Tag Archives: race

Minorities In Game Development Still Don’t Have The Support They Need

The New York Times profiled six minority game developers today on their experiences in the industry. Their anecdotes are both illuminating and depressing.

As a fan, I know how discouraging it can be not to see yourself reflected in the media that you love. A story I often tell is that until I saw Shawn dating Angela on Boy Meets World, the idea that a black woman and a white man could be in a romantic relationship together never crossed my mind. As a young person with no real-life examples to draw on, it seemed like an impossibility.

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In video games, the situation is more dire. I see black characters in games infrequently, and black women even less. On top of that, when I point out these discrepancies of representation, what I hear from the culture at large is that they shouldn’t be important to me.

The developers featured in the Times story, headlined “Fear, Anxiety and Hope: What It Means to Be a Minority in Gaming,” are using their games to try to create change for minority gamers. But they are not immune to that lack of support and visibility.

Davionne Gooden told the Times that he started making games shortly after getting his first laptop in the fifth grade. His game, featuring an all-black cast, is about a woman in a coma battling her nightmares. He said that he is hopeful, though he also points out that the issues that he seeks to tackle in his game—the experiences of marginalized people and mental health—are ones white creators rarely think about.

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“I’m an optimist,” Gooden said. “I hope that things will eventually be better as a whole.”

Similarly, Mitu Khandakar, a professor at the NYU Games Center, told the Times: “If you’re a young person of color playing games, you don’t really see yourself represented. That kind of instills in you this sense that maybe I don’t really belong.”

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The feeling of not belonging certainly applies to Dietrich Squinkifer, or Squinky, who said that they burned out at their job at Walking Dead developer Telltale Games after being vocal about issues of race, sex and gender got them labeled as a “troublemaker” at their job. That kind of pushback was not just a facet of their place of employment Squinky told the Times that the threat of harassment from the larger community of gamers is ever looming.

“I think that’s part of the reason a lot of my focus in my work has gone more toward more experimentality, installation and performance art, following more of an art world tradition,” Squinky said. “I am to some degree scared of creating something that will get popular enough within the video game world community that it does receive that kind of backlash.”

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The rejection from the community at large is part of why Julian Cordero does not call himself a gamer, despite being a person who develops video games. His game, made with fellow developer Sebastián Valbuena, is called Despelote, and is about playing pickup games of soccer in city parks in the developers’ hometown of Quito, Ecuador.

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“With Despelote, Mr. Cordero is trying to use soccer to reject the competitiveness of gaming, which he believes engenders the misogyny and consumerism that have been endemic to the culture,” reads the article.

Reading all these quotes can make it easy to give up hope. It’s hard to struggle, even harder when you feel that you are alone. But to round out these interviews, the Times spoke to Aziza Brown, founder of Dynamik Focus, an esports team. She says that she finds the support she needs in real-life communities.

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“I had a talk with a woman in gaming, where I was like, please come to the offline communities, come to other places, because once the anonymous barrier is gone, you can see the person to their face, you can confront them, that behavior stops,” she said.

Source: Kotaku.com

HBO’s Watchmen Wants to Dig into the Heart of American Racism…by Making You Like Cops

The first 15 minutes or so of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen are some of the most agonizing moments of television this year. They squarely focus on the brutalization of multiple black Americans during the infamous Tulsa race riots—a day when mobs of crazed white people descended upon, attacked, and murdered black Oklahomans because they felt empowered to do so.

io9 had the opportunity to view the premiere episode of HBO’s Watchmen at New York Comic Con this past weekend. Here are our first impressions.

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The attack on Black Wall Street is a real event that Watchmen uses to link itself to our reality while also building out the larger fictional universe Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons first created in 1986—a universe that was specifically meant to exist within the vacuum of a finite number of comic books. Of course, DC Comics ended up having different plans for Watchmen, which has gone on to become one of the integral aspects of the publishers’ intellectual multiverse, which the HBO series is part of. Unlike Doomsday Clock, Lindelof’s Watchmen errs on the side of realism and its curious story set some 30 years after the events of the original comic isn’t particularly interested in the usual superheroic trappings that typically come with live-action comic book adaptations.

In this universe, the Watchmen were very much a thing, but the legacies they’ve all built have played out in ways you wouldn’t immediately imagine. Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, and the Comedian are parts of the show, but not exactly as characters. They’re the atmosphere and context that new characters like Angela Abar (Regina King), Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) exist in.

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Though the events of the original Watchmen comics play a significant role in the shaping of the series’ world—a place where the internet and cell phones don’t exist—they aren’t what the show is really about. Rorschach might have been a misunderstood antihero originally, but here his name and iconography have been co-opted by terror cells of white supremacists known as the Seventh Cavalry, who are coordinating a mysterious attack that’s meant to change the world as the series begins. In the show, Robert Redford has been the president for decades and ushered in an era of American liberalism complete with legislation meant to address the country’s history of anti-black racism and socio-political disenfranchisement. The pejoratively-referred to “Redford-ations” have made it so that the victims and descendants of racially-driven subjugation no longer have to pay taxes. Unsurprisingly, there are more than a few enraged white people—like the Seventh Cavalry—who hate that aspect of their society.

Years after being driven into dormancy by the police, the Seventh Cavalry begins operating once again in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even though the police officers all wear masks, they quickly learn that the terrorists are more than capable of discerning their secret identities and targeting them in their off-duty lives. While the imagery of masked police officers is certainly arresting, it’s here the show begins to wander into messy and at times potentially irresponsible territory with the way it uses metaphors to explore very real problems plaguing society.

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Like all cops, King’s Abar is a woman who wears multiple hats. To the outside world, she’s a baker and something of a homemaker because the police still have to go to great lengths to ensure they aren’t targeted in their lives as private citizens. But she is one of the world’s watchmen who dresses up in an intimidating costume as part of her job taking on criminals who want nothing more than to hurt innocent people.

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King is captivating as Abar. But her performance can only do so much to distract you from the fact the Watchmen (at least in its first episode) frames white terrorists and cops as being diametrically-opposed groups that have no ideological overlap. Because this is a show that’s meant to explore aspects of American society, that framing just doesn’t work, or rather it doesn’t work if you’re actually trying to think your way through the multitude of things Watchmen is attempting to comment on.

Director Nicole Kassell does a wondrous job of immediately pulling you into this story and bowling you over with imagery that’s both beautiful and utterly devastating, and you can see why genre fans with HBO subscriptions are going to glom onto the show. But there are so many moments when Watchmen’s debut episode falls short of saying anything interesting or insightful about its subject matter, seemingly content to be a mirror of our society, albeit a seriously distorted one.

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There’s the reality—What if cops did drugs while on the job? What if kids of color got into trouble for calling out their racist peers?—and then the fantastical: What if we all lived in a world where squids periodically fell from the sky and we all just dealt with it because that’s how things are? Space squids aside, Watchmen presents numerous real-world scenarios ripe for commentary but it isn’t immediately apparent that the show feels the need to engage with the complexities of those scenarios.

The first episode isn’t going to encapsulate the entire series in a succinct way—that’s understandable—but at the same time, one doesn’t need to really spend much time making a definitive statement about whether morally sound people should feel empowered to fight fascists. We really don’t need more examinations of the police that aren’t honest about the organization’s own history of racially-driven terrorism. Watchmen should be more than that.

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In the end, the series could very well end up doing an excellent job of unpacking all of these things with the kind of care, grace, and honesty that the story (and audiences) deserve, but also, it may not. You can’t really get a definitive sense either way by the first episode’s end, which very much seems to be the creative team’s questionable intention.


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Source: Kotaku.com

There’s A Latinx Void At The Heart Of Video Games

A still from Life Is Strange 2
Image: Square Enix

I have been in mourning. Loss has followed me for weeks now, and I have not been able to give it a name.

It’s been almost two weeks since the twin shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The former, in particular, has troubled me, as its formless tragedy has taken on the shape of reported news: How the suspected shooter had both reportedly written a manifesto and confessed to the police that he was specifically targeting Mexicans, echoing white nationalist rhetoric. How he killed 22 people, including Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died protecting their infant son. How that son was then used for a brazen photo opportunity with a smiling president.

I’m Latin-American, alive during a moment in American history where hostility towards people of my ethnic background is being stoked, encouraged, permitted. Where men seek to gun down people like me, and the government rounds us up, indifferent to the point that they regularly apprehend citizens. In the wake of a staggering hate crime against Latinx people, it’s hard not to go numb. Just shut down, you know? I try to keep moving, to not let that numbness take over. Art helps. It may seem foolish to talk about entertainment during a moment of crisis, but one of art’s many functions is to help process real human pain and tragedy, to help individuals sort themselves out as they find a way to move forward.

Latinx art abounds: I found music I could listen to, books I could read, movies I could watch as I put myself back together to face the world and do my part. Here’s what messes me up: I didn’t know where to look for that in video games.

It’s not that there aren’t spaces, people working towards making video games a more distinctly diverse place. There’s the Game Developers of Color Expo, the Indie Game Developers Association’s Latinx In Gaming special interest group; there are podcasts and fan communities for people involved in this medium to find each other. Latinx folks are out there.

Yet the video games that have broken into the wider public consciousness—in the biggest games and the biggest studios—do not seem to care all that much. On its biggest stages, the games industry still hasn’t quite figured out what it means by words like “inclusion” or “diversity.” Executives tout initiatives built around the idea that “video games are for everyone,” but it’s a marketer’s idea of “everyone”: amorphous, anodyne, and cold, akin to visiting EPCOT and calling it a world tour.

Image: Disney

In the games industry’s endless quest to appeal to everyone, to not turn away a single customer—hateful ones included—it hasn’t really welcomed anyone. Called them by name and made them feel at home. If Disney, an entertainment company that is nothing if not ruthless in pursuing universal hits, can produce Coco, Black Panther, and Bao—each an authentic expression of specific cultures filtered through the lens of fiction—it’s baffling that big-budget games have barely tried.

Playing a video game often means I have to leave my identity at the door, or give up on the part of me that cares about hearing Spanish on the train, about knowing where to get an empanadilla or recognizing Bad Bunny booming out someone’s window. Instead, I must become something neutral: Guardian, Warden, Champion, Soldier. Of what? Damned if I know.

It’s true that mainstream, big budget video games have improved by leaps and bounds in the kinds of people they depict. Their sci-fi futures are diverse; Anthem, Destiny, and Warframe are full of brown faces, with art styles that heavily reference cultures from around the world. Call of Duty games have quietly depicted some of the most diverse casts in blockbuster games, sometimes allowing players to choose between a male or female protagonist and including characters from all kinds of backgrounds. Play a big release like Days Gone and, although the protagonist is white, you’ll find a world populated by people of color, like Manny the mechanic, nurse Addison Walker, or your former partner Rikki Patil.

These are good things, but being present is not the same as being seen. This is what people mean when they say diverse games are nice, but diverse studios are better. It’s more important to have games made by people from different backgrounds who are empowered to make decisions that are felt in finished games.

Image: Electronic Arts

This is usually the part of an essay like this where the writer calls for an industry to “do better,” but I am not convinced that anything better will be done. I’ve written about this before, but to be Latinx in America is to be ignored. You are perpetually a talking point in someone else’s argument: Right-wing hysteria over migrants. Left-wing lust for votes. White opinions about the authenticity of a restaurant. Semi-regular debates over the service industry. Video games are not immune to this deep-seated ignorance.

It can fuck you up. Make you want to check out. Why care about a video game industry that doesn’t care about me? Or support other people like me?

I feel for the bold independent developers from marginalized communities, the queer, brown, neuroatypical creators laboring in the shadow of video games as a corporate monolith, working to prove that the medium is not limited by its biggest and loudest voices. And then I also feel for the Latinx folks who play games and have to figure out every day how to navigate a world where dipshits might yell at them for speaking Spanish. I feel for the Latinx people who, in the wake of the biggest hate crime to specifically target us, had to watch as the national media erased us from the story, turning it into another in a long list of scuffles the President has had with the public. There aren’t many places to look if you want some semblance of hope. Even fewer if you look to video games.

Like I said, I have been mourning.

Do not misunderstand. I do not need video games to merely adopt the trappings of my world. To go no further than providing a perfunctory reminder of who I am. To add a character my shade of brown to Overwatch, or to infuse soundtracks with Latin trap. What I ask is something simpler: just tell me why I shouldn’t leave.

Source: Kotaku.com

Twitch Punishes White Apex Legends Cosplayer Who Painted Her Face Black

Twitch has temporarily banned a Lithuanian streamer after she cosplayed the Apex Legends character Lifeline using blackface makeup.

On Saturday, Karina “Karupups” Martsinkevich was streaming herself preparing her Lifeline cosplay in Twitch’s “Just Chatting” section to roughly 160 viewers. Martsinkevich, who had dyed her hair and put on a white shirt and surgical mask, then applied a dark foundation to her face to mimic Lifeline’s appearance. “On my stream, I wanted to show the viewers, how hard is to prepare for a cosplay, how much time the make up, costume and another details can take,” Martsinkevich said in an email to Kotaku.

The final result of Martsinkevich’s cosplay is what’s commonly recognized as blackface—when a non-black person attempts to caricature or present as a black person. It originated in the 1800s when white actors used shoe polish or burnt cork, sometimes on top of highlighting their lips or other features, to perform exaggerated and racist stereotypes of black people. Martsinkevich’s stream was taken down before she could finish her cosplay preparation in what constitutes a direct denouncement of blackface on Twitch.

After announcing her apparently 30-day suspension, Martsinkevich posted a YouTube video in which she explained that she was banned for “engaging in hateful conduct against a person or group of people.” She went on to contend that she “just wanted to be similar to Lifeline from Apex…it wasn’t meant to have [sic] a joke of anyone. It was just a cosplay, guys, for my favorite legend from a computer game.” The Twitch streamer says that she didn’t mean for her cosplay “to be painful for anyone” and apologized to those who were hurt.

Twitch did not respond to a request for comment.

In the cosplay community, blackface is extremely controversial and widely looked down on. White cosplayers of brown or black characters like Overwatch’s Sombra and Michonne from The Walking Dead have been lambasted for the practice. While aesthetic fidelity can be a primary concern for cosplayers, altering racial appearance easily devolves into stereotyping and recalls the history of the practice. On top of that, black cosplayers have faced numerous barriers getting into the cosplay scene because, traditionally, there are comparatively few characters in video games, comics and anime who appear black or dark-skinned. According to several black cosplayers interviewed by Kotaku in 2016, they sometimes receive pushback and criticism for dressing up as characters who are not black.

After her ban, Martsinkevich again posted the picture of herself in the cosplay on the Russian social media app VK. She added the caption, “Thank you for the enormous support. Thank you for not leaving me alone in such a situation. So, guys and girls, what do you think about Cosplay?”

Source: Kotaku.com

HBO’s Lovecraft Country Could Be Everything Green Book Wasn’t

Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley, with the cover of Lovecraft Country.
Image: Universal, HarperCollins

There are as many valid criticisms of Peter Farrelly’s Best Picture Oscar-winner Green Book as there are listings in Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book. But an upcoming adaptation has a lot more potential to tell the real story, even if there are Lovecraftian monsters involved.

The Negro Motorist Green Book (published from 1936 to 1966) was a guide to the places black people driving across the Jim Crow-era U.S. could stop to rest and replenish themselves without fear of being denied service by businesses, driven out of town by racists, or murdered. With the growth of interstate highways came the promise that Americans could more easily travel long distances and experience more of the country. But that same promise was not afforded to black and other non-white drivers who faced the risk of being caught in sundown towns, places where white members of the local community—including law enforcement officials, in some cases—would not hesitate to kill them should they be seen within city limits.

Though the specters of Jim Crow and segregations are things most often associated with the South, sundown towns proliferated throughout the U.S., meaning that black drivers had no choice but to be strategic in their travels so as never to be caught after dark in a place where their lives might be very much in danger. Green’s book was an invaluable asset for black travelers at all points along their journeys. Each trip planned with the help of The Negro Motorist Green Book is a story about black Americans collaborating in order to persevere and thrive in a land that did not love us, and because that continues to be true of the country, it’s easy to understand why the book is an important part of our history and why folks would want to create stories around it.

The problem with the recent Peter Farrelly-directed Green Book film is that it ignores the cultural significance of Green’s book and doesn’t even center it as the heart of its story.

In Farrelly’s take—written by Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie—Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a gifted black musician who hires Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian bouncer, to work as his driver during an upcoming tour throughout the U.S. that’ll take them from the Midwest into the Deep South. Through the power of road tripping, the unlikely pair become friends as substantive interrogations about race or the men’s inner lives are passed over in favor of scenes about how everybody likes fried chicken and good music.

Green Book is, put simply, another story about racism that’s much more concerned with making white people feel good about sitting through a movie about racism, in which a white person resists the urge to be egregiously racist because their one black friend told them to. Even setting aside all the issues of Green Book’s historical accuracy and alleged disrespect to Shirley’s family, the film’s utter lack of regard for The Negro Motorist Green Book makes it difficult to see it as a story that truly understands the cultural factors in play that made its existence possible.

The Negro Motorist Green Book deserves a telling of its tales that both respects what the book meant and can speak to the large audience that can and should know more about its importance. Where Green Book failed, HBO’s upcoming adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country can and should succeed in ways that are readily apparent the moment you begin reading the book.

Atticus Turner, one of Lovecraft Country’s central heroes, is a young, science fiction-loving black veteran recently back from time in the Korean War. He soon realizes that his service to his country doesn’t actually mean all that much back home because of the color of his skin. While Atticus’ family and friends love him dearly, the racist micro and macro-aggressions he faces on a daily basis are a constant reminder of what it means to be black in America. Racism is a demon all of Lovecraft Country’s characters must face, but they there are also actual demons out there in the world they cross paths with, and its when these literal and metaphorical evils intersect that Lovecraft Country begins to really shine.

Lovecraft Country’s cover.
Image: HarperCollins

When Atticus’ father Montrose goes missing, leaving only instructions for Atticus to come looking for him in the fictional (and very Lovecraftian) town of Ardam, Massachusetts, he sets out to find him with the help of his uncle George, who runs the Safe Negro Travel Company, and his friend Letitia Dandridge, a devout Christian. Together, the trio uses George’s knowledge of safe zones to make their way from Chicago to Massachusetts, and as they journey they encounter all manner of supernatural beings—both very literal monsters and embodiments of the horrors that The Negro Motorist Green Book was designed to help people avoid. Here’s an excerpt:

George had begun publishing The Safe Negro Travel Guide as a means of advertising his travel agency’s services, and though the Guide had ultimately become profitable in its own right, the agency—now expanded to three locations—remained his primary business and source of income. The agency would book trips and tickets for anyone, but specialized in helping middle-class Negroes negotiate with a travel industry that was at best reluctant to accept their patronage.

Through his network of contacts and scouts, George kept up-to-date files not only on which hotels allowed Negro guests, but which air and cruise lines were most likely to honor their reservations. For those wishing to vacation abroad, the agency could recommend destinations that were relatively free of local race prejudice and, just as important, not overrun by white American tourists—for nothing was more frustrating than traveling thousands of miles only to encounter the same bigots you dealt with every day at home.

The power that the Ku Klux Klan’s grand wizards have lies in the reach of their organization’s networks and their ability to enforce their hateful ideology through coordinated violence. Lovecraft Country imagines a world in which that’s still very true, but the wizards also happen to be actual wizards of a sort, something that Atticus and company can barely wrap their minds around as the story unfolds.

Lovecraft Country shifts between focusing on its allegorical monsters and its human ones with a deftness that’s just shy of letting you assume it’s a work of pure magical realism. It wants you to understand that the racist ghost and the shady realtor who purposefully sold the house it haunts to black owners are both real problems the book’s characters have to face. Like a carefully crafted highway system, Lovecraft Country’s larger plot is made up of a handful of intersecting stories that all feed back into one another, reminding you of what’s keeping its heroes safe: their togetherness, their adaptiveness, and the knowledge afforded to them by their guide book and the wisdom it holds.

With Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams producing, and Underground’s Misha Green attached as showrunner, there are any number of directions HBO’s adaptation of Lovecraft Country could take. So long as it honors the source material, and bears in mind the larger cultural significance of the stories it’s telling, it’s likely to do The Negro Motorist Green Book’s legacy justice in a way Green Book never could.


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Source: Kotaku.com