HomeAll postsPAX Australia: Actually it's about ethnics in games journalism

PAX Australia: Actually it’s about ethnics in games journalism

I mis-read the title. I thought this panel was about ETHICS in games journalism and expected a panel about GamerGate and real ethics. This panel was a surprise. Panelists discuss representation of People of Color (PoC) in games.

Please note: this account of the panel was written after the fact from my notes. This is not a transcript. I may have made errors in which case I am happy to make corrections.

The panelists are:

  • Shran
  • Michael Hing from Good Game (ABC TV)
  • Smytha questioning interrogation of white sovereignty
  • Panelist 4: No idea. This person will remain ‘4’ unless some kind person comes forward with essential information.
  • Luke: In spite of having a name that rivals Cumberbuns for whiteness, I am actually Lebanese.
  • Katryna Starks: Lecturer in Serious Games, University of the Sunshine Coast. I have this information because she was in the previous panel I attended.

If anyone would like to help me fill in their details more fully — first names, last names and short bios — I would deeply appreciate it.

Shran: As people of color, how does that affect your job?

Michael: my job is Good Game presenter. I don’t know if you know this about the internet, it can be a very mean place. I cop a lot of abuse. Some of it is because I am incompetent, fair enough. But some of it is about perceptions of my sexuality and my ethnicity. Someone green-screened me and put me on the Nuremburg rallies and sent that to Mark Scott (CEO of ABC Broadcasting) saying I’m a Nazi and fuck Asians. Being a PoC, it’s a thing people diss me about but if it wasn’t that, it’d be something else.

Smytha: The academic world is a highly political place. We’re all land rights for gay whales but don’t you dare say that it’s mostly white. I’m a brown person speaking about race but the authority I have to speak about Indigeneity has to be negotiated as only an Indigenous person has the right.

4: I can’t add anything to the academic side of things. I can pass for white. I’m from Texas. No one trusted me. I was too white for the Mexicans and too Mexican for the whites. It’s very disconcerting and strange to be in a world where you can see injustice and not know if you have the power to speak out. I use what privilege I have to speak out.

Luke: I’m the straight white dude so I’m going to sit this one out.


Katryna: I wish people understood what it fells like to be the only one in a room or a convention. Some of the assumptions that it’s a color not a culture. I do have cultural differences. I’ve read things on message boards; it seems that gaming is assumed to be white. Someone will just drop the N word. It’s ‘er’ not ‘a’ so it’s not an African American. It’s a playground where everyone else is playing in this space and having a conversation and I run into it. Sometimes it seems like a safe space for these people to say things because they assume I won’t be there.

Shran: I felt I was put in a box because I’m Asian. It seems that gaming is very much a straight white male audience. The games industry covering things I love just happen to be mostly Caucasian people.

Smytha: Sometimes you strategically use race.

Shran: Obviously there are terrible examples of representations. Let’s talk about the worst.

Luke: All of Street Fighter.

Michael: I think you’ll find X is a very sensitive representation.


4: Stereotypes are Satan. I can’t remember which GTA had the Haitians as the bad guys. They marched outside the studios. You portray us as the bad guys and all you see is thugs and voodoo practitioners. Unfortunately there were only a handful of people who protested and they were mocked.

Smytha: The problem with those games, assuming a white male protagonist: they become white not Polish, English or Irish. The problem with lack of diversity is that it doesn’t just affect people of color, it affects white people as well. Whew. I never thought I’d say that.

Michael: The Mists of Pandaria expansion in WoW. You get excited. Then there’s a whole game where I’m literally just serving noodles to people. But there’s a game with really cool Chinese music in it. Some things have terrible things but some good things too.

Luke: The humans are all Germanic white dudes.

4: Bioware tries to play out treatment of Native American people as elves. The city elves where taken from their culture. Others were trying to reclaim their culture. This was the clumsiest appropriation.

Smytha: Race gets displaced. Instead of being another human race, it’ll be aliens.

4: Orcs have some physical codificiation as Africans.

Smytha: In Harmon the orcs were really interestingly codified. They weren’t stupid Tolkien orcs. The fake historical tract was the Orcish question harking back to the Jewish question. Orcs were representing people.

Shran: If a game explores injustice…

4: Many have made attempts to do it respectfully.

Katryna: A 1940s study repeated in over decades is about why representation matters in the eyes of people who aren’t represented. Video shows kids of color choosing a doll, which is nice, which is bad, which is pretty. The white gets the good choices, the black gets the negative AND THESE ARE KIDS OF COLOR. 🙁 (the doll test)

They need to feel represented and important in the world. They’ve done that test every decade. The results aren’t as dramatic as originally but the test still skews the same way. They don’t have the pseudo-narcissism that leads to the good one looking like me. PoCs are told they can’t be the princess because they’re not white. Now we have Tiana thank god, we have one.

Shran: Video games are a power fantasy but it’s hard to feel powerful when you don’t see yourself in the video.

4: History wipes out a whole lot of people who don’t align with the white male stereotype. Having PoC characters IS my power fantasy.

Shran: In Fallout, in spite of ethnicity the characters assume you’re a generic person. There is some validity in dealing with race issues. Mafia game deals with an African American protagonist in the 1960s. He was a Vietnam war vet when society was anti-war etc.

Luke: In a story structured by Spike Lee, you open on a film cinematic. I saw the cinematic, I created a character that looked the voice. Then I started playing to find a black family but this character looked like the stay puff marshmallow man.

4: In a game like Fallout, I created a Mexican character in a post apocalyptic world. I think I look like this but it doesn’t relate to my experience.

Smytha: In terms of cognitive dissonance, empire has done some bad things to people. My favorite game is Empire goes to war. You find yourself thinking things that make you wonder if those people in that time think those things, like “fuck Denmark”.

Michael: Whenever I played Civilization, I always played China.

Smytha: China was good. England sucked.

Michael: It’s weird. Was I trying to hang on to my ancestors? You find yourself thinking hateful thoughts about other races. I hated Gandhi in the Civilization context. I’d get really worked up. It is inevitable once you’re playing as nation-states.

4: Do you sometimes play a nonwhite nation for revenge?

Michael: I’m just loving murdering white people. Strolling the streets of London, you’re dead, you’re dead, this is for the Opium Wars.

Shran: It’s valuable to play a game where you have to be really racist. That experience is invaluable.

Smytha: When you’re forced to make decisions about someone who’s othered for reasons of race…

4: I can’t play it for too long because it makes me feel bad.

Katryna: Every game with a black person doesn’t have to be about being black or about issues. In one of my favorite games, the protagonist is black. It’s a great portrayal: she’s an amazing character.

Smytha: A game where you’re forced into playing a different experience that’s not your own…

4: White people are affected negatively by lack of diversity in games. People who read a lot and travel get more empathy because they experience other points of view.

Smytha: People who game a lot probably have a lot more empathy too because they interact from other points of view.

Luke: Sleeping Dogs. (game)

Shran: I love Sleeping Dogs too. The dialogue is in broken English and Chinese. If you don’t have subtitles on, you don’t know what’s going on. That’s just like my family. I love games with foreign language that don’t give you any assistance.

4: In (one game) they hired Indigenous actors and were very careful.

Luke: The protagonist in Assassin’s Creed is the whitest guy. In the main titles, the protagonists are getting whiter.

Michael: I work a lot in e-sports, which is a more and more diverse space. A lot of racial groups are playing different games. For example, Koreans have amazing internet and play Starcraft.

Luke: Do you find people care less about race and it’s more mechanical?

Michael: Yes. If you’re not from Korea, Korean commentators refer to them as “the foreigner”. Same in the games. The hero is the Korean person and the villain is anyone else.

Shran: One of the programmers from Assassins Creed said they go out of their way to get programmers from different countries to get the best well-rounded team.

4: the primary context for the world right now is Western European culture as the dominant culture. You can’t say it’s even. There is a power imbalance. When I pass as white I get a butt load of privilege. I don’t get pulled over for driving while brown. Japanese culture is not the one that colors the overarching power structure of the world right now.

Katryna: I’ve had people introduce themselves around a room but when they get to me they say ‘What’s up girlfriend?’ Really. There is a responsibility to portray people responsibility and accurately because you’ll affect people’s lives. I told my class if they tried to write a game about their experience and put me there… why are you putting a black woman there? How many times do you have to show up in opposition to the narrative to change the narrative. Include people, we are all over the place.

Michael: I’m not asking anyone to feel guilty, I’m just asking for representation and to point out how things have made me feel. I just want things to be better.

4: The pie gets bigger. There’s a misperception about privilege. People think there’s a pie of limited size and we’re going to take someone’s privilege. THE PIE GETS BIGGER. Someone said there were 1000 games being released, why not make some of them good, some of them representing. We don’t want retribution; we just want to sit at the big table. And have a discussion.

Shran: Why wouldn’t you want cake and more of it?

Smytha: Games are texts. They are a structure of power. It is very much a negotiation or ratification of what’s already happened.

4: What’s worse is when the authors just don’t think about it.

Michael: Compare Kill Bill and Saving Private Ryan. The white person being killed is a tragedy but thousands of Japanese people being killed is ok.

Audience: Is there something you can say to us about cultural awareness?

Smytha: Last year there was a lot to do with gender and that’s great. Gender has been theorized in gaming but race hasn’t. In relation to a single white person and whiteness, we haven’t done that. No individual white person is the problem; it’s the lens of whiteness that we are told is not there.

4: It’s almost like a mindfulness exercise. When you spend the day watching TV or reading a book. If you think you understand this situation, ask would it be different for someone else? Why would it be different for someone else? It’s a personal critical practice that is important for everyone.

Smytha: There’s an intersectionality. These things don’t exist in silos.

Audience: How much of race representation comes down to financial considerations?

Michael: There’s another side of that. When Mists of Pandaria was released, people were just like ‘See? Blizzard just want to break into the Chinese market!’ Often there are ham-fisted attempts to break into certain markets just to make money. I wouldn’t be surprised if other poor decisions have been made for other reasons.

4: Money is an issue. I do know movies, what happens to scripts, writers, focus groups. Money comes into it because marketing is totally wrong. They don’t actually understand what the market wants.

Katryna: The Walking Dead (and 2 others, the titles of which I missed) they’re 3 for 3, minority protagonists, and it hasn’t hurt them at all.

4: Bias comes out when something breaks the cardinal rule, it’s a success and people say it was just a fluke.


Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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