Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reading Videogames

Anna Everett’s discussion of race in video games offers a compelling survey of the way representations of race in games results in a reinforcement of racist discourses. Much of her chapter is based on content analysis of specific games which, as an introduction to questions of representation in games is useful. Everett examines a number of games and locates within them racist caricatures, narrative structures which force players into particular subject positions, and, in at least one instance, explicit , intentional racist ideology . This aspect of the discussion is productive as it reveals problematic constructions of race within video games and it introduces those unfamiliar with the medium to the potential issues inherent within it. That being said, I did not find this aspect of the chapter to be the most compelling as this kind of content driven study around video games has become an increasingly common means of critiquing sex, violence, gender, etc. in games. Much more interesting was the discussion which seemed to book end this content study- a discussion around player identification with these games.
First, Everett’s discussion of George Lipsitz’s concept of a “possessive investment in whiteness” (113) raises a crucial issue within this discussion: certainly it is significant that racist constructions are appearing in videogames; however, more important is the way that this racism shapes player experience. A game like Ethnic Cleansing, from the perspective of content analysis is alarming but is relatively insignificant to a discussion of videogames as a medium if it isn’t distributed or played widely. Thus, what makes a game’s racist content or structure significant is how it shapes player’s experiences. In this regard Lipsitz model offers a useful means of connecting content and function, a connection that Everett may not fully capitalize on. Her discussion of Imperialism and Civilizations begins to do this however the same line of inquiry would likely also have been useful at other key points in the essay.
On a different note, Lipsitz’s “possessive investment in whiteness” reminded me of a video I saw years ago about the making of God of War a game for the Playstation 2. If I remember correctly there was a point in this video where an art director responsible for designing Kratos, the game’s protagonist, recalled being hesitant to give the character a face rather than a helmet, the logic being that assigning a face to the main character could potentially alienate gamers or at least prevent gamers form projecting themselves on the character. I mention this for two reasons; first, it provides an anecdote to demonstrate the significance of a study of identification in games. Second, this question of identity projection onto the main character perhaps reveals a space in which affect theory could be useful for an interrogation of representations in videogames.
The second portion of Everett’s chapter that I found to be compelling was actually a quote that she pulled from a message board. G-Tech writes, “The gaming community isn’t dumb, they aren’t mindless drones who are being brainwashed or hypnotized. They are people like you, me, that guy down the street, etc. Who are probably getting a bigger kick out of the competition of winning than the look of the toons.” (145) This is one of the few points in the chapter where the significance of the player experience becomes the object of study. Also, here and in the discussion of Civilization we also see how game meaning is produced by players. The problem with a content driven study is that it only recognizes the game, ignoring how players participate in this experience. Perhaps a more complete study of race and racism in games would consider the meeting point between players and text. I’m sure X-Box live chat could be reveal a great deal about the subject positions gamers bring to the equation.

On an unrelated note, Everett’s section Playing the “Skin” Game is predicated on a misunderstanding of the term “skin.” Although this does not alter the significance of the observations that she makes in this section, a Character “skin” does not refer to the character itself but the image mapped onto the character’s polygon frame to give it form. So, a single character can have multiple skins making it impossible for someone to select Brain Fury  as a ‘skin’.  

-Bryan fury skins:

No comments:

Post a Comment