#GamesSoWhite: Tales of “Historical” Fantasy and Entitlement

Full disclosure: the piece I describe in this post cites my recent article on Al Jazeera America.  So I am what you might call an “interested party.”

If you follow games culture on Twitter you’ve likely seen people discussing the hashtag #GamesSoWhite.  It gained traction in the wake of Tauriq Moosa’s post on Polygon discussing the fan reactions to the addition of avatars of color to Rust and the lack of fan reactions to the lack of people of color in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

From the article:

Wanting more people of color in stories that focus on mythology for a predominantly white culture doesn’t work the other way. Wanting white people in spaces dedicated to people of color ignores that stories of white people already dominate this and other creative industries.

It’s “What about me?” when everything is already about you.

Further, the defense of excluding people of color from a fantasy game is nonsensical. We are talking about being comfortable with the inclusion of wraiths and magic, but not the mere existence of people of color. Accuracy and realism flew out the window with the harpies.

“Historically accurate” is another common defense for many awful actions in fiction; but also doesn’t make sense when you’re not talking about actual events or even the Planet Earth. We see this ridiculous excuse used to defend Game of Thrones’ most recent high profile use of sexual assault, even though it took place in a world where magic is exists and during a scene that originally focused on another character.

I find this defense of The Witcher 3 so interesting because it is in direct opposition to some of the complaints leveled at Rust when they (arguably) increased the realism of their game by populating it by more than one face and skintone.

These complaints

reflect a desire on the part of the commenter to create a post-racial environment online, a space “beyond” real-world concerns such as racism and discrimination.

Rust comment

Rust comment

Rust comment

These commenters are employing a rhetorical tactic that fantasy writer Rachel M. Brown calls “the invocation of strangely colored people,” an argument gamers use to “emphasize just how much they don’t care about race.”

Of course, in trying to prove just how “colorblind” they are by making reference to these fantasy skin colors, these gamers conveniently opt out of real-world discussions of race and racism. They imply that the way to end discrimination is simply to ignore it, that the best way to pursue a post-racial virtual utopia is to erase the existence of people of color all together and to replace actual racial diversity with a rainbow of fantasy races, all of which are treated equally and none of which faced a long — and, to white gamers, potentially discomforting — history of institutional oppression.

Similar defenses include those that claim a game is plenty diverse when it features a variety of fantasy races (dwarves, elves, hobbits), all of whom are typically depicted as white, facing the evils of discrimination, as if these are an adequate substitute for actual depictions of people of color.  If the game is speaking out against racism against elves, that is just as good as speaking out against racism against black people!  In fact, the game need not even acknowledge the existence of black people after working so hard for dwarf equality and mermaid-goblin marriage!

In other words, in the case of Rust, gamers complained that the developer was ruining people’s escapist play by evoking real world issues of race.  Defenders of The Witcher 3, on the other hand, demand what they think is meticulous historical accuracy  (except when it comes to having sex on a unicorn, that is totally cool).

realism 2

realism 3

Of course, the assertion that all depictions of medieval Poland need be perfectly white to be historically accurate is itself false, but that is somewhat beside the point.

but poland

And so the #GamerGaters switch tactics.  They argue that critics of The Witcher 3 would be better off to spend their time creating diverse games of their own rather than demanding that one particular game developer alter their artistic vision to please the SJWs and the PC police.

make your own 3

make your own 4

Don’t like The Witcher 3?  Go make your own game!

Except, this wasn’t the logic employed by those complaining about the addition of people of color to Rust.  Why were these gamers so reluctant to support Garry Newman’s vision for his own game?  If they didn’t like Rust, then shouldn’t they stop complaining and go make their own game the way they want?  Especially when the game is in the Early Access phase, meaning that those who purchased it knew that it was under development and subject to change and experimentation.

In other words, the issue is not that gamers are defending The Witcher 3.  I actually find myself somewhat sympathetic to those who argue that it is unfair to single out this one particular game from amongst many, considering that it is an adaptation of an existing work.

The issue is that #GamerGate supporters/hijackers/trolls are so willing to completely reverse course in the arguments they make in order to defend and protect white male dominance in gaming culture.  They are not arguing in favor of any particular philosophical vision of what gaming is or should be.  Rather, they are simply employing any and all available tactics (even those that are, upon further examination, mutually exclusive) to ensure that the opinions, concerns, and complaints of anyone who doesn’t look like them go unheeded.

*Rejected titles for this post include:

#GamesSoWhite I Gotta Wear Shades

Birth of a Hashtag: #GamesSoWhite

One thought on “#GamesSoWhite: Tales of “Historical” Fantasy and Entitlement

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