Missing Polygons: Asians, Race, and Video Games

I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember. From my dad giving me four quarters — and no more than that — to spend at a video game arcade, to sleepovers at friends to play Atari 2600, to playing text-based adventure games on the Apple IIe, to helping my friend defeat shadow Link, to Doom to Half Life 2 to Knights of the Old Republic to Plants vs. Zombies to the Last of Us… OK, you get the idea. And for most of my early years, I had no problem that, in roughly 99% of the games I played, the protagonist was either a white male or a white elf or a white looking quasi-human.

It didn’t matter to me because it was drilled into my head that being white was the norm. Which is a bit weird because the neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly working class and poor people of color and American Indian. It wasn’t like I was trying to be like everyone around me (that came later), it was like being white was an escape. Escape from where I was, escape from people of all colors blaming families like mine for the Vietnam war, escape from a rainbow of bullies chasing me and calling me chink. And video games are in many ways the ultimate escape. Even more than films or books, you can get lost in lovingly rendered worlds and realities. You can effect a positive outcome and become a great hero or villain if you work hard and you don’t quit. But you better be OK with playing a white man, because you often won’t have a choice.

Continue reading “Missing Polygons: Asians, Race, and Video Games”

Grumpy Vietnamese Guy’s Favorite Video Games of 2013

Needing quarters to take the bus to work, my dad would take me along with him to Thompson’s Arcade to use the change machine. Located on Minnehaha and Lake, it was a dim, small, rectangular room owned by Christians. My dad would slide his dollar bills into the change machine, collect the majority of coins for his bus rides, then hand me two to four quarters to spend on games. Once in a while, some stranger would ask me my ethnicity, then hand me an educational comic in the Vietnamese language about Jesus and sins and what have you. I would politely accept the pamphlet, then go back to shooting demons or jumping over throwing stars.

Fast forward maybe three decades, and we’re here at my grumpy Vietnamese guy’s favorite video games of 2013. This is of course highly subjective, so please — don’t give me any “why isn’t Bioshock Infinite on your list?” (For the record, I played it, and I didn’t like it all that much). I’m a father with a full time job and an arts career to manage, so my play time is sporadic and short. I don’t play online multiplayer at all. My main rubrics were: how many times did I play through? How immersed was I in the game world? How much fun did I have? How did I feel about the characters? How is the overall design of the game and the experience?

And I’m not justifying problematic elements found in these games — I play to get immersed in different worlds, and I usually play one game at a time obsessively until I get bored or frustrated — which means playing games tend to be long slogs for me. I don’t remember 100% everything that happened in each one. And there are slight spoilers found herein.

These are in no particular order.

Continue reading “Grumpy Vietnamese Guy’s Favorite Video Games of 2013”

GTA V and Hating the Things I Love

As nerds of colour, we’re all too familiar with the conundrum: what do we do when our geeky fare is both awesome and offensive at the same time?

It’s a problem born of the simple fact that the creative teams behind some of our favourite nerd  media — comic books, video games, board games, and movies — tend to be overwhelmingly White and male, fostering a sort of nerd-bro culture that too often gets the voices and narratives of women and people of colour horribly wrong (an issue well-discussed on last week’s epic Hard NOC Life podcast episode featuring industry insiders Larry Hama and Joe Illidge). Often, the arguably racist or sexist mistreatments of non-White, non-male characters — while offensive — is a symptom of a much larger weakness in a comic’s creative team, resulting in a book that can be easily dismissed as universally bad. Take, for example, the much-anticipated upcoming Mighty Avengers book, which Illidge predicted in last week’s podcast was unlikely to succeed due to both racial as well as creative problems. On the flip side, a book like Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese gets things right on all counts: it is on the one hand both well-written and well-illustrated, and on the other hand a compelling exploration of the Asian American identity.

In short, things are easy when the politics of a book also fit the overall quality of a book.

But, what happens when a favourite comic book or video game is both incredibly good, and pretty racist? Or, vice versa, how are we supposed to react when the politics of a book are compelling, but the execution leaves something to be desired?

Put another way, what happens when we find our identities as Nerds and People of Colour at odds?

This conundrum was brought to a head for me this past week when J. Lamb and I snatched up our copy of Grand Theft Auto V.

Continue reading GTA V and Hating the Things I Love”

Whore of the Orient Video Game Slammed for Anti-Asian Racism

(H/T Asian American News)

Team Bondi, the Australian-based maker of the popular 3rd person shooter L.A. Noire that was distributed in the U.S. by videogame behemoth Rockstar Games, is in hot water over an upcoming video game currently in development. The game, which is a collaboration with filmmaker George Miller (an animated film director responsible for such works as Happy Feet 2), is titled “Whore of the Orient” and is set in 1930s Shanghai.

Continue reading Whore of the Orient Video Game Slammed for Anti-Asian Racism”