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Author Topic: GTD: Minority characters in adventure games  (Read 16472 times)

GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« on: 22 Aug 2003, 15:40 »
Game Design Theory Discussion: Minority characters in adventure games.

Warning: This article contains storyline spoilers for a number of early-to-mid nineties Sierra games.

First of all, let me apologize for the lateness of this post – it hadn't expected to have to come up with something at such short notice. Also, I apologize for the longish post. I tend to ramble on when I find a subject interesting. If it bores you, just skip down to the final passages :) I'm not very happy with how it turned out. At some other time I might rewrite it into an article or two.

Remember the old watchman raking leaves at the New Orleans cemetery in Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers? You could question him, but he would never give you any important information. In fact you had no reason to interact with him at all, he wasn't even part of a puzzle. Apparently he was just there to add atmosphere. Or could it be that Jane Jensen added him to have ONE black person who wasn't more or less dodgy? Every other black character was either part of the voodoo cult or, as was the case with the shopkeeper, obviously knew more about the murders than they pretended to.

Boyz N the Hood
LucasArt also had several over-the-top ethnic stereotypes in their games – the African tribesmen in Zak McKracken and almost everyone in the Monkey Island games –  but somehow this seemed easier to accept within the realm of comedy (satire, even), and, I must add, in far away locations like Zaire and the 17th century Caribbean. But the Sierra games of the nineties were often set in modern day urban locations and were full of racial prejudice. In Police Quest 3, your Hispanic detective partner turned out to be crooked; not only stealing drugs from the evidence lockup, but also involved with the satanic cult behind a number of serial killings. In Police Quest 4, the first in the series to be located in LA rather than the fictional Lytton, nearly all the suspects were black, from the gang members in South Central (“This be my ‘hood. I be Raymond Jones da third”) to the rap-star in Beverly Hills. Maybe not so surprising coming from the man who was LAPD police chief during the Rodney King beating and the following riots. (In an even less surprising plot twist, the real killer turns out to be a white man, but not just any white male: a transvestite in the Norman Bates tradition, (cross-)dressed to kill, obviously inspired by the transsexual psychopath in Silence of the Lambs.)
Of course there are other, if not positive, then at least neutral, representations of black people like Captain Hall in PQ2, but for the life of me, I can't remember a single black player character in an adventure game (Maniac Mansion doesn't really count, because it had multiple player characters, and Dave still was the main one). And while a number of Asian player characters (still in games with multiple player characters) have popped up, it has often been in subservient roles – the ninja sidekick in Heart of China, and Grace who does the research that Gabriel can't be bothered with.

(It should be noted that while many kids' games such as Mixed-Up Mother Goose allow the player to choose non-white characters, the intention here is for the child to choose an avatar similar to him or herself.)

Visibility
This week's topic was inspired by two things, starting with, something rodekill said in a recent post: ”I actually made Earwig as an experiment. First I wanted to see if anyone would point out the fact that he wasn't a white kid (No one did, and most people I asked later said they didn't even notice).” On the same day I read that thread, I attended the Copenhagen gay pride parade. And while watching all the stereotypes go by – the dykes on bikes, leather men, drag queens, and tanned young men dancing suggestively in nothing but their briefs – I thought about rodekill's remark. Obviously, the psychotic and ultra-violent Earwig isn't a positive black role model, but at least he was one of the first black player characters. And in the same way, while these “freaks” cemented a number of gay stereotypes, they were at least visible and made it clear that there is a significant gay community, because unlike racial difference, sexual orientation isn't immediately obvious.

“Not that there's anything wrong with that”
The Leisure Suit Larry series was as homophobic as it was sexist, and its representations of gays as stereotypical as its women. In LSL3, Larry's wife Kalalau left him for an “Amazonian Harley-riding former-cannibal lesbian slot-machine repairwoman” (interestingly, the parser actually accepts “dyke” but not the less offensive “lesbian” as a synonym when looking at or talking to Kalalau!). And in LSL6, clicking the zipper cursor (that alone says it all, doesn't it?) on Gary Fairy, the lisping towel attendant led to a classic Sierra-style “death”-screen with Larry and Gary walking off into the sunset, hand in hand.
I suppose that's to be expected from the adolescent mind of Al Lowe, but even the more mature Sierra games are less than friendly in their portrayal of gays. Bruno, the florist who buys Gabe's father's painting in GK1, is a bitchy queen complete with ponytail, pink tank top and mincing walk. Jean, the effeminate concierge in GK3 was rather harmless. Nevertheless, Jane Jensen found it necessary to let Grace remark that she couldn't imagine what Jean did in the evening, and in fact, she'd rather not try. A comment that would seem more fitting for macho Gabriel.
Fags are easy to make visible through stereotype, but lesbians are more difficult. While the least bit of femininity in a man is a sure sign, masculine qualities in women are often seen as spunk. There's a fine line between tomboys and dykes, and while Maureen in Full Throttle belongs to the former, her female biker buddies would be welcome in any gay parade. Maybe for the same reason, gay women are often portrayed in couples. Semi-closeted lesbian couples – a mainstay of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries it seems – pop up once in a while, in The Last Express and in GK3, where butch Estelle and Lady Howard, as Gabriel remarks while searching their room, “traded a room with two beds for a room with one.” “Not that there's anything wrong with that!” he adds, echoing the classic Seinfeld line.

Stereotyping
The problem with stereotypes isn't that they are necessarily wrong. As any pride parade shows, these people DO exist, just as there are black criminals in the rough parts of LA. But they also tend to turn members of these groups into types rather than individuals – as if being gay or being black defines a person in all other aspects as well. But in the case of homosexuality, they are often the only way to reveal the person's sexual orientation without being very outspoken, like April's sex-obsessed landlord Fiona in TLJ, or the flapper in the bathroom of the speakeasy in The Dagger of Amon Ra (“I have a cramp in my leg. Could ya massage it for me, honey?”).
Stereotype is used as shorthand to convey something that isn't immediately perceivable. In many ways it's these stereotypes that allow us to read characters as gay, without it actually being said. For all we know, Bruno the florist and Jean the concierge could be as straight as Gabe, but we automatically perceive their mannerisms as “gay”. Apparently, gay relationships is a touchy subject in the US - the logic being that homosexuality must somehow involve sex (while straight relationships doesn't?), and that's not something American kids should know about. The fact that you could have same-sex couples in The Sims bumped the rating from suitable for everyone to suitable for teen gamers. And The Longest Journey had difficulty finding a US distributor, in part because of the openly lesbian character.
The only games that really have managed any real kind of homoeroticism have been horror games such as GK2 and Phantasmagoria 2, which already have high ratings for gore. “Nothing is too controversial for Phantasmagoria”, Ken Williams once remarked, and apparently that included homosexuality as well. Although Trevor, Curtis the player character's best friend, was certainly a classic fag, he was also one of the most likeable and least kinky characters in a universe of mental illness and kinky S/M. Curtis own bisexuality was more portrayed in a more disturbing fashion: “As an alien creature, he is neither male nor female, and is attracted to both sexes”, designer Lorelei Shannon says. And when Curtis asks his psychiatrist if his bisexuality might be the result of his mother's forcing him to crossdress as a child, she agrees. It seems designers are more comfortable with well-defined gay characters (around the same time gay-best-friend characters started appearing in almost any romantic comedy) than more fluid sexual identities. Von Glower in GK2 was sexy but also frightening, the classic fluid (in more ways than one) sexuality, often labelled homoeroticism, of the vampire story transposed to another monster: Von Glower is, more or less, Anne Rice's Lestat as a werewolf.

Edit: Not surprisingly the post turned out to be too long, so I cut it in two. The rest follows below
« Last Edit: 22 Aug 2003, 15:46 by GarageGothic »

GTD: Minority characters in adventure games pt. 2
« Reply #1 on: 22 Aug 2003, 15:43 »
Minority characters in adventure games pt. 2

Implementing difference in game design
What does any of this have to do with game design? Well, first of all, as with any other media, it DOES make a difference how you represent reality. Movies, literature, television, and computer games, they all affect our way of perceiving the world around us. If fiction keeps on showing the same images of that, which we might not be too familiar with, we build our opinions on those faulty representations. One of Michael Moore's main points in his anti-gun documentary, Bowling for Columbine, is that television establish a culture of fear, by portraying blacks as the threatening “other” in cop shows and on the news. Breaking negative stereotypes, and offering positive visibility, is always a good thing, in any media.
Secondly, as adventure games are growing more mature – one of the few positive side effects of the marginalization of the genre – they are bound to deal with themes closer to our lives than the fairy tale worlds of King's Quest. Looking at some of the AGS games currently in production (and an already released one like Dada: Stagnation in Blue), it's obvious that as we have grown up, so have our beloved adventure games. But in dealing with mature themes, it's important that we don't repeat the old stereotypes, which Hollywood has only started getting rid of in the last decade or so, and which the game industry are still using in their simplified versions of the real world.
But more importantly than any of that, dealing with minority characters (and other taboo topics for that matter) can renew and enrich our genre and open up for brand new game situations and issues. Of course I'm writing of more serious and story- and character-based games here. If you want to do another Monkey Island or Sam & Max, you might not want to get involved with issues of race, gender and sexuality. An example: The movie Devil in a Blue Dress has a pretty standard film noir plot, but there's a difference, the main character is a black detective, and the conflict he encounters during his investigations expose the bigotry and racism of the 1940's, turning it into a far more interesting story. The same is true of a movie like The Crying Game, where an IRA member falls in love with the girlfriend of a soldier he's killed. Pretty ho-hum storyline – except – she turns out to be a pre-op transsexual, which means he'll have to confront his own homophobia, a conflict paralleled to his political doubts. (sorry if my descriptions are inaccurate, it's been years since I saw those films).

Identification and minority player characters
While designing my game, it suddenly occurred to me, that I was writing a story set in Los Angeles, a city where less than half the population are white, and I didn't have a single black or Latino character in the game! So when creating a new location, a museum of optical illusion, I wrote the curator of the museum as a black man. Is this being overly political correct? Do such considerations turn an otherwise well developed and interesting character, into “the token black person”? It's easy to plant minority characters in minor roles (as the GK watchman example shows), out of political correctness or whatever. But for them to really add something to the game, they must be written as part of the plot, and nobody is more important to the game story than the player character. What is it with minorities and adventure games? Why aren't there any minority player characters? Is it the old issue of identification: that most gamers are white heterosexuals, and designers don't think they can identify with a character of another ethnicity or sexual orientation? The same seemed to be true of gender for many years, but these days female player characters are becoming the norm. Aren't adventure role playing in its truest form: taking on the identity and personality of someone else, someone much different from you, and letting yourself be transported into a fictional world? Is it possible to trick people into accepting this identification?
With a non-white player character, the player encounter this fact the minute the character appears on the screen, and either choose to accept it, not accept it or not notice it (as in the example of Earwig). The latter may be preferable, unless you are using race as a theme in the game – in that case you might want to establish racial issues in the in-game society in a scene early in the game. Of course, in games with all black (let's say a spin-off game with the tribal warriors from QFG3) or all Asian (any Hentai game, really, although they are drawn with “European” features) game world, there is no issue. But let's, for now, consider the though of a gay player character, something that isn't immediately obvious. Imagine these two examples:

1) You're playing a Police Quest-like game. The game starts with the morning briefing at the station. You go through a day full of exciting incidents, making arrests, investigating crime scenes, all the usual stuff. At the end of the day, you return to your house and discover that your character shares his home and bed with a same-sex lover. Would you be surprised? Would you feel misled? Would it make a difference for your identification with the character for the rest of the game?

2) I've always admired the Quest for Glory series for its multiple paths, and puzzles that suited all tastes. If you didn't want to fight, you could sneak your way past, or dazzle the enemy with a spell – defining the personality of your character in the process (it somewhat limits the game that you can't choose a female character, but I think the need for huge amounts of extra animation explains that). In Quest for Glory V you could choose between four women to court and finally marry. What if the options were expanded slightly to include a male character? Maybe that buff sword smith? Would the inclusion of that option somehow detract from the other choices? Do you think only gay players would choose that option, or would it be an additional aspect of playing a role?

What is the better approach of these two, if any? Making the player comfortable, making him identify with the character, and then springing the surprise. Or letting him choose his own orientation by his actions (in this example the “default setting” is bi rather than straight – why are all characters to be considered straight until proven otherwise?)

This is getting embarassing. Is there an award for the longest post ever? Anyway, on to part 3!
« Last Edit: 22 Aug 2003, 15:45 by GarageGothic »

GTD: Minority characters in adventure games pt. 3
« Reply #2 on: 22 Aug 2003, 15:44 »
Minority characters in adventure games pt. 3

From my own point of view as a designer
I've gone for a slightly subtler version of the first example. Dinah Burroughs, the player character in Shadowplay, my game-in-production, is written as gay. It's mentioned a couple of times during the game, but the idea is for the player to just pick up on it from details, a long time before it's actually spoken. Certain posters on her walls, her way of dress, her hairstyle, the way she approaches people of each gender. It should feel natural that she falls in love with the nice woman next door, perfectly in tune with her personality.
The things I've been most worried about are 1) turning her into a stereotype 2) being overly political correct, and 3) making lesbianism a male turn-on. And, not surprisingly, all these things are in conflict with eachother. She can't be a butch stereotype, but on the other hand she can't be too feminine to avoid being too attractive to straight men, like something out of Basic Instinct or Bound. And still I have to take into consideration that my choices aren't made out of political correctness, but what's good for the game. Very frustrating.
I was pretty enraged when I read that the player character in Razbor Studios' Legacy: Dark Shadows is the victim of a rape which “made her a man-hater and influenced her sexual preferences.” Not that this isn't a perfectly valid characterization, which could probably be the basis for a very interesting character. But what annoyed me was that the stereotype of lesbians as man haters, and the idea that “something must have happened” to make them prefer women over men (by this train of thought, lesbians aren't defined by their relationships with women but by their lack of relationships with men), is probably the oldest one in the book, and one we've finally killed off, or so I thought. But after rethinking it, it's obvious that one lesbian doesn't represent all lesbians, she is an individual with her own back-story, and somehow I must respect that. I still think they're going to exploit her lesbianism into soft-core eroticism, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

The problem with stereotypes is that you group people together, without respecting them as individuals. The problem with political correctness is that it doesn't allow for too much individuality either. My character's lesbianism and her own issues with it are used as motivation for her introvert lifestyle and play an important part of her background story. As well as in her relationships with others. Is it alright to have a somewhat mentally unstable and insecure gay character, or a black master villain (or Italian Mafiosi, or sadistic Vietnamese prison camp guards, or angry Scottish groundskeepers and on and on and on). Or should we allow political correctness to limit our storytelling?

My view is this: Yes, it's alright, and yes, you can use anything, even though it's a stereotype. But ONLY if you do it for a reason, only if it's needed to make a point, not if you're doing it out of laziness, because it's how things have always been done (this goes the other way too, not all old Chinese men are wise. Maybe you should rethink that character, if nothing else for the sake of originality). Don't let yourself be ruled by political correctness, but don't let yourself be ruled by preconceived ideas based on other people's representations. Look at the world, do research, talk to people, base your ideas and opinions on your own perception of the real world, not just the media.

That's it. Certainly not an example to be followed by future discussion hosts. I wonder if anyone actually reads all this through. I somehow hope they won't :) -GG
« Last Edit: 22 Aug 2003, 15:53 by GarageGothic »

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #3 on: 22 Aug 2003, 19:19 »
Excellent stuff. It'll probably need some kind of over-arching organization to be a really great article. But onto discussion.

It's important to see how games are part of and separate from the rest of media. You mention Phantasmagoria 2 containing homosexuality about the time romantic comedies had the stereotypical gay friend. What was the last film you saw or book you read that *starred* a racial or sexual minority? That said, games are, at least in America, still treated as a children's play thing by many. The same thing has been happening with comic books and animation; these have been struggling out of "for kid" restrictions for some time, and seem to be making some headway. So there is hope for games. In fact with the media treating games as adult because of puerile crap like BMX XXX and, I think, GTA3, games are probably making it out of there faster than other new media.

Sensible minority representation doesn't make it into video games because the designers don't put any into their games. There's probably two reasons:

1)The audience. When making a video game, especially a game with enough character development to even think about mentioning/suggesting sexuality, you already have a small audience. The risk of alienating your audience is just too much for a designer with a limited potential audience to begin with.

2)The designer. It seems like most designers are white upper-middle class heterosexual males. A significant portion of white upper-middle class heterosexual males have little experience with anyone other than white upper-middle class heterosexual males. Why write what you don't know? If you write what you don't know, you usually end up coughing up some hackneyed stereotype or anti-stereotype from some other medium.

The important thing for us to realize is that in many ways a character being a minority doesn't matter at all. I can't imagine anyone would treat the Longest Journey differently if April was asian. It would just mean that non-asian players would see the main character as a little different from them, something I'm assuming non-white players have been doing for some time.

If games all boasted a full cast of minority characters, then they would be inaccurate. If minority characters' racial or sexual condition did not come into the foreground or affect a lot of their actions, that would be inaccurate as well; we'd have a lot of diverse characters behaving exactly like white upper-middle class heterosexual males. If we have characters whose minority status comes into play as a major plot device, we run the risk of alienating non-minorities, who seem to do the most of the playing. We also run the risk of being seen as telling a story which applies to an entire minority group instead of a particular character or characters.

It seems like minorities of any kind are risky to talk about, unless by means already established as safe by other forms of media. If you're risking a lot with a game already, it seems easiest to leave that alone.

The argument could be made that almost the entire cast of Grim Fandango is hispanic. Just, you know, hispanic skeletons.

All that to say as a white upper-middle class heterosexual male, it's hard for me to think I have anything worth saying about minorities, especially about those with whom I have had very little contact. I have never, to my knowledge, known a lesbian. I, therefore, don't really think about lesbians at all. So, when it comes time for me to write anything, including video games, lesbians just really aren't going to make it in there. I, as a human, feel angered by the marginalization and, I think, misrepresentation of other humans. So maybe that would cause me to write something including such characters, but that would probably only occur if I had personally had enough contact with someone that I cared about a specific person who could be called part of that minority.

Well, I won't be around for a while to respond to anything, I've got to ship my computer to my university.

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #4 on: 23 Aug 2003, 00:38 »
in every single hentai game i've ever played, that main character was a young asian male.  whether of not these are classsifed as "adventure" is up for debate.  is it wrong for japanese game companies not to make the hero charater a black male?  hell no!

you've got white males making sierra and lucasarts games, and you've got japanese males making otaku, csware and jast games.  just because there aren't any african adventure game companies is no reason for every other company to try to accomdate increased racial diversity in their games.

btw in heart of china the "chinese sidekick"  was potrayed much better than the "hero"  not only that, but you could play as him, many times his skills being neccesary in order to win the game!
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #5 on: 23 Aug 2003, 00:50 »
I once remember a letter in an old issue of ST Format asking why there were no major black characters in Monkey Island, even though it's set in the Caribbean.

The magazine replied with the example of The Swordmaster -- Not only was she black, but a woman, and thus a good example of a minority character in a major adventure game role.

So, what do you all think of The Swordmster?
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #6 on: 23 Aug 2003, 01:23 »
It's funny too, because she was based on a worker in LEC (higher up the pecking order than the artists) called Carla.
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #7 on: 23 Aug 2003, 01:37 »
I could be wrong but I think most pirates are european, so a game about pirates would most likely have the majority of the characters white. And so I guess only the "natives" would be black. Actually, since I'm not very good with dates I'm not really sure, but Monkey Island may have taken place in the same time period as when slave trade started in the West Indies, so there would be few blacks, and most would be slaves. I'm also assuming that blacks came to the Caribbean through slave trade, but that could be wrong also. I guess history's not my forte. :)

Also the Voodoo lady is black, and more of a major character since she's in the other games also. But she's also a huge stereotype, whereas the Swordmaster isn't at all really.

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #8 on: 23 Aug 2003, 01:54 »
It's funny too, because she was based on a worker in LEC (higher up the pecking order than the artists) called Carla.

And the original close up design of Elaine was based on Avril Harrison, another LEC artist. But that's off topic.

I feel that games with more diverse character designs that go beyond stereotypes are much more interesting. Look at Quest for Glory 3. Almost every human character besides the player character was black, because the entire game world was based on Africa and I think they did a good job of avoiding stereotyping beyond the obvious cultural similarities. I think on a whole, QFG is a series that, because of the game worlds, involves a lot of good minority characters. I  think that might be why it's one of my favorite series.
« Last Edit: 23 Aug 2003, 01:55 by Pestilence »
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #9 on: 23 Aug 2003, 05:45 »
interesting GG.

One thing that keeps popping into my head is a quote from Capt. Mostly, something like "I always thought of Richard Longhurst as gay." or something

I think this brings up an important point also. Maybe that one black curator in the GK game was also gay. From the few boards of Hitman I played I figured that he was gay. Does this matter at all to the gameplay? Not at all. [and since apparently the character from GK was pointless to the plot anyway, he's even less important] Does the sexuality of the main character matter at all? Unless it's needed for the plot or the puzzles then no not at all.

Police Quest 1, you pull that busty lady over and she tries to get out of a ticket by flashing her tits and getting all up in your business. If I were a gay male playing Officer Sonny Bonds and i came across this lady trying to boob her way out of a ticket i'd not accept it. If I were a heterosexual male playing, the same. If I were a lesbian playing, the same.

Now if I were either one of those sexual preferences AND a BAD cop then we have a problem. This woman in the game sees you as a man and assumes you are straight and tries to use some cleavage to not get a ticket. It's up to the player, who MUST assume the identity of the ego, to decide what to do. Now since it's a seirra game the identity is left pretty open, but you are restricted by 2 things, police code and that he is male.

I'm sorry if that was confusing, i'm better at public speaking

I noticed that earwig was black and it didn't effect me anymore than it should have. Personally I really hate it when I notice the gender or race of a character. I mean when my mind says "Wow! The main character is black! How interesting." Which of course is more than likely cause there are so few "minority" characters.

As a designer I personally can't wait to make a game and have my female characters wearing clothes, or a long sleeve shirt, or GASP pants!! Not that I'm going to go out of my way to do it, I just don't want tits and ass falling out all over the place. The same reason people shouldn't go out of their way to include or disclude [is that a word?] anything out of guilt or shame.

fleh i feel a fool cause i don't think i'm being very clear in what i mean. i think i was just overwhelmed with your 30 page post. and i had a final point but it's outta here... goddammit

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #10 on: 23 Aug 2003, 10:17 »
I don't have much time, so while it's not good etiquette in these discussion, I'll just fire off a few unrelated replies:

Quote
fleh i feel a fool cause i don't think i'm being very clear in what i mean. i think i was just overwhelmed with your 30 page post. and i had a final point but it's outta here... goddammit

That's the same way I felt after writing it. I knew I had a point, but I plain forgot it.

Quote
From the few boards of Hitman I played I figured that he was gay. Does this matter at all to the gameplay? Not at all.

Ah, no, it doesnt matter to gameplay, but does it matter to story and character development? Certainly. Of course Hitman hasn't much of a storyline, most of it is built on cliches, but one of the cliches the game DOESN'T contain is that of a love interest. If he did indeed get romantically involved with that girl from Lee Hong's brothel, one of the later levels would most likely consist of rescuing her from some evil-doer.

Adventure games are so much more than just gameplay. And story and characters are it's most important elements. Who cares about the puzzles if you don't care about the characters?

(For the record, I never imagined Hitman as gay, I just figured that the clones were asexual - you don't really want a genetically modified killing machine to get personally involved, do you?)

Quote
Does the sexuality of the main character matter at all? Unless it's needed for the plot or the puzzles then no not at all.

Does it matter for the plot and puzzles Sam & Max (better not get into THEIR relationship :)) that the main characters are a dog and a rabbit? Not really, but it sure as hell define them as characters. I think the issue here is to get rid of the assumption that everybody is straight until proven otherwise. Not to speak of the whole gender thing, that straight males are expected to find any attractive, available woman intersting. I can't even count the the number of games where I've played through romantic subplots with total disinterest because of the dull female characters (GTA3 being the worst recent example).

Quote
Look at Quest for Glory 3. Almost every human character besides the player character was black, because the entire game world was based on Africa and I think they did a good job of avoiding stereotyping beyond the obvious cultural similarities. I think on a whole, QFG is a series that, because of the game worlds, involves a lot of good minority characters. I think that might be why it's one of my favorite series.

I always found it interesting that the Hero was always the outsider. Wherever he came he had to prove himself to be accepted. And I think that's a pretty good point in this whole discussion. That the "minority" actually was the majority culture in each of the games (although there were a few foreigners stuck in Spielburg).

Quote
The magazine replied with the example of The Swordmaster -- Not only was she black, but a woman, and thus a good example of a minority character in a major adventure game role.

I never even noticed that she was black, which I suppose is a really good thing. I remember that she wore green though, for some reason. But it shows that she was so well developed that you didn't consider visual characteristics.

Quote
btw in heart of china the "chinese sidekick" was potrayed much better than the "hero" not only that, but you could play as him, many times his skills being neccesary in order to win the game!

I agree. And I think that the character switch  made the female love interest much more compelling as well. However, the kung fu fighting chinese servant IS a pretty old stereotype, straight out of The Green Hornet (Bruce Lee played his sidekick at one point). But maybe that's what they were going for - the game seems very much inspired by 1930's adventure serials. I think The Pink Panther movies also play on this stereotype in the relationship between Clouseau and Kato.

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What was the last film you saw or book you read that *starred* a racial or sexual minority?

Exactly. Unless a movie is ABOUT being gay (often "coming out" movies such as In & Out) or about racial issues (like the aforementioned Devil in a Blue Dress). Nobody ever HAPPENS to be black or gay or whatever. It always plays a role somehow. I've heard good things about Willem Dafoe's character in The Boondock Saints, but I haven't seen it yet - and I don't think he's the actual star.

Sorry if this whole discussion got pretty disorganized. I hope future hosts take note and limit their topics further.

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #11 on: 24 Aug 2003, 09:12 »
Like it's been said before, it'd be daring indeed to make something so openly different due to the general response, but although our (or my) tendency is to wonder, "Oh, what the hell, it's something completely new and deserves seeing the light of the sun, and anyway society sould be prepared to handle it without any qualms about anyehing whatsoever", and ship it out. But the problem is, most people in the media business stick to the old tried-and-true routine because "they don't want to upset the viewer", and, sure enough, sometimes the viewer IS upset. And that's the problem. I heard an old lady saying she had detested Roberto Begnini's "Life is Beautiful", because it was a foolishness, and they were making jokes of a thing where people had died. There's just no way to please some people.
"Boys don't cry" is, I think, a grossly underrated film, and if you haven't seen it, then go to your local rental store and rent it and wonder how the hell they had the guts to do it. Then think about this - in some countries there was little or no advertising. I, in Portugal, heard about it by hearsay.
However, "Boys on the Side" portrays Whoopi Goldberg as a black lesbian, but it was alright because the film was charged with the female equivalent of Gabe and Von Glower's relationship in GK2.

Some earlier post said something about then passion being gone from adventure games. I agree. And I extend that - it's gone from all things, and when it does come up, it makes anything a bestseller, mostly because it's then "suitable". The girl in "Boys Don't Cry" is a freak, but the actress won an oscar, so let's play it with no advertising. Whoopi Goldberg is a black lesbian, but that's secondary to the bond between those women, so it's all right.
Like GG said, and I applaud him - if it's not gratuitous, have it in.
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #12 on: 24 Aug 2003, 14:02 »
I think calling Hitman gay is over-analysing the game a little -- Though anything is open to interpretation.

But speaking of gay characters, I would really like to play a game starring a similar character to Molina from Kiss of the Spider Woman (especially William Hurt's Oscar-winning portrayal in the film)-- a man who is so confident of himself that he can easily admit who he is, and challenges Valentin (and us) because of it.

One of my favourite lines from the film goes:

Molina: I understand one thing, I offer you half of my precious avocado and you throw it back in my face.

Valentin: Don't act like that! You sound just like a...

Molina: Like a what? Say it. Like a woman, you mean. What's wrong with being like a woman. Why do only woman get to be sensitive? Why not a man? Or a dog? Or a faggot?
ABRACADABRA YOUR SPELLS ARE OKAY

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #13 on: 24 Aug 2003, 14:23 »
While we're talking about Hitman (one of my favourite games), I must say I never percieved the man as gay. He's a clone, that has basically been born and raised in a laboratory, genetically modified to be a killer. He's not exactly emotional about anything, so I doubt he'd be much into sissy things like love and friendship.

Well, the sequel starts with him being all remorseful and sad, and he seems to have developed a friendship with a priest, but
Spoiler: ShowHide
 in the end, he refuses to accept the dying priest's crucifix, realizing that he's not one of God's creations. He was made for a purpose, and there's not much he can do about that (or something along those lines, only a little deeper and better written. It's been a while since I finished it :P).


A pretty unique character, I must say.
Did you know that he was originally supposed to be a wise-cracking Duke Nukem type? There are some sound-files available somewhere, where a totally different actor spouts such classics as "have a nice afterlife", "when in doubt, trust in fire power" and "oh, I'm sorry! I though you said 'Kill me!'".

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #14 on: 24 Aug 2003, 23:05 »
Another thing to avoid with creating a minority character is to put him in just to show how unique your game is. "Look, I have a gay protagonist, my game is unique and original!". A character must be gay because it's a part of its personality, of what defines it as a character, as GarageGothic said, not just to be there.

I found the example you have given (the first) very interesting. I, as a typical white hetro-sexual male consumer will be suprised, to say the least. I am not homophobic at all, but such a thing is so outside the norm that it I would not be ready and accepting regardless of the homosexuality.

However, I do disagree, at least to a certain extent about the use of black characters. Mainstream viewers, gamers, readers etc. are by now well accustomed to black characteres as pretty much anything. This was a long process, which took years, but it changed the views of society enough to put blacks as normal people, instead of stereo-types. Of course this is still done, but mostly in cheesy movies.

Same goes with other minorities. Now, home-sexuals are used mainly as sterotypes. But it too is a long way from the total homophobia of several decades ago. There is a constant shift in the views of society, and with each such a game, movie or book the use of such a character becomes more and more accepted by the general public.
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #15 on: 24 Aug 2003, 23:24 »
hehe i didn't call him gay "YOU FAG! HITMAN'S A FA--SPOOT!" ragdoll physics down the stairs

i just thought it was interesting how detested he was when that prostitute kissed him. i mean sure she's a prostitute and i wouldn't want one of them kissing me without at least some bactine but he got the hibbley jibblies over it.

not saying that a gay person would freak out if a women kissed them, but in a game where they made it a point to show his emotion towards her it just struck me as odd.

and GG, see i was arguing with you more than against it just didn't come out well. That the sexuality of a character doesn't matter at all unless puzzles or plot or character developement.

now you're saying "but that's everything!" but i think this goes against your saying "everybody is straight until proven otherwise." not once did i wonder if the police quest character was straight or gay nor did i care. The same with Malcom from Kyrandia 3. The same with Laverne or Hoagie or Bernard. Maybe it's just me but if the game doesn't give me a reason to think about the sexuality of the character then there's no reason for me to question it.

as far as grand theft auto 3 is concerned. from what i've played i could care less about the story as a whole. the plot doesn't interest me and as you say there is a love interest i can just imagine how much that won't interest me. maybe it's bad writting or the fact that they felt they didn't have the correct platform with which to add tons of story that you don't feel connected with the character.

for more examples let's look at movies, i felt for hedwig, i felt for Brandon Teena from Boy's Don't Cry, i felt for a large majority of characters from gay to straight to anthropomorphic bunnies. it's not my sexuality that would stop me from feeling for a character or, to steal from Scott McCloud, suturing into them, it would be bad writting.

and ghormak... he gets all grossed out from kissing a women but developes a friendship with a priest... and he's NOT gay?  c'mooooon!... c'mooon!!

hopefully making more sense,
eric

oh yea, i don't think people are thinking hard enough about movies where there just "happens to be a black character" Pelican Brief, saw that the other day, Denzel Washington AND a Julia Roberts, a woman, are the main characters. Seven, there's a black guy. Night of the Living Dead of all movies starred a black man AND a woman and it came out back in the crazy days! Boondock Saints, sure. And Willem is a main character and his journey is more important than his sexuality. Even terrible movies like Fifth Element had a black president who was also a terrible actor. Predator 2, Lethal Weapon, list goes on.
« Last Edit: 24 Aug 2003, 23:32 by MrColossal »
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #16 on: 25 Aug 2003, 00:21 »
Is it perhaps possible that the very discussion of this sort of topic is in fact what breeds stereotypes and racist/sexist attitudes in the first place?

Look at it this way - when a baby is born, their mind is completely clean. As they grow older, they absorb the world around them, and form opinions and prejudices based on what they see.

When I was a kid, to me everybody else was just a person. I didn't notice if they were black or white, gay or straight, whatever.

But since then, seeing films and reading articles in the media, where for instance a reviewer comments on the significance of having a black character in the film - then lead me to start thinking that people from different racial groups were different after all, and that a person's race is something that you should notice.

Another example would have to be (now call me sad) Star Trek Voyager. I used to watch it, and I just accepted the crew as who they were.

But then, a few years later, I read an article about what a risk it had been to cast a woman as the captain, and associated ramblings. And since then, I have tended to notice the gender of people in authority.

Perhaps the best way to rid the world of all these stereotypes and prejudices would be simply not to bring them to people's attention. That way, children would not be influenced by prejudice and would grow up continuing to simply see everybody else as human beings.

Now please forgive me for this overly-naive viewpoint, and do carry on ;)

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #17 on: 25 Aug 2003, 04:19 »
That was excellent reading, GG! Thanks. Also, the hypothetical example you provided is really interesting!

In my country you see a black man like once in three months.
Asians are either on tops of business or managing small fast-food bars, in both cases they keep to themselves.
Few Jews remained in Poland after WW2.
Therefore, I consider the fact that there are only white people in my game very natural.
If I introduced a black character, his/her race would be bound to SIGNIFY SOMETHING - simply because for me black skin is not transparent, as I'm not used to seeing it everyday.
I DEFINITELY would ask myself why am I making this character black, it wouldn't be a natural thing to do.

One might argue that I'm a part of the great human family and when releasing a game in english I should think global.
I don't think that's right, as I hate the fact that most people accept what is told by media - be it the racist/enlightement/progress bullshit, be it the everybody-is-similar bullshit.
I believe that your creation should be based on your own experiences - which doesn't mean that somebody cannot write about Middle Ages, it is simply that he/she must understand/have experienced the emotions he/she's writing about.

Now, some of us are taught that stereotypes are The Bad Thing. We take it in good faith... but actually is this faith justified by our experiences?
This is a dangerous, controversial question, I know: but I just want to touch a very simple, very basic notion, just for the sake of truth.
Well, my EXPERIENCE has proved that some generalisations can be made - and forgive mankind the generalisations which are not offensive, this is the way our minds work, we have to look for patterns.
Attending this year's Mittens I was surprised to notice that Englishmen are indeed much calmer and quieter than people of other nations. The Greek and The Spaniard were quite extravertic and emotional, much like is expected from southern people.

Now, take a man who meets one, two, four effeminate homosexuals. It's only natural that he will start to describe homosexual men by their effeminity. Would it be a bad thing? Does he have to ponder what they have in their minds when he meets such strong difference in basic gestures?
By my personal experience I have to say: yes, all homosexual men I've met are more feminine than most. But then, a question arises: how was I supposed to recognize non-effeminate homosexuals without checking their bedrooms?
So, how about saying: ALL HOMOSEXUAL PEOPLE WHO BEHAVE IN A FEMININE MANNER ARE EFFEMINATE. Bold statement, isn't it.

Were I to make a game with a black/gay character I would NEVER make his/her psyche undistinguishable from white/heterosexual ones.
How come people think that living in knowledge that you're less likely to find a good job and that your race is the subject of distasteful jokes - living in anger/bitterness that you're going to earn less than people of different skin colour - doesn't MAKE  YOU PERCEIVE THE WORLD AND BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY FROM THE WHITES?

I hope I will post more in time -- and I hope this made sense, I'm really sleepy.

And Eric: When I was little and played Zak McKracken I thought that Leslie and this other girl on the moon were lesbian, whereas the game was totally devoid of sexual innuendo  :o
« Last Edit: 25 Aug 2003, 04:24 by Goldmund »

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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #18 on: 25 Aug 2003, 04:26 »
CJ:  I completely see where you're coming from; I went through many similar experiences which caused me to start "noticing" race/gender/whatever traits when as I child I did not.  However, I don't think getting people to just stop bringing up such stereotypes is going to help.  If people like GG stop bringing up constructive and non-derogatory arguments like this one, the only people children are going to hear about stereotypes from are going to be the people who actually ARE saying them negatively.

This is sort of only tangentially related, but one thing that really worries me, and which has only been present for several years now, is the ridiculously huge abundance of racial and sexual slurs used as casual slang on the internet.  Most young kids today have had the internet in its current incarnation for their entire lives (and they are the first people for whom this is really the case).  I'm not much of a gamer anymore, but I know from personal experience that its just about impossible to play online games or visit many online forums without hearing phrases like "shtu the fuck up motherfcukcer nigger fag!!!11" being thrown about left and right.  At the risk of sounding like a prude, I find it completely appalling.  What if children grow up simply accepting that being gay or black (just as two examples) really is equivocal to being bad or stupid in some way?  Let's say you are a young boy who is attempting to come to grips with your homosexuality (how cliche, I know), and all your friends use phrases like "Man, that test was so gay!" instead of "Man, that test was hard!".  Wouldn't it seem as though being gay is something that is wrong?  I'd certainly have a harder time admitting my homosexuality to myself, let alone anyone else.  And since kids who use those derogatory stereotypes are probably not too likely to come into contact with many black people (since the offenders tend to be white and middle-class) or gay people (or at least openly gay people, since the offenders make being gay seem like such a horrible thing), they have no reason to challenge their baseless beliefs.

Anyway, I guess my point is that there really is no chance of getting certain people to stop promoting the rampant and thoughtless use of stereotypes (which is facilitated by the essentially complete anonymity of the internet), so discussions such as this one are valuable and necessary.
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Re:GTD: Minority characters in adventure games
« Reply #19 on: 25 Aug 2003, 06:38 »
Around half my kindergarten class was aboriginal. Didn't realise til I looked at a photo 8 years later.

That said, little kids can be really racist, although often not maliciously. One kid at the football saw my friend Duy wearing the jersey of the opposing team and called him a Ching Chong Chinaman. We were indignant because he was definately a Ching Chong Indo Chinaman.

Kids, geez.
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