Deviating from the Norm: Examining How Blackness is Punished in Video Games
by Kishonna Gray — Eastern Kentucky University
November 12, 2014 – 00:00
The purpose of this discussion is to examine how the normalization of Whiteness and masculinity within video games leads to the punishment of Blackness. I argue four key ways that Blackness is punished: 1) stereotypical representations, 2) racial tourism, 3) conquering the other, and 4) deletion of Blackness. Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole from the popular series Gears of War, CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Black characters from Street Fighter, and others are all examples of stereotypical representations of Blacks in video games. The mediated story of Black’s is limited and situated within buffoonery (comedy) or crime. Media outlets have created essentialist notions about Blackness and what it means to have an ‘authentic’ Black experience. And because there are limited counter narratives, this singular story only confirms hegemonic notions of what it means to be Black.
Racial tourism is another means to punish Blackness within video games. In shooters (Resident Evil, Blood on the Sand, True Crime, etc), fighting genres (Street Fighter), and even sports (NBA Street), these games are situated in urban locations that are highly ghettoized given the never-ending hip-hop soundtrack and presence of graffiti. This glorification of de-industrialized inner city communities only serve to commodify Black urban culture. Conquering the other is another means to punish Blackness in video games. In many games where the protagonist is White, the main goal is to conquer urban bodies (GTA III), Third World enemies (Blood on the Sand, Resident Evil), and other bodies of color deemed fit to die. As racial projects, video games legitimize white supremacy and hegemony through the ‘othering’ process and via pixelated minstrelsy by depicting Black and Brown bodies as objects to be destroyed.
Deletion of Blackness is the fourth area that demonstrates a tendency to punish Blackness in video games. Many early video games featured playable characters of color but many moved away from these progressive images for more widely acceptable characters. For example, Everquest featured the Erudites who were Black playable characters. With the release of EverQuest II, the Erudites evolved into skeletal Caucasoid. World of Warcraft even contributed to the deletion of Blackness with the change of the Black (although buffoon) viral Leeroy Jenkins into a White general to avoid appearing racist. This hegemonic change re-privileged whiteness, as the narrative deployed was the devaluing of one race over another. Although many people claim that race shouldn’t matter, to black and brown bodies, when you are constantly omitted or erased, it does. Beth Kolko found it surprising that in spaces that dramatized other aspects of identity such as gender and class, ethnicity is shockingly absent from most multiplayer games. Debunking utopic assumptions of virtual space, Kolko argues that the internet is far from liberatory but rather a space that continues a cultural map of assumed whiteness.