Race in Context

In my research proposal, I outlined my desire to research the impact of gaming on the public sphere. Looking at the topic of race and ethnicity in the media, I found that video games present an equally fascinating case study in this field, too.

Many modern games (CoD in particular) have used race as a defining characteristic. The ‘good guys’ (usually white, typically American or British soldiers) fight against the evil Arabs/ Russians/ Germans/ Muslims.  My classmate Lachlan has gone into greater detail on the topic in his blog post, so I won’t comment too heavily on the negative use of race in games.

Rather, I wanted to explore the positive use of race in gaming. Extra Credits, a lecture series that delves into issues pertinent to the study and development of video games, explored the topic with their Race in Games episode.

The Extra Credits team make particular mention of LA Noir, which utilises race and racial issues heavily. In their episode, they look into the way in which the LA Noir developers have used character reaction to racial issues as a narrative device to define and add depth to characters.

We each carry around ‘baggage’ regarding racial (and other) issues. Game developers can tap into our extrinsic feelings towards these issues in order to define characters, dictate mechanics or advance the story.

The way in which race and racial issues are addressed is what sets apart games like Call of Duty from LA Noir. When used to define game mechanics, race becomes nothing more than a caricature or stereotype, which we are forced to adopt in order to complete the game. Yet when properly and intelligently utilised, race and racial issues can become powerful and rich storytelling devices. And through the interactive nature of the medium, it has the potential to force us to reflect upon our own feelings towards race and racial issues.

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