Eidos Montreal Isn't Racist, You Are

By Adam Ma on September 2, 2011, 4:08PM EDT
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I'm always amazed whenever I come across a new bit of gaming buzz that contains words like 'racist,' 'sexist,' or 'stereotype.' Accusations are flung at games or developers in an attempt to shame them for creating a character that is somehow offensive to a particular group of people; all for the purpose of simply getting the developer/publisher to admit they were wrong, that they couldn't possibly understand the years of tragedy and hardship that underlined their own personal life (or cultural history), and that for their wrongdoing they will somehow atone. Yet somehow it's always pretty convenient when these nameless offended masses decide to speak up. Typical of most 'offended' people the time to speak isn't always appropriate for every single scenario out there, just the ones that they can make the most fuss about with at little effort as possible.

So now we're looking at Letitia the Trash Lady from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a black woman who appears to talk with a bit of an accent that apparently harkens back to the slave trade that our ancestors so shamefully participated in. Let's bypass the fact that Human Revolution happens to span all over the globe featuring characters from a fairly wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, and that there are plenty of characters in the game that represent such a diverse racial spread (including the one that Letitia falls under). Why is it that Letitia is picked out here where there are far clearer signs that Eidos Montreal is fully inhabited by closed-minded bigots.

Where are the activists protesting against the Chinese voice actors that deliver their lines as though they were auditioning for a 1980s Jackie Chan film, or what about the feminists who should be jumping out, foaming at the mouths over the in-game e-mails that female office workers generate that cast a light on workplace romance, dressing provocatively for male attention, or seeing fellow male coworkers as eye candy? How come all of the men in game dress like they're either from The Matrix or Ghost in the Shell, but all of the females look like Victorian age future-sluts? I don't see anyone standing up for the police officers in Deus Ex that range from inexperienced, naïve rookies to the corrupt and hateful loners that would throw any of their companions under the bus. The fact of the matter is that most people don't care about racism until there's an easy target for it, and Letitia is apparently the easiest target to pick apart instead of looking at the big picture. Human Revolution is a game that is filled with the stereotypes that often times drive our mainstream media, but that is largely the point.

Any game that tries to craft a world in a 'sandbox' fashion is putting itself out there on the chopping block for those to claim the title is racist, sexist, or ignorant in some fashion. But where are these same game critics for other genres? How is Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII less of a stereotype than Letitia considering he's a black man with an afro who talks like an old-school homeboy, and why does no one bat an eye at FPS games that highlight Russians or South Asian enemies that often times fill the roles of generic terrorists looking to destabilize the heroic Western forces. Open-world portions of any game are naturally more susceptible to criticism because we're doing more than just taking a character along a relatively predetermined path, we're forcing ourselves to understand the world that they live in and what it means to navigate it. For most it means appreciating a fictional paradise. For others, it means occasionally coming across something that they don't agree with and treating it like a personal attack. If we, as a culture, spent more time focusing on what point Eidos is trying to make with a character like Letitia and what role she has to flesh out in the fairly dynamic future setting that Human Revolution is attempting to present perhaps we wouldn't be pointing fingers and calling developers racist.

Critics of Letitia's ask why she couldn't just have a 'normal voice', but I wonder then who would that even satisfy or if they could define what a normal voice even is. I would hate to live in a world where every single character sounded the same or similar, the same way that I would hate to play a game just as narrow minded. The truth of the matter is that we live in a world where people like Letitia still exist, where Chinese men and women speak English with heavy (and sometimes silly) accents, and where some extremely creepy white men try to dress up like they're from The Matrix despite my urgings that neither the red pill or the blue pill are anywhere near their local comic shop. Letitia as a character is no less racist than the rest of the entertainment industry's most brilliant work, and while society as a whole has a long way to go when it comes to breaking down the barriers that tend to guide our gaming world today, it's continually and consistently making some impressive strides in the right direction. Edios Montreal is very much a part of that development, and for that neither they nor Square Enix have anything to apologize for.

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