I’m lucky that one of my brothers subscribes to the New Scientist and so I get to read this excellent mag on a regular basis, although it’s sometimes a month or two old before I get it. An item that caught my eye recently was about a ‘virtual census’ of US video game characters.
The survey found – surprise, surprise – that white adult males make up 85% of game characters. So where does that leave the vast majority of gamers who are not white adult males? In particular, where does it leave young people who have to choose a character that does not reflect who they are in any way? I realise that in gaming, part of the attraction can be that you get to pretend to be someone other than who you are – but do most people really want to be white adult males? Hmmm ….
AM is a keen gamer – possibly addicted to his two faves, Maple Story and Warcraft. In the latter, colour is not so much of an issue as many of the characters are not even human (although there is still a predominance of pale maleness). In Maple Story, which was developed in South Korea, there are more options and AM has chosen brown skin for the characters he plays. I think that’s a good sign about his sense of identity.
Not long before I read about the survey, I overheard AM muttering contemptuous comments to a friend, about another game he’s tried which only offered the white skin option. So he wasn’t surprised when I told him about the research, it’s something he’s observed himself.
I wasn’t surprised either, really. I mean, it’s not like books, TV shows and movies are much more representative of the population, when it comes to ethnicity. Tokenism still reigns. Even one of my favourite TV shows, Torchwood, managed to kill off both of its non-white characters by the end of series 2. (Also, incidentally, reducing number of women to 1). I’ll be pretty disappointed if they haven’t reintroduced some diversity in the latest series, (which I’ve yet to see).
It seems hard for predmoniantly white countries to let go of their mythologies about white adult male superiority. Take the movie Avatar, which reaffirms that old Hollywood myth that people of colour can only successfully throw off their oppressors if they have a white man gunning for them. Ok, this time he was blue for most of the movie, and yes, he learned to see the world differently, but couldn’t Hollywood just once let the white guy back the indigenous people, instead of lead them? I enjoyed the movie – it was gorgeous and entertaining – but the whiteness of it was what stays with me. Yet none of the reviews I’ve read seem to have noticed, let alone critiqued this. The white male ‘norm’ is indeed deeply embedded in how my culture thinks.
I wonder how long it’s going to take for us to get over this weirdness.