 3, the setting is supposed to be based in northern Europe in medieval times when the sight of someone who wasn’t white was extremely rare.


#3

It’s actually been pretty thoroughly disproved that medieval Europe was all white! There were black nobles, scholars, soldiers, you name it. Arabs were also particularly common. And in several historic versions of the story, even one of King Arthur’s knights was black! The world has been pretty mixed up for a very long time. Honestly, unless the game is set in ancient times before recorded history, there is going to be some racial overlap.


#4

Well, official CoGs without females don’t exist. Let’s get that clear right off the bat. I can’t remember for sure but I think that at least almost all official CoGs that allow you to play a human allow you to play as any skin color or sexuality unless it’s not mentioned at all.

I have a serious problem with discussions of racial diversity of this type because it always seems to come down to denying individuality. I mean, yes, there are shared experiences between people of the same group, obviously. But that is not the defining feature of them, and it’s disgustingly ironic that people supposedly fighting for diversity of representation for people who aren’t white in video games deny personhood to those very same people by acting like they’re a single amorphous plob of victimness, and that only white people are individuals.

I admit that I didn’t read most of that article. I scrolled through, saw tons of pictures of The Witcher 3, and decided it was another example of cultural imperialism. In this case a British person trying to enforce their idea of political correctness on a Polish developer under the premise that because they have a similar skin color their life experiences and culture are the same.

Racism and bigotry is the biggest, most prominent social issue portrayed throughout the entire Witcher series. Hell, it’s practically the primary theme of the stories of the first two games. It’s frankly despicable that people who use terms like “POC” to refer to every single person who isn’t white are chastising a developer who’s pretty much made complex portrayals and discussion of racism the most prominent feature of their series for not doing it the way they personally want them to. It smacks of disingenuous emotional gratification seeking at best and disingenuous attention seeking at worst.

The sad thing is, I completely agree with the title of the article.


#5

Can I have some citations, please?


#6

I don’t have time to track down every specific mention for you but one of this blog’s actual stated purposes is disproving the myth of an all-white medieval Europe, specifically focusing on medieval European art. There is a veritable treasure trove of resources there for your perusal.


#7

The problem with the “non-human species as PoC” conceit is that 1: it still presents white humans as “normal”, and 2: it’s often used as an excuse to deny the rest of us any visibility at all in fantasy works (aside from perhaps “faceless foreign horde”).

Personally, I don’t think any creator of a fantasy setting is going to expect their readers/players to identify with an elf or an orc more than a human, which is why in so many fantasy and sci-fi settings, humans are the “default”, mechanically as well as narrativistically: we’re not particularly good at combat, or magic, or population increase: we might be, at best, good diplomats, but never anything which might alienate a human reader or player from a human character: unless those humans happen to be uniformly white. In that case, “human is default” changes to “white human as default”, which is compounded when those non-human species are also made white.(Seriously: asian elves and dwarves when?)

Individually, it’s not that big of a deal: I haven’t had time to play the third game yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first and second Witcher games (especially the interplay between the VDV and the Chechen- er, the Blue Stripes and the Scoia’tael), but when this sort of thing becomes institutional, when you imagine that the only kind of roles you could have in a fantasy setting are “Ethnic stereotype villain” or “non-existent”, that really messes with your idea of just how welcoming a certain genre can be.

@SpaceLesbian
Not going to lie, I was just going to link that same blog.


#8

I think that has more to do with Elves acting like ultra-elite douchebags and orcs being violent idiots.

Make master mage an elf and make him not horrible and I will prefer that elf to almost any human ingame.

But I also still do like fames that have PoC because obvious reasons (I can make a character that looks somewhat like me)


#9

@faewkless
That’s probably because Orcs and Elves are often used as stand-ins for “primitive” cultures, like the First Nations aaaand-
Well, that’s a whole other can of worms.


#10

The point of including representations of racism is to challenge the players. Not make them feel warm and fuzzy. This is also a world that is meant to be somewhat similar to our own in terms of things like genetics existing. They actually know about genetics. That’s how the Witchers were created. Skin color isn’t just some aesthetic choice. It’s based on melanin levels. The non-human races in the Witcher series also aren’t simple stereotypes. There are stereotypes, just like in real life, and the people themselves often don’t match those stereotypes, just like in real life.

You brought up an interesting point about the Witcher series that I hadn’t thought of before actually. I suppose you could be right about players having a tendency to identify with humans over elves or dwarves, though I personally can’t say I feel the same way. If that’s the case it’s really clever on CDPR’s part. It’s the only way they could really portray rasicm in a way that would make people look at it from both sides as a complex issue rather than just dehumanizing the side they disagree with… plus if they made a game where humans of a certain skin color were institutionally discriminated against that’d just open up a whole new can of complaints.

Honestly it’s kind of bizarre to me that you aren’t offended by being referred to as PoC. That you’d even use such a belittling term yourself… I mean, seriously man… It’s like… I just don’t get it.


#11

Honestly, why doesn’t fantasy rpgs just do what Elder Scrolls did and include everyone. Orcs, Elves, Asians, Whites, Blacks(I think the Redguards are black), Cats, Reptiles.


#12

PoC is a catch all term for everyone that isn’t white in the skin.


#13

There aren’t really any Asians in TES. There’re mystical pseudo-Japanese animal men from another continent…

I’m aware of what PoC is used for, and it’s insulting and dehumanizing.


#14

I actually thought the Bretons and maybe the Wood Elves/ High Elves.

But what else would be a nice little catch all term for people with color?


#15

The Bretons are Britons. Or rather Britons and Anglo-Saxons… You know… British people… The most prolific form of white people in popular culture.

It’s just… I’m not sure how rearraging the words and adding “of” into the middle turned “colored people” into something that’s the official Politically Correct term for the same group of people. And frankly referring to all people who are something other than white with a single catchall term is dehumanizing. I mean, what is the President?


#16

Trust me man, everything can sound bad depending on the person, how one says it, and the history. It’ll take years before anything is set in stone and won’t offend someone. Obama’s black, but you can’t call an Asian, black. Like, for white people its either Caucasian or, well, white people lol, and those are catch-alls for anyone and everyone that is lacking color in their skin unless they’re albino.

Britons, Bretons whatever lol, I always thought them and maybe High Elves were the asians of Elder Scrolls. Oh wait… Bretons, Britains…got it.


#17

If I remember my Elder Scrolls lore correctly, the Akaviri ate the humans on their continent, so… yeah.

“Person of Colour” isn’t a perfect term. I’m not that much of a fan of it myself, but “Non-white person” kinda offers the same kind of connotations without the readability (or recognisable acronym) and there really isn’t any other catch-all term I can use and still have everyone know what I’m talking about. Putting the word before the adjective is supposed to put the emphasis on the “Person” and less on the “Colour” IIRC.

More to the point: I never said not having representations of racism is a good thing. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m keeping the Dragoon Saga a hosted game series: I can put in any kind of racism, misogyny, and other assorted bigotries I need for the purpose of dissecting them and discussing their mechanics. I’m not sure I would be comfortable doing that in an official CoG title.

The problem with making both sides of an oppressed-oppressor relationship white (or passing-white) is twofold: first you’re basically giving the impression that you’re using whiteness to colour both sides as sympathetic, which implies that you’re aiming for a specific audience, and hoping that everyone else is assimilated deeply enough into whiteness to read the cultural trope of “white = good”, which… may go poorly with certain groups who’ve had… historically unfortunate experiences with white people in general, or ones who already get enough self-mortification over being not white already (see: Skin-lightening creams in India, or social-status in Brazil).

Secondly, there’s the fact that you might be co-opting another peoples’ history and experiences, and putting them in white skin, which already happens in media (and the white-washing of someone else’s story is a sore spot, especially in asian-american/canadian communities).

Anyhow, there are black people in The Witcher’s setting, one of them was in the first game, and historically, medieval Eastern Europe began as a trade conduit between Northern Europe and the Eastern Roman Empire, whose trade network definitely reached as far as Ethiopia and North Africa. There would have been black people in medieval/early-modern Eastern Europe (Abram Ganibal being the most prominent).


#18

Thats why I didn’t mention the Akaviri, don’t know if they really did but, physically and architecturally they represent Japan the most…but the whole eating people thing…


#19

That’s either a worldbuilding oversight, or one hell of an analogy for the Sino-Japanese wars.


#20

I am a huge fan of the Witcher series. It always really bothered me that there are no POC/almost none in those games. But I realized later on there was an in-game reason for that. The games are based on a series of Polish novels; every human in this world is a later addition, the offspring of a small group of Polish (and I think a few Scottish?) people who stumbled through this weird portal.

Why did the author make this decision? It’s a valid question. But there is an answer to why everyone is white besides “because the author never thought of it.” I also feel it’s relevant to mention that Poland is one of the least diverse countries in the world, where someone can go their whole life without seeing someone in the flesh who looks different than them.

Leaving people out of the narrative has long-term effects. It should be thought about carefully. The repercussions of all-white characters can be harmful, but that doesn’t mean the reasoning behind it is always racist.

I’d encourage people to give the Witcher franchise some leeway for cultural perspective, while writing letters to suggest that some more ethnicities in an expansion would be well received, since they’ve been adding things to the author’s world anyway. But then again, I’m the kind of person who thought Shakespeare was doing a good thing by publishing the Merchant of Venice, even though the Jew in that was a bloodsucking villain… not everyone is as thrilled about tiny improvements. I suppose it’s because I never expect the larger kind.

My husband asked me whether I minded not being able to play as female in the Witcher, and if so, why. One of the things I realized is that my favorite thing about the Witcher is that he’s an underdog. He’s perfectly human, one of the smartest people in the story, and is treated as lesser by most of the people he’s trying to save. He hangs out with prostitutes, sorcerers, and other shunned members of mainstream society. He’s male, he’s white, but Geralt is not privileged in his world for it. So I don’t mind seeing it through his eyes.

Mixed-race actually. :smile:

That’s words for you. The NAACP still does fine work and hasn’t changed their name. “Indian” is considered a slur to use against Native Americans, except by a lot of Native Americans who fight for Indian Rights (the argument sort of being that it’s no less accurate a term for a collective group of very different tribes, and easier to say.) It has to do with context. Generally speaking, I’d suggest using whatever terms the people of those groups currently around you prefer. POC is an acceptable and useful term, which is why it has come into use. Sort of the way “Latinos” was co-opted to describe all Spanish-speaking people.