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Blacklash: How Accusations of Racism Force Blacks Out of Video Games
By Zeus | 2008-04-10

Recently, a certain party made a speech about race in America, which some have called his "I have a dream" speech. That got me thinking: I need one of those. Hell, we all do. It's high time we had an adult discussion about race... and video games.

It's wrong to deny someone a job because of the color of their skin, and surely this should also apply to video games. Yet time and time again, companies who include original (non-licensed) black characters in their games are hit with accusations of racial insensitivity until they cave in and remove them entirely.

What follows is the strange story of how accusations of racism have kept video games politically correct by banning an entire race of people.

Final Fantasy VII

Barret

When Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997, some complained that Barret was a racially insensitive stereotype. Which is strange, considering he was actually portrayed as a hero and loving single parent who was fighting to make the world a better place for his daughter. (Think Murphy Brown, only with a mohawk and cyber gun arm.)

The main complaint was that Barret spoke Ebonics. Of course, in real life, if a black man said, "He ain't going nowhere," no one would bat an eye. But if a fictional character says the same thing, we're all supposed to be outraged.

Look, I realize not all black people talk like Barret. But some do. And isn't that enough? Just because a group of people speak differently than the rest of us doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to star in video games.

Regardless of your stance on Ebonics, one thing everyone can agree on is that Barret was a chilling recreation of Mr. T.

Mr. T & Barret Wallace: Videogame Lookalikes

But if being exactly like Mr. T is racist, then logically, being Mr. T is even more racist.

Microscopiq seems to think so:

"The problem, of course, is that [Barret is] an ignoramus who can't manage to speak or behave property. [sic] Imagine all the worst qualities of Mr. T."
- Microscopiq
Speak or behave properly? Talk about a kick in the pants. No wonder the sides of his hair fell out.

Cid had a potty mouth. Anyone who had a problem with Barret's dialog needs to realize that this is Final Fantasy VII, the game where the leading leading lady said, "This guy are sick," and the leading man replied to a question with, "Off course." The English translation was notoriously bad. Sure, Barret dropped his share of !@#$ bombs, but then again, so did Cid. Pretending that everyone sounded fine except for Barret -- who got the shaft because he was, well, The Shaft -- is just silly.

Barret was a milestone, the first of his kind -- a black Final Fantasy hero. And, quite possibly because of all the backlash, he was also the last. Perhaps Square decided that, rather than be accused of racism for including a black character, it was safer quietly exclude them.

You see, Barret's only crime is that he wasn't Will Smith black, he was Martin Laurence black. I'm saying he wasn't Laurence Fishburne black, he was Samuel L. Jackson black.

In other words, Barret was too black for the job.

Black Zombie

Resident Evil 5 Zombies
Most websites ran the picture on the left. But Fig. 2 was taken just three seconds later. It's like they printed a photo of the Wolf Man immediately before his transformation, under the headline: "MAN SHOT WITH SILVER BULLET FOR NO REASON."

In July of 2007, the activist blog Black Looks rang the racism bell on Resident Evil 5. It seems RE5 was set in an African-like country, and in that country... there were BLACK ZOMBIES.

"This is problematic on so many levels, including the depiction of Black1 people as inhuman savages2, the killing of Black people by a white man3 in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults4. Start them young... fearing, hating, and destroying Black people.5"
- Black Looks

No, that paragraph is problematic on so many levels.

  1. She capitalizes "Black" but not "white," Even-Stephen.
  2. Of course they're savage, they're zombies. What, should they don sweaters and talk about Arrested Development? (Note: for the sake of accuracy, after RE4, Capcom secretly replaced their regular zombies with all-new Zombie-Like-Monster Lite. But if a crowd of them start eating your head, no one's going to correct you when you scream, "AAAH! ZOMBIES!")
  3. It shouldn't matter whether the guy killing you is white or black, as long as he's killing you because you're a zombie.
  4. Resident Evil games aren't marketed towards children. Derr.
  5. Contrary to popular belief, Capcom does not head a vast racist conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America into destroying black people. They actually limit their mind-control to hypnotize Mega-Man fans into buying the same game over and over for the past 20 years.

Resident Evil 4: Spaniard Edition

Of course, the zombies in Resident Evil 1-3 were white, and no one complained. In RE4, they were Spanish. No one complained. In Resident Evil Outbreak, two black characters blasted Anglo-Undead to their heart's content. No one complained. So, in the interest of diversity, Capcom decided to finally give black zombies a chance.

Big. Mistake.

Consider this: just as Resident Evil 4 was set in a fictionalized Spain, Resident Evil 5 is set in a fictionalized Haiti, and that's where zombies come from. Zombies are an integral part of Haitian culture, and Capcom -- after years of stealing that culture -- finally decided to hire ghouls of color. Isn't that the right thing to do?

Apparently not. To quote the activist blogger:

"Yes... I am more comfortable with the zombies being white. In fact, ALL zombies should be white from this day forth."
- Black Looks

You said it, lady.

Those zombies were just too black for the job.

PSP White Not-Black Nevermind.

White PSP Billboard Advertisement

Sometimes hiring a black model to sell your games is enough to get you in trouble. In 2006, Sony launched a Benelux billboard campaign for the Ceramic White PSP. The controversial ads featured a white woman sneering and holding a black woman's face. Although it could have been a freeze frame from just about any Madonna video, people were freaking outraged.

How dare that woman sneer at a model with black skin -- there was slavery in America!

Sony quickly released more of the ad campaign, including pictures of the black woman getting her turn to play dominatrix. But somehow, that only made it worse.

Second PSP ad.
"Hey! Now they got her beating up some white woman!"

Two years later, the white PSP still hasn't come out in America (presumably due to ongoing racial tensions). The closest we got was a special white Star Wars PSP with a black stencil of Darth Vader on the back. (A clear sign Sony is trying to bridge the racial divide -- after all, Darth Vader started out as a white kid and ended up as James Earl Jones.)

If only Sony had posed two grappling Caucasoids on the billboard, no one would have objected.

But that model... man. She was too black for the job.

The Street Fighter II Formula

So, is it racist to have black zombies? How about White PSPs? Or Mr. T's?

These are difficult questions. Article of the Year questions. (You hear me, Gamasutra?) For an answer, we must return to the debate that started it all: Street Fighter II.

In the early 90s, SFII put fighting games on the map. But in the intro to Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, a white guy was fighting a black guy! And the white guy won!

Street Fighter II: Championship Nazi KKK Edition

In 1992, this post appeared in alt.games.sf2:

Hmmm, could there be perhaps a bit of racism in SF2? On the CE version, when it goes the demo version, it will show a blond white guy facing a black guy (who can only be seen by his back). The blond guy then punches out the black guy, and then "Street Fighter II" appears on the screen... Could this be a bit of racism?

So Capcom did what any company does when they're accused of bigotry for daring to put a black character in their game -- they freaked out and removed that character entirely.

Street Fighter 2: Whitewashed Edition

In response, Tempora posted this message in alt.games.sf2:

Okay, explain this: How come Capcom made BOTH guys white in the intro of the Genesis version SF2: Special Champion Edition? My feeling is that it's a racial discrimination thing.
Yeah... or was it? People were confused, and the flames on USEnet threatened to burn out of control.

Thank God for the sarcastic genius known only as Lark, who fired off a snappy comeback so profound I have it saved to this day.

Street Fighter II Formula
Well, I ran this scenario through my "RacismBot" program. It detects any racist activity, then takes over my harddrive in protest until I create more directories named after minorities. Here was it's analysis:
White man knocks out black man. RACIST. Brutal treatment of blacks.
White man knocks out white man. RACIST.Excludes blacks.
Black man knocks out white man.RACIST.This is propaganda portraying black men as a threat to white society.
Black man knocks out black man.RACIST.This portrays black men as violent and undisciplined.
Solution: Organize a group of men and women representing all ethnicities, put them in multi-colored ninja outfits, and have them only knock out really yucky bug creatures from outer space.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. The other half involves lots of tanks and firearms.

- Lark

So there you have it. ANY possible combination is going to get you in trouble. If people even think they see white and black characters fighting, they instantly assume it's BECAUSE of race, even when the REASONS for their battle ("Street Fighter") are clearly drawn.

Why doesn't the boxing industry have to deal with this?

Rocky beats up some poor ignoramus who can't manage to speak or behave property.
"Help! That guy with funny gloves is committing a hate crime!"

It's no wonder companies are turning towards racially ambiguous characters like Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance. (The technique was pioneered by Disney, who were reportedly "not happy" with Pocahontas' Native American features and turned her into an African-Caucasian-Filipino.) And, strange as it may sound, this creepy "self-defense multiculturalism" actually works. Microscopiq, who hated Barret Wallace, featured Beyond Good & Evil's Jade on their list of Black Video Game Stars.

There's just one problem -- Jade isn't black.

My fellow Americans. I do not suggest you stand by and accept racism in video games. I'm merely suggesting that the next time you see a black and white character interact on-screen, ask yourself this: Does the Street Fighter II Formula apply? If so, then stop overreacting before characters with clearly defined racial identities go the way of the furry mascot.

So, there we have it. An adult discussion of race in video games. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go save an African-Chinese-Scottish-South-American-Eskimo hermaphrodite princ/ess from the evil clutches of Commander Cockroach and the Armies of Bugtopia 7.

Go Go Rainbow Ninjas!

- Zeus

Contact the Guy Responsible for this Garbage: zeus [at sign] bucketbros [period] com

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