Listen to me now. A black man is close to becoming President of the United States. A black woman is Secretary of State. A black man just became Governor of New York. Oprah is arguably the most powerful media personality in the world. Yet when was that last time you saw black face in a game? A real black face. Oh, there are a few, in the background. There’s a couple in Wedding Dash. There might be one in Shop Mania. But the fact is that Sasquatch sightings are more common. Unicorns outnumber people of color in casual games at least 10-1. What’s going on here?
I don’t know. Maybe African-Americans don’t play casual games. Wouldn’t they have complained by now? Doesn’t the NAACP care about this? Of course not. They have bigger fish to fry. But we need black faces. We need brown faces. We need the faces of Latinos and Asians and women with realistic body-types. In games; which is the last frontier for racial disproportionately. The entertainment media is a mirror of society, but gaming is lagging far behind.
Some games get it right: Carrie’s African adopted daughter Safi was a charming new addition to Carrie the Caregiver 2.
Please, don’t even think about pointing out that there are Asians represented in MahJong games. If anything, MahJong games are part of the problem. Bowing, grinning, slant-eyed , sedge-hat-wearing cartoon characters do not count toward inclusion. What I am seeing, day after day, in the hundreds of games I review, are white faces. But now that games with stronger narratives and greater emphasis on characters are becoming more popular we should be seeing a wider variety of people. Real people. Not just blacks. Not just Hispanics. But seniors, who are not represented as bent, half-blind dowagers. Women, who are not skinny sex-pots, or perky young go-getters. Italians, who are not fat, mustachioed, food-pushers. Latin-Americans who are not spear-wielding guardians of Aztec treasure. This is not a sensitivity issue. This is a human dignity issue.
Some game developers do a good job of representing non-Caucasians. GameLab and PlayFirst has long represented real people in their games. Large Animal also makes an effort to represent people of color and diverse ethnic backgrounds. It’s not a difficult thing to do. You just do it. The onus falls upon development executives and game producers to direct character designers and writers to create ‘roles’ and images that are not offensive and that include the faces and voices of the real America and the real world. The market for games is ethnically diverse. The streets I walk on, to and from work each day, are ethnically diverse. I turn on the TV and there’s a black anchorman, a gay politician, an Asian talk-show host. Granted, this is California but even national ad campaigns and network programming reflect the wonderful array of faces and cultures that represent who we truly are as a nation.
PlayFirst’s Wedding Dash illustrates a North American reality: mixed-race couples
You hear people say, "Is America ready for a Black president?" The very question itself seems offensive to me. The fact that it’s being asked suggests we’re not. But I’d like to believe that no matter who you’re backing in ’08, be it Obama, Clinton, Nader or McCain, that you’d answer yes. If a person can demonstrate to the American people that they have the leadership qualities necessary to pull this nation out of our morass of foreign policy and economic woes, than that person should be elected President regardless of age, sex or skin color.
In the course of human events, games seem like small potatoes. Fingerlings. Nobody really takes them seriously, right? Nobody pays attention to the story or the characters. It’s all about the game. It’s all about the mechanic, the thing that you do – swap gems, make cakes, flip burgers, hunt for hidden objects in a spooky house, and this is true, game-play does trump story and character when it comes to certain genres. But games with stronger stories and more developed characters are gaining in popularity as clearly evidenced by the advent of the mystery-adventures, the hidden object games and these types of games should represent the people and faces of real gamers.
The diverse office setting in Gamelab’s Miss Management
I lived in Maryland for three years before moving back to California. While I was there, I was amazed at the sheer number of black faces, brown faces, Indians, Sikhs, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, that I saw daily in my commute to D.C. There were times when I’d be sitting on the Metro when I was the ONLY white person. It was a strange feeling. Not a bad feeling, just different. I felt for the first time what it must be like to look around you and not see anyone whose outward appearance does not represent myself. I felt, for one moment, what it might be like to be an ethnic minority. A dark skinned person in a see of white. Think about all the Blacks, Asians and Hispanics who play casual games. Shouldn’t they see themselves in at least some of the characters who inhabitant them?
When I moved back to California I became aware for the first time at the dearth of brown-skinned people I came across during my daily routine. Surprisingly, there is a relatively small population of African Americans in this large, diverse state. And I remember saying to myself, "Where are the Black people?" Because I miss them. And that’s what I am asking myself now as I play game after game after game. But the real question, the bigger question, is where are the real people? Because it’s not just blacks we’re dissing here. We will have a woman, or a Black man, as the Democratic nominee for President. And that is a great thing. It represents a sea change in how we think and also, if one of them is elected, how we will be perceived in the world. Could it be that the portrayal of blacks and women in the entertainment media has had something to do with this historic moment? What we see is what we are. Or is it?