The culture of the umbaru of the lower Teganze is fascinating and perplexing to those hailing from more civilized walks of life.
I’ll admit I’m somewhat hesitant to make this post. While I’ve been reading Pat Miller’s Token Minorities blog for some time and was around to witness the backlash to N’Gai Croal’s concern about the first Resident Evil 5 trailer (I agreed with him), race is a topic about which I’m not nearly as well read as gender and sex. That’s not to say I have not read anything, but it’s a topic about which I feel apprehensive precisely because it’s a discussion we rarely seem to actually have. I was able to talk feminism with my mother all day long and it was part of my degree, so gender issues are a comfortable stomping ground.
But let’s discuss it. I also wish to make it perfectly clear that I’m not calling anyone racist–that’s not my intent. Much like with most things I post here, I’m noticing a trend that infiltrates from our own society into the games we play. In other words, I want to add to the discussion over the issue of race and how it is presented in videogames. Racism, like sexism, exists. Unless we discuss it, we can’t really deal with it.
When I saw the first video for Diablo III I was thrilled, sure. I was also somewhat baffled. As Blizzard’s page for the game went live, I devoured the information and was somewhat taken aback when I read the description I put up at the top here. ‘More civilized?’ I suppose I could harken back to the days of Diablo II and remember the Paladin fondly as a civilized, devout man, but this is not that game. Thus far, this is the only instance of a black character I’ve seen, and he’s already being depicted as less civilized.
I realize many talks around the character classes have occurred and it has been stated many times that the design team wanted to create character classes that were instantly recognizable–archetypes. However, one other aspect that is instantly recognizable is a stereotype. In a class on Gender and Media at my alma pater, we discussed depictions of black males in society, and one that frequently came up is as an othered shaman of some degree or another–especially in games. For that we need go no further than Michael LeRoi in Shadow Man (or, alternatively, the Jamaican-speeched trolls in the Warcraft series).
What’s even further confusing upon continuing to read the information we have on the Witch Doctor class is that they do seem to be setting up to be othered with mentions of human sacrifice. Is this troublesome? I realize Blizzard is trying to flesh out a world with all manner of different belief systems, cultures, and a diverse cast of characters. I commend that. However, I become somewhat uneasy when this starts to resemble our own world in many fashions. Why do we replicate our own world with its histories and racial underpinnings when seeking to create diversity in fantasy games? As N’Gai Croal stated in his comments on RE5, there’s a history here.
Included in that history is the way the Witch Doctor carries him or herself. As a male, in the gameplay videos we see him hunched over. The female is carrying herself, very noticeably, upright. The history of dynamics between race, sex, and how we project images unto other people could take up a whole other post, and likely will at some point.
Am I blowing this out of proportion? Possibly. However, much as I pointed out with sexism, racism permeates through all sorts of nooks, crannies, and Grand Canyon sized crevices in our society. How else does one explain people feeling the need to articulate on how articulate and well-spoken Senator Barack Obama is? The note of surprise from some people that a black man can be articulate speaks much to how we see ourselves versus the othered race. So again, a history exists.
What do I make of this? Right now a sense of slight unease, but with the recognition that I have only seen the tiniest portion of this game. I love the idea of a Wall of Zombies, for instance, but I hope that once I see more of this game and world that I can be somewhat relieved. Seeing as we don’t seem to see many black persons in the world of Sanctuary outside of the classes we the players can choose, the representations of them just happen to fall into that realm of more scrutiny by someone who has been, admittedly, trained in ways to recognize this imagery. It might also be intriguing to note that this is written as if from a scholar’s journal, so we may be playing with racial dynamics within the game.
Will this game actually explore racist and classist notions? Will we see some post-colonial discourse occurring? That truly would give the world some flavor and history if done correctly. The Warcraft series already plays with racial identities and tensions somewhat, even if it simplifies it to two opposing factions…
Am I just being too quick to jump the gun on this one? Let me know your thoughts.