Since I was a young lad, I have always appreciated the art of storytelling – in all of its forms it comes in. Whether through oral traditions of pre-Modern societies, through strokes of a pen in novel form, through film, and yes- even through videogames.
The idea as videogames as story-telling would tend to confuse most people – how on Earth could the likes of Supermario Bros., Crash Bandicoot, or Sonic the Hedgehog be considered storytelling or even art!? Well, recently I happened across a video on youtube that discussed this very topic:
I recommend watching the video as it contains very interesting, critical perspectives further validating the idea that videogames are in fact a method of telling stories. As is said in this video, a stories are essentially humanity’s way of making sense of events that happen that are otherwise unrelated. We fashion these discrete instances into something more coherent- something to make sense of the world. Some might define this as poetry in a way as well. I had a professor who I had blogged about earlier this year who once stated ” a poet is anyone who makes sense of his or her experiences”. This idea of videogames as narratives becomes especially powerful because of their emphasis on interaction – rending them an especially interactive narrative.
So if it’s no secret that racist , misogynist tropes might be propagated through film and novels, or even individuals/institutions built on such problematic narratives, then could we truly expect anything truly different when it comes to videogames? Videogames represent , thus, another form of media to reinforce ideas, myths and mainstays to a general population. So, videogames as narratives combined with capitalistic enterprise portends the pressure from gamers on the gaming industry. If you have even a cursory understanding of game journalism, you would be familiar with the fact that the relationship between the game-maker and game-player is a fragile, yet reciprocal relationship. The game-makers on one hand are wanting to create games with narratives as a form of their own artistic expression yet at the same time one that will sell – and in order to sell you must create a narrative that will resonate with those that are actually participating (literally) in them. I’m no psychologist but it’s certainly no secret that actually interacting with anything (kind of like doing homework) helps to reinforce behavior and/or beliefs in the mind of the individual.
Hopefully, by now the case is clear as to why something like say, the racial composition of the characters in a videogame, even as seemingly whimsical as Mario Kart 8( and yes, there was even an article about the average skin tone in MK8 being too light- FINALLY!) is so significant. …But at the same time, the fact that we don’t see black (men or women) in videogames as leading ( at least not the popular games) is telling of the demographic exhibiting the most consumer power. Angsty white teenage “geeky” boys are constantly portrayed in other forms of story-telling – books, television, movies- as the demographic participating in games. If there is a black nerd “blerd” or female nerd (who is hardly even portrayed as black – b/c they’re too busy being” jezebels”, as racist tropes would have it), he or she is often “side-kicked” or rendered secondary to the main , typically white male. White men have the privileged of participating in their narratives – seeing themselves projected as more muscular, “masculine” and handsome, essentially as they imagine themselves to be… or perhaps more jovial, happier, and charismatic- whether they;re Snake( Metal Gear Solid), and Italian plumber (Mario), or even Sonic the Hedgehog, they participate in narratives ( as well as encourage gaming companies to maintain these boundaries) that regularly affirm them as “main” or “default”. And before we even get into “BUT SONIC’S A HEDGEHOG, HOW IS THAT RACIST!?!?!’ – there’s a little thing called anthropomorphism: the fictitious depiction of animals with human-like traits ( giving them a human-like form through the five main appendages, usually – head, left and right arms and left and right legs). And so when animals are made to look like humans, it’s obviously clear that their features ( and motifs reinforced through character themes, assigning cultural traits/style) are going to be racialized. This will be the topic of the next post …
I will end this with a story. It’s been a while since I’ve actually played Nintendo Wii ( it seems to have been forgotten about anyways, since the Wii U), but I had been a part of a skype group of gamers who mainly focused on Nintendo games and I decided to reconnect with them after a few months of not really interacting. I had brought up various instances of racism, sexism, etc. just in the news in general ( not even about games) and I was constantly berated and labeled a “social justice warrior” (SJW) – this seems to be the “trope” that angsty white “geek” teen gamer dudez will throw at you, should you start speaking up on behalf of a marginalized group. Furthermore, I was accused of “ALWAYS talking about social justice issues” and “making people feel bad for having opinions” – mind you I’m the demon for talking about marginalized groups yet no one says anything about the rampant distasteful, hypersexual ( constantly talking about porn fantasies involving videogame characters) – but no, talking about race? that’s FAR more nauseating! How fowl! But I guess we can’t really be surprised when forcing them to see race forces them to reconsider their narrative – cognitive dissonance, no?