“Racial Identification: The Secret Strength Videogames Forget They Have”

“As a sequel to Far Cry 3, or perhaps rather a fraternal twin, Far Cry 4 might be best described as perfectly serviceable and somewhat unremarkable. For me, however, it might have been 2014’s most important game.

The story of Ajay Ghale, a Nepali-American returning to his home country for the first time in his adult life, might not matter to most people, but it was the game to make me realize that videogames and I have had a fundamental disagreement for nearly thirty years. After playing Far Cry 4, after hearing accents familiar to me and foreign-sounding names being Americanized by the people who owned them, I realized what one experience videogames have offered so many players all their lives and never me—identification.

If you were to condense the history of videogames into a minute, the playback would be breathtaking. When I consider my passion for this medium, this is how I choose to remember it, as moments overlapping each other in quick succession showing demonstrable progress. It has journeyed from an abstract form of tennis to genuine events, capable of begging the discussion of artistic merit.

But in the area of racial diversity, in the recognition of how racial identification matters to players, these issues have become a pileup in the videogame industry’s rear-view mirror. We elect to go full speed ahead on the celebration of advanced cloth physics and cover systems without knowing or caring about everyone left behind. The videogame industry has done its best to avoid discussion of racial representation, from the games themselves to the medium’s most ardent fans. I was taken aback when I recently heard a podcast personality suggest that maybe Far Cry 4 would have been better if the character been nothing and no one—a faceless mannequin holding a gun because it ultimately did not matter who they were.

Why is Ajay Ghale the one who needs to have his identity deleted and not Jason Brody, or Marcus Fenix, or Nathan Drake? More importantly, why are there so many white characters for players to recognize immediately and only one Ajay Ghale?

“Some of the lack of diversity comes from the homogeneity of the industry,” says Dr. Adrienne Shaw, professor at Temple University and author of Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. “A lot of research has shown that it is hard for white people, in particular, to conceive of racial minorities in non-stereotypical ways. Even when people are not being intentionally racist, we live in a culture where norms of representation have made stereotypes more readily salient and it takes a lot of work to think beyond those caricatures…”



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