Tag Archives: technology

Videogames as Story-Telling: Anthrpomorphism as projections of race

Howdy! As promised in my last post on Videogames as Storytelling, this post  is going to be a further examination of these intersections. In this installment, I’ll be  a bit more specific.

So, last post I explained the case for videogames as a mode of narrative and story-telling and how even they can (and often do) take on white supremacist characteristics and reinforce the privileding of whiteness as “default”.  Additionally, I mentioned a fancy term , “anthropomorphism” – simply the case of giving -human-like form (upright-walking,bi-pedal, two arms and a head, neck and maybe even clothing) to animals or maybe even objects. My point in the last post, that I hope to make clearer in this post, is that racist, stereotypical tropes can sometimes be “sheathed” in anthropomorphism. Exhibit A? – Sega’s  Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.

(There are points during this post, that I understand may come across as silly. And perhaps there is an air of humor to some extent, but ultimately, we must realize that these are highly problematic, racist projections of racist myths.)

Everyone loves Sega’s blue hedgehog who can zip through levels, through flying through loops and bouncing off of launch pads, to defeat Eggman (Dr. Robotnik) in record speeds! My main interaction with Sonic franchise was through Sega Dreamcast in playing games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic Shuffle (like Sonic’s mario party). I then went on to play Sonic Adventure Battle 2 for GameCube and then Sonic Heroes – two of GC’s most successful titles!

It wasn’t until really paying close attention to the music (character themes) in Sonic that I really started to realize some racialized themes going on. So, while we know there’s Sonic, there’s also Tails ( the cheery, intelligent side-kick fox) and Knuckles (the strong, ‘defender of the Master Emerald). Knuckles was always a fan favorite for his immense strength and brawny personality. But if we go with the theory that Sonic, as the main character , on some level, represents some aspect of “default whiteness”, then it should come as no surprise, that Knuckles, is relegated to be the “other” rival. When compared witht he more “even-tempered”, yet heroic (white)Sonic, Knuckles(who I believe is supposed to be the “black man” of the series, has many descriptions as being “heroic, yet stubborn and hot-headed”

Additionally, Knuckles, (supposedly an echidna- whatever that is) has what I guess is supposed to be its “pins” styled in a way that resemble dread-locks- I mean just look at his Rastafarian color-scheme (red, gree, and yellow!)

Now, one way that a character’s “motif” may be rounded out is through music. One especially memorable component of Sonic Adventure that many fans will recall is that characters had a “theme”-song, music that was supposed to “fit” the character. Just take a listen at Knuckles’:

It’s not about how “good it sounds” or even that white guys can’t participate in rap. But the fact that Knuckles ( whom I have already began to make the case is an anthropomorhpised black man) is the only character with a music score characteristic of black musical genre( originating from black musical traditions/culture) with the rapping, jazzy saxophone, harmonies,and urban beats. It is tough ot ignore that Knuckles the Echidna has a clear motif of “the brawny black man”

He actually has more themes, for the different stages where the player must play as him, and in everyone one, we hear the same rap/hip-hop jazzy themes and the “swagged-out” male voice:

You get the picture.

And, it doesn’t really stop there. Meet Rouge the Bat:

Rouge, is a morally ambiguous character who is commonly ‘grouped’ with the villainous antagonists like Shadow the Hedgehog ,etc. This seductress is also supposed to be Knuckle’s love interest. WHat’s interesting is her character is a very smooth-talking, seductive, diva-like, Jezebel – which all happen to be racist tropes versus black women. So while we have the morally questionable Jezebel Rouge, guess what the “leading lady” of the Sonic franchise is like?:

A bubbly, much-less busty Amy Rose – who appears closer to what we’d identify as an “innocent white girl”. And furthermore, we have the , once again, the character theme further the motif of Rouge the Bat:

A latin, Bossa-jazz style theme typical of what you’d expect from a black/minority female. And listening to the theme’s lyrics sounds like the Jezebel motif is furthered.


Until next time! 😉

responses to my post on kindness/civility online: a grace-filled Storify

On Thursday, I posted be ye kind one to another: civility, blogging, and social media, and a lot of people interacted with the post online. So, I decided it would be best to Storify the conversation.

On 'Civility' and Privilege: a guest post

Travis Greene is a stay at home dad and occasional chaplain in Tampa,  Florida. His convictions are in the Ana/Baptist and emerging church traditions and he is passionate about the collision of the Christian faith with the American prison system and solidarity with those inside it. Follow him at @travisegreene.

First, a social location disclaimer, since I’m a guest here. I am a healthy cisgender straight white guy. I literally have all the privilege, and much of what I have to say is directed toward other privileged people.

If you follow progressive social justice-y Christian type people on Twitter, you may be aware there is often debate about “appropriate” ways to engage around questions of justice with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Usually some well-meaning white person will say something , be critiqued for it, and then push back not against the substance of the critique but the tone or manner. Alternately, a person of color may say something, then get critiqued by a more privileged person (again not so much for content but tone or timing or something).

This Sarah Bessey piece (which I like very much, even though there’s a But coming) is a rather vague reaction to all this, I think.

Or, for a not exclusively religious example (though I think there’s lots of overlap), this piece by Freddie diBoer (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/08/21/where-online-social-liberalism-lost-the-script/). He writes,

“It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them.”

I think this is a common reaction by people who think of themselves as allies but are concerned about maintaining kindness, civility, etc.

Later, he writes, “On matters of substance, I agree with almost everything that the social liberals on Tumblr and Twitter and blogs and websites believe. I believe that racism is embedded in many of our institutions. I believe that sexual violence is common and that we have a culture of misogyny. I believe that privilege is real. I believe all of that. And I understand and respect the need to express rage, which is a legitimate political emotion. But I also believe that there’s no possible way to fix these problems without bringing more people into the coalition. I would like for people who are committed to arguing about social justice online to work on building a culture that is unrelenting in its criticisms of injustice, but that leaves more room for education.”

Now that in general has been my basic attitude toward this whole question. The “You’re not wrong, but you should be nicer.” And I still think, at least on a purely pragmatic level, there’s merit to that. (Here’s the But…)


Two recent blog posts have helped me think through this all a little better, I hope. The first is Sarah Moon’s post called “No, We Not All On The Same Side”, where she draws on bell hooks to point out how “forced teaming” has the effect of sidelining the concerns of traditionally marginalized groups. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here was the crux for me:

“…even among folks who all ultimately long for a more liberating world, there are “barriers to solidarity” (hooks’ phrasing–pg. 50) that keep us from truly “being on the same side.” Ignoring our differences–our different standpoints, goals, experiences, and needs–in favor of cheap peace, forced teaming, and shallow “allyship” does not challenge those barriers. It only reinforces them.”

It is vital not to smother potentially productive conflict with false niceness. Moon attributes a lot of this on the part of more privileged allies to conflict avoidance, which is no doubt true, but I suspect there’s more going on in the particular reaction of the privileged progressive to being critiqued by the less privileged. Underneath our reaction to this (and along with many genuinely good motives) is a rather childish desire to be affirmed as one of the good guys, to be acknowledged as Not Like Those People: your racist relatives, Sarah Palin, whoever.

I got a further insight from Rod’s post, particularly this bit:

“We hear from one side, well, yes, I know I needed to be called out, but you could have been a little bit nicer, and then the same civilized party admits later, I needed to be called out to persons who give them similar feedback, but its nicer because their interlocutor may look like them.”

I don’t doubt that this happens, a lot. Race and gender construction affects everything, evening the seemingly disembodied world of online interaction. But I suspect some of the time something else is happening (let’s take race as our example). Perhaps the white person is more responsive/less likely to tone-police the criticism of another white person because they’ve been socialized to take them more seriously (systemic racism). Or they might be more responsive because the white critic, since they are interacting with a past version of themselves, is uniquely able to help the person being criticized. That cannot replace the crucially important movement toward solidarity with marginalized people by listening directly to them, but it may be able to help that process along.

So my proposal is this: maybe those of us (white folks) who do want a more “civil” space, with, as diBoer says, “more room for education,” need to take that on as our particular responsibility – not tone-policing women or gay folks or people of color – not trying to control how they speak and act and engage – but perhaps by being the “good cop” who takes the time to educate people encountering all this for the first time (or perhaps not for the first time, but who are still resistant).

There is danger here. My idea would not be to interpret or speak for (“What John is trying to say is…”). And the point of all this is not to (yet again) center the experiences of white folks, nor to dismiss them, but to relativize them. When I respond to something on Twitter I am not doing so as a generic “reasonable person” who gets to decide what civility or kindness mean, and how all confrontation should happen and when.

Maybe we need to be the ones who engage the trolls. God knows it’s our turn.