So in thinking about video games and the “space” and venues in which they are played in, more commonly in ones living room induced some ideas about the WHO is playing video games, rather than the WHERE. According to statistical data, conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation:
“African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play games 30 minutes more per day than white youth, while Hispanics play an average of 10 minutes more. Aside from DVR playback, marketers might want to note that African Americans exhibit higher usage levels for watching live TV, DVD playback, and video game usage,” says the 2011 African American Consumer Report” (Tinyuoe)
In my opinion, the only way to answer this question is to examine, who or whom is making these video games behind the scenes. If you take a look at video games the majority of characters are predominantly white males. One of the games that I played briefly with my family was Prototype 2, and the main character Heller. Heller is a (pictured below)
is an African American protagonist who two years after the events of the original game (Prototype 1), Sergeant James Heller, after returning from touring in Iraq, discovers his wife and daughter to be declared dead, causing him to rejoin the military in the fight for NYZ against the Mercer Virus. Heller is briefed on the previous outbreaks in Idaho in the 60’s and in NYZ in the events of the first game. He later finds Mercer and begins chasing him. After a series of sudden stops, he is attacked by one of the special infected. He kills it, but Mercer injects him with the virus, for reasons unknown. And so throughout the game you see him shape shifting and killing people and such. But not to dwell on Prototype 2 while it is an awesome game, there is a deeper question. In playing Prototype 2 with my family I was totally oblivious that he would be black, I thought that it would be your standard white guy but was pleasantly surprised.
Besides this rare game, I was happily surprised to see the main character as African American because typically African American and Hispanic video game characters are usually depicted as the polar opposite.
“A recent study by University of Southern California Professor Dmitri Williams found an overwhelming lack of diversity in video game characters. Williams, a social psychologist by training, compared the ethnic diversity found in his survey of 150 games across nine platforms and all ratings to categories contained in the American census. He found that fewer than 3 percent of video game characters were recognizably Hispanic and none were playable. Native Americans and biracial characters were non-existent. African Americans enjoyed a rate of 10.74 percent, with a big caveat; they were mostly athletes and gangsters” (New American Media)
For example, a game which reinforces the stereotype of a gangster, gun-toting, “brotha” or “ese” from the WestsidE!, is Grand Theft Auto as well as Saints Row. In both games, the user is able to create their own character with a variety of features, hairstyle, black, white, Hispanic fat, skinny, muscular or otherwise. However, the setting is based in a gang infested turf that is based primarily in a poor neighborhood or “da hood,” which is representative of an urban setting in an impoverished neighborhood which is usually associated with ethnic minorities.
You are probably asking, why so hung up on the race thing? Well, as an African American as well as a “noob” video game player, and as well as a parent of two kids who like video games and have an aversion to them. I think that it is important for children to have video game players that they can relate to and that they can find similarities in. At the same time, I don’t think that race should be so much of an issue because I think video games are a chance to allow yourself to escape. I mean such games as World of Warcraft, and other role playing games which allow you to choose your character to the extent that you don’t even have to be human you can be an elf, or like in Skyrim a wizard or a witch! I mean the imagination in these games are endless.
Or even games like Mass Effect 3 allows the user to build an avatar and create whatever diversity they want, including the chance to see themselves reflected in the game they are playing.
But conclusively, I think that video games have come a long way and can only get better with time. It is my hope that video game developers realize the appeal to create characters which reflect their demographic in positive non-stereotypical aspects.
“Hispanics and Blacks Missing in Gaming Industry – New America Media.” Hispanics and Blacks Missing in Gaming Industry – New America Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://newamericamedia.org/2011/09/gamer-to-game-makers-wheres-the-diversity.php>.
Hurley, Leon. “Prototype 2: Why the hero isn’t just a “generic Caucasian guy” Playstation Magazine, December 6, 2011. Web.
“TheGrio.” TheGrio. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://thegrio.com/2011/11/11/blacks-play-games-but-dont-design-them/>