Is Racism Institutionalized In Video Games?


Posted July 16, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Preview

Since I've already discussed homophobia in video games this morning, I thought I'd continue the social criticism with a look at racism in games. The Houston Chronicle's game blog recently brought up the subject with a post about the moral aspects of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood.

See, the protagonist in COJ is a Confederate solider during the Civil War trying to rescue his brother from those damn Yankees, so of course along the way, much Union blood must be shed in the name of the South. Playing the game means inhabiting the persona of a rebel during the Civil War, and this gives some people pause.

The Chronicle's blogger suggests Ubisoft might have allowed players to have a choice between the union or the Confederate, so you wouldn't be "forced" into killing other characters for the crime of being a member of the army that freed the slaves. Here's how it was put:

"Shooting Union soldiers really just made me pause the game and walk away for a few minutes. As a minority, had the South won, I wouldn't be in this position I am today. They were content to keep things the way they were -- no need to free their slave labor, no need to give minorities the right to vote. It wasn't until the 1960s -- and the threat of military force -- that the Old South buckled and let blacks vote -- a hundred years after the end of the Civil War."

It's easy to think something like, "Hey, lighten up! It's just a game!" but imagine for a moment, a video game that had players to take on the role of a Nazi tank commander blitzing through Poland in 1939. Obviously, that game wouldn't ever be made -- Nazis are for shooting, not being heroes -- so why is it okay to lionize the Confederate army during the American Civil war?

The Houston Chronicle's blog also mentions the similarity in imagery between Valve's upcoming Left 4 Dead 2 and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Setting the game in New Orleans so shortly after the deadly storm seems a strange decision. After all, it was only a few years ago that the city was decimated, and there actually were corpses moldering in the streets. Sure, a zombie invasion is different than a killer storm, but the point is the visuals might be disturbing to people who actually suffered through that tragedy.

I think gamers are often pretty cavalier about racism and homophobia in games... but it's generally white, straight people who exemplify the "It's only a game! Get over it!" attitude. It's easy to dismiss racism (or borderline racism) when it's not directed at you specifically. It reminds me of telling someone you just insulted, "Ah, you should have more of a sense of humor when I'm making fun of you."


Is Racism Institutionalized In Video Games?


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