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[P]
Adolescent medium

By dzeroo in Media
Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 03:59:15 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

When video games first left the realm of computer science and made their way into everyday life, they were regarded as a leisure activity suited to occupy the kids while mom went shopping. Quickly the penny arcade grew into a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2001 the worldwide computer games market was valued at $15 billion annually and it is expected to grow even further in the years to come. According to the International Council of Toy Industries, the sales of video games has on average grown 22.8% each year in the US alone in the period from 1996 to 2000.


What's interesting about these numbers is that they represent a formidable industry - it rivals Hollywood, yet receives very little attention. The barometer of the public's attention, the media, tell a very one-sided story: people are quick to point at video games as soon as kids start shooting teachers, but hardly ever do we find a positive evaluation. In an impressive example, FOX broadcasted a special on flight simulator games shortly after September 11, suggesting that anyone could fly a plane into a building after playing these `realistic' games. MSNBC decided to take this angle as well, but, as MIT's Kurt Squire points out: "One can imagine how different the rhetoric might be if a passenger had been able to land one of the hi-jacked planes safely."

Rated: Violence for Everyone

The acceptance of a new medium has never been without resistance. A similar situation can be found looking at the introduction of rock `n roll music. At the time it was introduced people demonized it, claiming it was responsible for all ills of society. Concerned parents went out of their way to prevent it from reaching their children. And now video games are treated in a similar fashion. In fact, it is even possible to make a parallel with gun control: video games don't kill people, people kill people.

And so, perhaps fueled by what culture philosopher Todd Gitlin pointed out as a `shallow campaign' against media violence in his "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives", society's perception leaves much to be desired. Rather than provide a serious socio-political framework to examine and prepare us for this technological influence, video games are used as a scapegoat. This seems odd, considering the immense size of this industry: according to the 6th Annual Video and Computer Game Report Card (2001) 92% of American children ages 2-17 play video games regularly (59 million) and 26% of people who are older than 18 (55 million). The implications are gigantic, the effect on social life enormous and yet we belittle its existence by overestimating our ability to keep control over it.

In response to this cold welcome, the video game industry has always been keen on institutionalizing a form of self-regulation (via the use of a rating system designed with the help of parents). Only several years after it became a mainstream concern, it committed to meeting society's standard. This happened a lot faster than, for example, in the movie industry which took a considerably longer period of time before coming up with such a system. Unfortunately this is not reflected in society's appreciation. In fact, in April of this year senior U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh stated that local governments could limit children's access to violent or sexually explicit video games, because games are not constitutionally protected forms of speech. Judge Limbaugh based his judgment on reviewing a grand total of 4 (!) games that are widely known for their violent content. Without elaborating too much - it is obvious that these kind of surface investigations do not provide an adequate basis for legislation. Another example of this kind of short-term politics is the feeble V-chip saga.

This, in conjunction with the media's populistic approach, has so far clouded any reasonable perception of this medium and, more importantly, diverted attention away from more significant issues.

Video Games & Ownership

In the U.S. the computer game industry publishing market is dominated by ten companies who supply 87% of the market. Electronic Arts, known for its focus on sports games, posted revenue of over $1.7 billion in 2001 and is currently responsible for about 22% of the money made in the US in this sector. Some of its best selling titles include the entire `Sims' genre.

Vivendi Universal Publishing (FR) also claims a sizeable chunk of the total revenue (17%). Due to its acquisition some time ago of Blizzard Entertainment and Sierra Entertainment the originally French publisher cleared the road to enter the US market. It is now the number 2 creator of PC games worldwide and works in cooperation with Fox Entertainment.

An equal share of 17% is held by Infogrames Entertainment (FR). In 1990 Infogrames was awarded a Nintendo Production License for NES and Game Boy consoles, securing the company's future. In 1998 it succeeded in obtaining a Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes license and instantly more than doubled it's annual income from $92 to $204 million. The company announced in 2001 to have acquired licenses for video games based on CBS' enormously popular reality TV show, Survivor; United Media's Charlie Brown and Friends; Paramount Pictures' hit films, Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible 2; Canal+ blockbuster films, Terminator and Terminator 2; Sony Pictures' hit film, Men In Black; Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues; and FUNimation's Dragon Ball Z, among others.

The indication here is that more often than not, video games are nothing more than a vehicle to regurgitate the same copyrighted material. The consolidating trends of this industry certainly seem to point in that direction. Every time Hollywood unleashes another blockbuster, the consumer market is flooded by `themed' games. Recently the opening of Spiderman coincided with the release of the video game on every platform available. It may be of no surprise that Spiderman was represented three times in the top ten ranking of video games top sellers in April 2002 (respectively first, fifth and seventh place), according to statistics provided by the NPD Group.

And this trend has attracted everyone's attention. An entire array of Disney stories is being digitized into video games (Tron, Peter Pan, the Lion King, Lilo & Stitch, Nemo etc.) and, not to be outdone, America's largest software publishing house - the aforementioned Electronic Arts - holds licenses to the NFL, NHL, NBA and so. Even Pizza Hut throws in a free PC game with their pizzas in order to extend their brand while Britney Spears jams away in `Britney's Dance Beat' on the Playstation 2 console. Through these brand games we are able to impersonate the characters of every blockbusting story: the Lord of the Rings, the Hulk, the Scorpion King, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so and so forth.

The suggestion is that the content of our new media technology might be all too familiar to us, thereby negating our omnipresent principle of progress. What, indeed, is the added value?

Insert Coin and Press the Start Button.

Media and politicians prefer to focus on the `easier' topics. Selling the suggested correlation between violence and video games is easier than the issues surrounding for example ownership. In both cases it is safe to assume they'd rather not bite the hand that feeds them. The lifeblood of politicians consists significantly out of donations from the media industry ($133 million for the 2000 election cycle alone) while the media conglomerates themselves will never admit to endangering diversity of content. Adding two and two together it becomes clear that the ubiquitousness of this medium coupled with the potential of homogenized content may not reflect the Utopian promise that we generally attribute to our new technologies.

Our haphazard approach is leading to an oblivious society. Most academic research focuses mainly on media violence or computer game development. Although both are valuable topics for examination, there is much more to this medium. What about the implications of interactivity? Our idealized notion of virtual reality was born in the realm of video games: think of first-person shooters, flight simulators and role-playing games. What about the ability to engage completely different societies and cultures via online gaming? Microsoft acknowledged this potential by investing 'hundreds of millions' in the online division of its Xbox console. By 2005 online gaming is projected to be worth $2.3 billion. Why not research the dominant narratives in video gaming: feminist studies have been focusing on traditional media for years in order to rid them of their stereotypical gender biases, but apparently see little danger in legions of children being exposed to the storylines we find in video games (e.g. why are video game characters generally Caucasian?). Look for research on traditional media and you will find an overabundance of theories and data. Look for research on video games and you will find scarcely anything.

If we allow ourselves to keep a blind eye to a medium and industry that is growing so fiercely with such formidable implications, we are to have learned nothing from previous media research, except perhaps how to optimize our profitability. The tardiness of this necessary research performed is proof of the fact that we are overwhelmed by our unlimited media - we can no longer see the forest for the trees. Transposing traditional theories onto a new medium does not lead to a clear understanding. Instead we must invest time and effort in understanding how we can capitalize on the beneficial and hopefully mitigate the detrimental effects of video gaming.

Provided we can still change this digital landscape into the world we seek, we have to take responsible steps forward. So far, neither our parents, politicians nor academics have formulated a responsible game plan. And, unfortunately, this is not one of those challenges where we get "continues" or where we get to "go back to our last save-point".

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Related Links
o the International Council of Toy Industries
o this angle
o points out
o "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives"
o 6th Annual Video and Computer Game Report Card (2001)
o stated
o Electronic Arts
o Vivendi Universal Publishing (FR)
o Infogrames Entertainment (FR)
o top ten
o NPD Group
o $133 million
o media violence
o computer game development
o hundreds of millions
o Also by dzeroo


Display: Sort:
Adolescent medium | 38 comments (25 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
I'm Banging My Head Against A Wall Right Now (5.00 / 9) (#14)
by DarkZero on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 01:03:47 AM EST

Surprisingly, this article has been very well researched, but horribly uninformed. How that combination came about, I have no idea, but I feel I must correct its fallacies.

The indication here is that more often than not, video games are nothing more than a vehicle to regurgitate the same copyrighted material. The consolidating trends of this industry certainly seem to point in that direction. Every time Hollywood unleashes another blockbuster, the consumer market is flooded by `themed' games. Recently the opening of Spiderman coincided with the release of the video game on every platform available. It may be of no surprise that Spiderman was represented three times in the top ten ranking of video games top sellers in April 2002 (respectively first, fifth and seventh place), according to statistics provided by the NPD Group.

This is misleading. For one thing, there has been a regular stream of Spider-Man games since the early days of the Nintendo Entertainment Syste, and they have always sold well, so a Spider-Man game selling well is not in any way indicative of the sales of movie tie-in games. Furthermore, tie-in games hardly ever sell well. The top ten best-selling console games of 2001 included Grand Theft Auto 3, Metal Gear Solid 2: The Sons of Liberty, the two Pokémon incarnations, Final Fantasy X, Halo, and several other original games. I wish I could find a web listing of the best selling console games of 2001, but the only place that I have seen any games sales charts at all is in Electronic Gaming Monthly. If memory serves me, there weren't any comic, movie, or TV show tie-ins even in the top 20. So while there may be a lot of movie tie-ins games released every month, very few of them have a measure of success any larger than a small profit. Original gaming franchises such as Super Mario Bros., Megaman, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and Pokémon, on the other hand, have consistently sold much better than movie tie-in games, and some of them have been around for over a decade and have reached a volume of dozens of games (Megaman alone has spanned 15 years and 56 games). The movie industry in the past few years can hardly make the same claims, what with the huge success of Harry Potter (adapted from a book), The Lord of the Rings (adapted from a book), and Spider-Man (adapted from a comic book) topping their sales charts, with Star Wars being the only original movie work that I can think of that rivals them in terms of pure sales.

Why not research the dominant narratives in video gaming: feminist studies have been focusing on traditional media for years in order to rid them of their stereotypical gender biases, but apparently see little danger in legions of children being exposed to the storylines we find in video games (e.g. why are video game characters generally Caucasian?). Look for research on traditional media and you will find an overabundance of theories and data. Look for research on video games and you will find scarcely anything.

Feminists have nothing to worry about with video games. In August of 1986, just one year after console games gained the ability to depict a difference in gender between characters with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the NES game "Metroid" put you in the role of the female superhero Samus Aran, a female space bounty hunter in the future that had a cannon for an arm. Since then, female warriors have been a mainstay in gaming. It's true that "save the princess" storylines were present in many of the games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but video games quickly broke away from that concept and women have been the equals of men every since. There have been some complaints about female heroes like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Trish from Devil May Cry, or similar characters "not looking realistic" as the graphcs in video games have improved, but then again, the men around them aren't exactly realistic looking, either.

As for the lack of racial diversity among video game characters, that is simply a cultural misunderstanding. Most of the games with original storylines and characters come from Japan, and thus all of the animated characters in those games are drawn in the Japanese anime style, whose characters are almost always light-skinned, wide-eyed, and sporting unnatural hair styles. Few of these characters are supposed to be of any certain natural human race (most of them are actually referred to as "Japanese", despite having any of the characteristics), but most of them resemble caucasians. There's no intention for them to caucasian, but their skin color just usually resembles caucasian. It's sort of difficult to explain to Americans that are always bombarded with debates about racial diversity, and it's even pretty hard to understand for the Americans that have heard an understandable explanation of it, but there really just isn't any concept or intention of race in the minds of Japanese anime or game producers. It's one of the most difficult cultural differences between the Japanese and the Western world to explain or understand.

Otherwise, I agree with this article. However, those two parts came straight out of left field and were woefully uninformed.

re: (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by dzeroo on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 09:32:29 AM EST

I took some time to reply to your comments. It was nice to get some decent feedback. Let me explain myself a little better.

You're right about the sales numbers: I did kind of use those in a flexible way. Perhaps the point is lost due to my intention to take an angle that would appeal to a large audience. My real issue here is not so much with Spiderman but to undermine the dominant narrative of media technological determinism. Often claimed, but hardly ever does it deliver on its promise: we use it to create another version of what we already have rather than to change directions completely (exercising the countless possibilities we always hear about). In order to get people interested in such a topic it has to 'ring a bell'.

As for the consolidation of the industry and thereby the increase of the threat of homogenized content, I feel that this is not an unreality. The trend in media companies has been a consolidating one in recent years. Due to the loosing of regulatory restrictions by the FCC (such as cross-ownership regulations, and more recently the radio industry's quarrels), the American media system is run by five - larger than life - companies: AOL/Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, News Corp, and General Electric.

These kind of companies own everything from copyrights to cable networks. It is my predictiong that the fate of the video game industry will not be any different: especially in a young market as hostile and pressed for time as the software publishing industry ("release now, send bugfix later", in order to stay in business). Consider the marginal successes of Microsoft's Xbox: most criticism is directed at its lack of available titles that sqeeuze every last drop out of its generally celebrated array of technical abilities.

As for the feminists: it is true that Metroid starred a heroin (I love that game), but as much as and as often as we find storylines evolve around a non-traditional gender perspective (Lara Croft, but also think of the female characters in Street Fighter), we can always count on a barbie-version on the shelves. "Britney's Dance Beat' and Ulala in 'Space Channel 5' do not testify of a medium that feminists have nothing to fear from. Rather, it indicates a societal dynamic that has effectively silenced this dissenting view, as we have seen in many instances in the media's uprise in the past 50 years.

Lastly, the notion of pre-dominantly caucasian characters: again it was my intention to evoke some sort of reaction (American audiences are perhaps more sensitive to discussions on racial matters), but I should have elaborated on this a little more. It is my opinion that certain racial profiles (e.g. the 'token black guy' in sitcoms) is something we can also find in video games. Characters like Link, Duke Nukem, and that kid from Final Fantasy do have a certain 'Arian' feel to them, in the same sense as perhaps "Seinfeild" is predominantly Jewish. To label this a cultural misunderstanding (which is something I hadn't thought of and you righteously point out), I feel, is too simple.

Nonetheless, thanks for your criticism: it was exactly the reason why I posted it here in the first place. Please, if you have any links or information that you think might add some nuance to my opinions then let me know.

Thanks again :o)


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
Uh-huh? (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Ken Arromdee on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 12:03:19 PM EST

"Britney's Dance Beat' and Ulala in 'Space Channel 5' do not testify of a medium that feminists have nothing to fear from. Rather, it indicates a societal dynamic that has effectively silenced this dissenting view, as we have seen in many instances in the media's uprise in the past 50 years.

I always thought that for a view to be "silenced" meant that it was not expressed. "I have to admit they're in other games, but look, they're not in Britney's Dance Beat" is a far cry from "silenced".

Characters like Link, Duke Nukem, and that kid from Final Fantasy do have a certain 'Arian' feel to them, in the same sense as perhaps "Seinfeild" is predominantly Jewish.

Considering that Final Fantasy is a series of eleven games plus spinoffs, "that kid from Final Fantasy" is a completely meaningless statement unless you get a little more specific.

And Link is created in Japan. Link is about as much an Aryan as Duke Nukem is Asian. Your feelings otherwise probably owe more to your biases than to anything about the character; there's a reason why feelings are no substitute for evidence.

[ Parent ]

Japanese racism? (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by X3nocide on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:38:07 PM EST

I think somewhere up the thread somebody glossed over japanese racism. There is far more prejudice than was mentioned in the post. I doubt you could call Link an Aryan; hes gone through several hair colors. First brown hair, then PINK hair in a Link to the past, and recently he's been depicted as having blonde hair.

I've said it before and I'll say it now. If you want to find anime with racist themes, simply look to the most second (maybe first now?) popular anime in the US: Dragonball Z. The world is saved by blonde haired blue eyed supermen. If thats not Arayan, I must be confused.

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]

re: (1.00 / 1) (#23)
by dzeroo on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:39:32 PM EST

thank you, I thought it was just me. :o)


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
Not exactly (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 12:26:34 AM EST

If you want to find anime with racist themes, simply look to the most second (maybe first now?) popular anime in the US: Dragonball Z. The world is saved by blonde haired blue eyed supermen. If thats not Arayan, I must be confused.

The characters in Dragon Ball Z are shape shifters. In the first couple hundred episodes of DBZ, the character that saves the world is a Japanese-looking boy with black hair and a monkey's tail. In the next couple hundred episodes, he and his companions change form and become blonde-haired, blue-eyed aryan supermen. In the final one hundred and fifty or so episodes, the same characters have become ape men with red fur, red tails, and gigantic black hair.

It only appears that the world is saved solely by blonde-haired, blue-eyed aryan supermen because the only episodes that have been broadcast in the US are the middle portion, in which the characters mostly have blonde hair and blue eyes. And if that set of features signifies something, then I really wonder what a bunch of apes saving the world in the later episodes is supposed to signify.

[ Parent ]

Interesting subset of reality... (none / 0) (#30)
by X3nocide on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 02:01:33 AM EST

I'm pretty sure Toonami aired DBZ straight from the beginning. Not Dragonball, mind you, but the perversion called Dragonball Z. You're right that it takes about 100 episodes to discover the whole arayan part, but then theres 400 of them or so afterwards where they discover more and more super seijin powers. I quit watching around there. You can't ignore Mr. Popo either. Hes a big black slave to the namic. If its any consolation, I do believe that these perversions to the regular dragon ball are what made the original creator disavow the series.

It seems that although a few men can create wonderful ideas, its hard to share them with people and still keep full creative liscence. For example, Captain Harlock has been cancelled because (in part) the alien's weapons were Stars of David.

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]

DB/Z/GT (1.00 / 1) (#31)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 03:03:13 AM EST

I meant the entire DB/Z/GT story as a whole, not just DBZ. I just didn't feel like going through the whole explanation of the show being renamed and all, and for some reason I didn't think that you were aware of it. Sorry, that was my fault.

You can't ignore Mr. Popo either. Hes a big black slave to the namic.

I could be wrong, but since Mr. Popo appeared not too far into Dragonball, I think he was probably part of the original "Journey to the West" story that the original Dragonball series was based off of. Thus, criticizing his character is pretty much akin to calling Zeus from Greek mythology a "stereotypical arrogant white male". He was probably just part of the story that was being copied, which, like all of the adapations and reworkings of Greek mythology, should give it at least a little bit of leeway in its stereotypes, at least as far as Dragonball copied Journey to the West.

[ Parent ]

re: (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by dzeroo on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:38:31 PM EST

My point is that these kind of issues need to be addressed: albeit that some are easier to answer than others. I appreciate your effort to undermine my poor examples, but they're still only examples. In this case the point was that stereotypification of visual traits are an important part of video game narratives. It doesn't matter if that means black/white/blonde/female/whatever.

As for your remarks on my use of the word 'silenced': yes, one britney spears game does not need to alarm feminists. But, compared to traditional media there has been little feminist research on these topics. I am arguing that just because there's no research on it, that that doesn't mean it's not important. Hence I use the word 'silenced' because apparently gender stereotypes are not high on the 'to do' list. The lack of research may be indicative of a society that doesn't care. Hence silenced, since it use to.

As for my feelings being evidence: that's something I'll have to work on then. :o)


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
But... (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by Ken Arromdee on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:56:52 PM EST

I appreciate your effort to undermine my poor examples, but they're still only examples.

But the examples are all that keeps the article from being completely baseless speculation.

And a post full of bad examples implies a general sloppiness that means that more than just that specific example is bad, anyway.

[ Parent ]

re: (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by dzeroo on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 04:40:03 PM EST

But the examples are all that keeps the article from being completely baseless speculation.

then why were did I get all the links? surely not all of those are my 'feeling'?

again, my examples may be poor, but I was trying to not scare people away by being too waffly. the whole notion of a silenced view depends on a failure to communicate your causes. bickering over a detail (or example) is part of this.

your last sentence can be summarized as: "a post full of bad examples implies [...] that more than just that specific example is bad". what?


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
Links (none / 0) (#26)
by Ken Arromdee on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:46:39 PM EST

then why were did I get all the links? surely not all of those are my 'feeling'?

You didn't have any links to support that specific point, though you had some links for other points.

your last sentence can be summarized as: "a post full of bad examples implies [...] that more than just that specific example is bad". what?

If someone starts off a piece of Shakespeare criticism by claiming that Hamlet is the prince of Tajikistan, I'm going to be suspicious of the entire article, even if the exact country that Hamlet is from is irrelevant to any of the criticism. Some mistakes are so big that they call into question the author's familiarity with the subject.

[ Parent ]

hm .. (none / 0) (#27)
by dzeroo on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 06:23:17 PM EST

that's some strong language: to doubt my familarity with the subject. it seems that you will not agree with me on this (which is fine), but let me just refer to the fact that all media studies, on all media, have occupied themselves with identity, representations etc etc.

the reason I mention something like 'feminist studies' is because I feel that it is missing, or - at least - not taking place in a comparable fashion.

maybe you will agree with me then that age is a stereotypical characteristic for lead characters in video games. Yes, I am aware that there are exceptions, but the larger share of the lead characters seems generally of young age. To me this is a similar example, just like gender/skincolor/sexual orientation etc.

perhaps I expected too much background knowledge from the audience.


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
Hmmm... (none / 0) (#28)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 12:21:02 AM EST

As for the consolidation of the industry and thereby the increase of the threat of homogenized content, I feel that this is not an unreality. The trend in media companies has been a consolidating one in recent years. Due to the loosing of regulatory restrictions by the FCC (such as cross-ownership regulations, and more recently the radio industry's quarrels), the American media system is run by five - larger than life - companies: AOL/Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, News Corp, and General Electric.

There are dozens (possibly hundreds) of gaming companies in the United States, Japan, and much of Europe. More importantly, South Korea is breaking into the market in Asia and will probably have almost as much of an impact on the American market in five years as domestic games do right now. The issue of consolidation should be brought up when some companies begin to consolidate, not before then. And so far, the only consolidation of gaming companies that I've seen has been a few second party acquisitions (Nintendo with Rare, Sony with a portion of Square) so that the hardware makers can produce both software and hardware, as well as a few acquisitions of small businesses by larger businesses that share the exact same market and even much of the same staff (Square's acquisition of the remainder of Quest). That's not a whole lot of consolidation for a market this large. It wouldn't even be considered a lot of consolidation in a relatively small niche market.

especially in a young market as hostile and pressed for time as the software publishing industry ("release now, send bugfix later", in order to stay in business).

Console sales are what truly drives gaming, not PC game sales. Thus, the majority of the market doesn't even have the CAPABILITY to use the "release now, send bugfix later" market strategy. The X-Box has gained a small amount of this capability, but has so far only used it to give American gamers the extras that were added in additional international releases of their games, such as the Dead Or Alive 3 Booster Disk to give the American DOA3 the same features as the Japanese DOA3.

As for the feminists: it is true that Metroid starred a heroin (I love that game), but as much as and as often as we find storylines evolve around a non-traditional gender perspective (Lara Croft, but also think of the female characters in Street Fighter), we can always count on a barbie-version on the shelves.

Game characters, much like action movie characters, are intended to be demigods, not average people. Part of the reason for this is that it justifies their superhuman feats. Thus, they have perfect bodies, huge muscles, and look incredibly sexy... but this doesn't just apply to female characters. For every Lara Croft, there's a K'. For every Chun-Li, a Vega. For every Lulu, a Tidus. For every scantily clad, impossibly chesty video game heroine with a revealing top that you can name, I can name a scantily clad, impossibly muscular video game hero with his shirt off, so it's not as if women are being objectified in video games for the sake of male gamers. Both sexes are represented fairly equally, in that they are both beautiful, powerful, and kick tons of ass.

It is my opinion that certain racial profiles (e.g. the 'token black guy' in sitcoms) is something we can also find in video games. Characters like Link, Duke Nukem, and that kid from Final Fantasy do have a certain 'Arian' feel to them, in the same sense as perhaps "Seinfeild" is predominantly Jewish. To label this a cultural misunderstanding (which is something I hadn't thought of and you righteously point out), I feel, is too simple.

You, like any (I'm guessing) Western person, see blonde hair and blue eyes as "Aryan". But if there is some underlying racist, Nazi meaning to that, then what do K' (far left, as well as in the link above) and his numerous grey-haired, tan-skinned, muscular ilk (Dante from Devil May Cry) signify? The conquest of Earth by a race of human beings that does not exist? Personally, I think you're just seeing phantoms where there really isn't anything. Your argument has inconsistencies even in the links that you provided. Link's hair has changed numerous times over the years and the Final Fantasy series has also starred green-haired fairy women and grey-haired muscular men with tanned skin in the past, and its villains have included everything from grey-haired muscular men with tanned skin to white women to aliens covered in red feathers. If there are any racial stereotypes in these games, I'm not seeing them. The only thing I see is the inherent pliability in the drawing of animated characters that don't have to look like human beings.

Oh, and if you take a look at the second K' picture, you'll notice a black man in the middle of the picture who actually has much, much darker skin in the game (the "King Of Fighters" series of games from SNK/Playmore). I just happened to notice that right now and I thought I'd toss it in. The same company also allows you to reset the colors in their fighting games so that you can play as a black version of just about any character, including the albinos that star in the "Garou/Fatal Fury" series of fighting games.


Finally, I'd just like to say that the gaming industry is a very, very weird one. Due to the fact that they are a cross section of Japanese, American, European, and soon South Korean media, they do not represent the stereotypes or ideas of any single country. This is a radically different system in comparison to the movie or television industries, where only movies or television shows that are produced domestically are shown outside of the media ghettos that are art houses and independant/foreign film channels. A lack or presence of any certain types of characters does not infer a hatred of blacks, a love of aryans, or whatever else. To some cultures, people with blonde hair and blue eyes do not bring up the image of the failed ideal of the Nazi superman. Japan is one of these cultures. Similarly, a lack of Africans in a game does not mean a hatred of Africans. It simply means that the artist preferred the look of either a different set of human features or a completely inhuman set of features, such as the previously mentioned "grey hair, tanned skin, lots of muscle" pseudo-race or just a three foot tall puff of pink hair.

[ Parent ]

thank you .. (none / 0) (#33)
by dzeroo on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 10:18:33 AM EST

these are some really helpful comments. I appreciate it.

consolidation of the industry .. see, I realize that it has not taken place yet in the sense that there are only 5 companies left, but if (1) the American market gets 87% of its supply from 10 companies and (2) licensing is such a crucial issue (in the case of infogrames doubling their annual income after closing a licensing deal with Disney), I suspect this industry will follow all the other media industries (cable, newspaper, tv, radio) and eventually be run by a handful of companies. Also the production cost for a decent game lies somewhere between 2 - 3 million, which forces smaller software publishers to put all their eggs in one basket, so to say. I admit though to talking too losely about 'media companies': this is confusing. The trend I was referring to is - as you correctly point out - not yet visible in the video game industry, but in the other media.

I used the 'release, send bugfix later' to indicate how the software industry in general works. Again, video games' primary machinery are consoles (you're right again) which doesn't make that example applicable. However, you have to agree that software publications (whether it's games or applications) generally are very dependent on getting to the market early.

The only thing I see is the inherent pliability in the drawing of animated characters that don't have to look like human beings.

Perhaps I'll have to step of of that idea then. However, I feel that throughout the discussion people have felt that I have some racial issues with depictions in video games, while this is not the case. It was a suggestion for research, but apparently not a good one. In my defense, it seems that most reactions to my article have provoked more talk about racial characteristics than anything else.

I think this indicates that transposing a traditional way of looking at media does not allow you to adequately come to any conclusions or clear understanding. All the problems you've mentioned here are indicative of the fact that academic media research needs to redefine its approach. That was my agenda all along.


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
re: thank you .. (none / 0) (#34)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 04:16:45 PM EST

see, I realize that it has not taken place yet in the sense that there are only 5 companies left, but if (1) the American market gets 87% of its supply from 10 companies and (2) licensing is such a crucial issue (in the case of infogrames doubling their annual income after closing a licensing deal with Disney), I suspect this industry will follow all the other media industries (cable, newspaper, tv, radio) and eventually be run by a handful of companies.

(1) I'm not sure what you mean by this statement. Do you mean that they produce 87% of the domestic products, or 87% of the products as a whole? Because if you mean the latter, then I find that very hard to believe, unless there are way more shitty, licensed GBA games that never sell being pumped out by very small American companies than I know about. (2) Infrogrames doubling their annual income because of Disney isn't anywhere near as big a deal as it sounds. One year ago, Infrogrames was a small French company that no one had heard of and that was making very little money. Saying that Infrogrames doubled their income because of Disney is like saying that Bob's Small Town Independant Toy Store doubled its income because of Disney. "Doubled" infers a big number, but when it's a very small business, the word "doubled" actually means very little. If Sony doubled its annual income (for gaming, not as a whole) because of Disney, then I'd be shocked. But someone like Infrogrames doubling their income because of Disney is not a big deal.

As for your suspicion that it will be run by a handful of companies, I'm really not seeing that trend ANYWHERE. What I am seeing, on the other hand, is companies like Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games, and Infrogrames coming up out of essentially nowhere and becoming major players that rival Konami, Capcom, Rare, and Electronics Arts, all of which have been in the video game industry for years, if not more than a decade. Grand Theft Auto 3 from Rockstar Games alone managed to beat out Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2, EA's sports games, Nintendo's Pokémon, and every single other console and handheld game in the industry. And before this, Rockstar Games was a virtual unknown that was still producing 2D shooter games like Grand Theft Auto 2 and its expansions/pseudo-sequels. The same will probably be said of Infrogrames soon, because Neverwinter Nights is reportedly flying off the shelves.

So really, if there's an consolidation down the line, there isn't any sign of it right now, and thus no need to worry.

I used the 'release, send bugfix later' to indicate how the software industry in general works. Again, video games' primary machinery are consoles (you're right again) which doesn't make that example applicable. However, you have to agree that software publications (whether it's games or applications) generally are very dependent on getting to the market early.

Actually, I don't have agree. I've seen games pushed back for months and even YEARS on a regular basis because of quality control, and I've only seen one game-wrecking bug on a console system in thirteen years of gaming, which was in last year's Jak and Daxter for the PS2 SO obviously, that assertion does not apply to consoles, but I haven't even seen it apply as often as people claim in the PC industry. There have been huge outcries from gamers about PC game developers releasing buggy games, but I don't think that means that buggy games that were rushed to the market are common. Rather, I see them much like the way I see school shootings: There is mass hysteria every time there is a school shooting every three or four months somewhere in the country, but that does not mean that school shootings are happening every day all across the country. Rather, it means that they are uncommon, and thus people get hysterical about them when they actually crop up.

In my defense, it seems that most reactions to my article have provoked more talk about racial characteristics than anything else.

I attribute that mostly to the fact that accusations of racism are difficult to fend off in the game industry. Accusations of media consolidation and the prevalence of licensed games can be fended off with hard sales data and statistics, but explaining that the Japanese really just don't care about the races of their animated characters is much more intangible, and thus more difficult. So rather than just giving you a single paragraph of sales data, fending off an accusation of racism requires multiple paragraphs of examples, pictures, and Japanese cultural explanations. It brings up so much debate because it's a very easy accusation to make, but not a very easy accusation to defend.

these are some really helpful comments. I appreciate it.

Any time. The less misunderstanding there is about video games, the easier life is on me anyway.

[ Parent ]

re: (none / 0) (#35)
by dzeroo on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 05:26:05 PM EST

The less misunderstanding there is about video games, the easier life is on me anyway.

How so? What's your share in this?

Infogrames' story (1997, 1998) gave me the impression that doubling your annual income in only a year is quite an achievement for a relatively small company. I used it to indicate the effect it can have for software publishers to obtain licenses like Disney's.

I'm planning to spend some time researching the video game market and how society deals with it. Would it be okay if I'd run some thoughts past you every once in a while? You seem to have a firm grasp of the whole thing. How do you keep track of this? Any links/sites I should know about? Thanks again.


== chicks are for fags ==


[ Parent ]
re: (none / 0) (#36)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 06:52:23 PM EST

How so? What's your share in this?

Ehhh... I didn't know how to word that, really. All I meant was that the fewer articles there are out there with misinformation, the fewer things I have to correct from the people that read that misinformation. I don't have any actual stake in this, besides it being a life-long hobby.

Infogrames' story (1997, 1998) gave me the impression that doubling your annual income in only a year is quite an achievement for a relatively small company. I used it to indicate the effect it can have for software publishers to obtain licenses like Disney's.

I just didn't see that as any real achievement. In the context of a small company, "doubling their annual income" really isn't as impressive as sounds. When you're as low on the totem pole as Infrogrames was and in many ways still is, the term "doubling" just infers a whole lot more money than it really did in this situation. Really, I think it just depends on what perspective that you look at it from. For Infrogrames, a licensing deal with practically anyone is a very, very big deal that helps the company a lot. In the case of big developers, however, it means extremely little. For example, most people regard Square's decision to make "Kingdom Hearts", a Disney-Square crossover RPG made entirely by Square but featuring the mascot characters of both companies, as a much bigger coup for Disney than for Square, because Disney needs Square to really have any impact on the gaming market, but Square certainly doesn't need Disney's characters to make a blockbuster RPG that will reach the top ten in yearly video game sales for every video game market on the planet (Final Fantasy).

I'm planning to spend some time researching the video game market and how society deals with it. Would it be okay if I'd run some thoughts past you every once in a while? You seem to have a firm grasp of the whole thing. How do you keep track of this? Any links/sites I should know about? Thanks again.

Sure. That'd be great, in fact. And if you need any more information... well, I can really only recommend the news sites I visit, as I'm not very big on video game content sites. I visit The Magic Box (which may or may not be working right now, because they're having some problems), Gameforms, and Mad Man's Cafe every day, and I check Acts of Gord (not a news site, but still good), Lik Sang, and GameSpot about every week or so. I hope they help.

[ Parent ]

about the feminist thing.... (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by auraslip on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 06:41:20 AM EST

they don't have to worry, girls don't really play games.
(lie) anything with the word "Sim" in it
they don't have to worry, girls don't play games where females are portrayed as weaker.
(lie) think mario...maybe..I dunnu....
they don't have to worry, girls don't play games where females are all made into barbies.
(lie) actually 90% of games that have female characters do this, but they do it to the male too. An intresting example of the %10 are the girl from resident evil, Claire I think, Gorden freeman from Half-life, and mario. Oh yeah, and pac-man. Although some people think pac-man is a sex idol or something....I don't know what thats all about.
All these video game hoochies do go to show you who the intented market is though.
124
What about Tomb Raider ? (none / 0) (#32)
by salsaman on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 05:56:22 AM EST

I've not played it myself, but it sprung to mind.

[ Parent ]
both sexes are stereotyped (none / 0) (#37)
by markaze on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:20:32 PM EST

actually 90% of games that have female characters do this, but they do it to the male too.

That's a really good point. A lot of people have jumped all over the Lara Croft image of women portrayed in video games, but little reference is made to the fact that male characters are stereotyped just as much. Is it any worse to portray 90% of male characters as gruff muscle-bound killing machines than it is to portray the same percentage of female characters as sultry vixens?

Fortunately, as you mentioned, there are more and more *realistic* video game characters being created. Hopefully this trend will continue.

-Mark


"To each of them it seemed plain that things were just at that stage when a word or so of plain sense, spoken in a new voice, would restore the whole room to sanity" -C.S. Lewis
[ Parent ]

Adolescent medium or medium for adolescent? (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by Alias on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 07:35:44 AM EST

I've been wondering, is it because video games are (arguably) aimed towards a teenager audience that they're not taken seriously as an industry?

It seems to me that the same might stand true for comic books as well, another medium for teenager.

<semirant>
On a similar topic, there was a show on French TV yesterday (Sunday) evening, where they discussed "adults behaving like teenagers, reading comic books, playing video games" (or something very close to that effect)...

I think the idiot who came up with this line doesn't understand what "adult" means. It seems like some people are still in the 19th century mindset.
</semirant>

Stéphane "Alias" Gallay -- Damn! My .sig is too lon

Teenager audience (4.00 / 2) (#18)
by epepke on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 10:14:27 AM EST

Many products seem to be aimed at a teenager audience (clothing, film, music), and they are taken seriously.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
This is a tricky, slippery pit (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by robson on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:36:02 PM EST

It's true that "most" games and "most" comic books target a younger audience. But there's nothing about either medium that necessitates this; it's just the way it is. And the law of the marketplace dictates that demographics don't change without a struggle -- we make games, we need to stay in business, most consumers of games are kids, therefore it's in our best [business] interests to target kids.

I don't have the energy right now to discuss possible solutions, but... well, it's a bitch. Comics have had an extra generation to deal with this problem, and independent (read:adult-oriented) comics still have a tough time breaking even.

[ Parent ]
Wow (none / 0) (#38)
by exZERO on Tue Jul 30, 2002 at 03:18:23 AM EST

Wow.

I gotta say, thanks for this article.  

As someone who is struggling to get into the game design industry and enjoys gaming both as a hobby and a "way of life", I love to see articles like this one.  The fact that there is a nice conversation between reader and author(DarkZero & dzeroo respectively) makes it even better.  

I'll note that in the project I'm currenly working on with a friend, the main character is designed to be very average in terms of appearance, even though he falls into the same so-called "Aryan" category mentioned by dzeroo, being that he is a 20-something male.  This project is also steeped in myth, and includes references to the Bible and its Apocrypha.  I'm trying to preserve the integrity of the sources while making the plot entertaining and easy to grasp.

Surprisingly, despite its religious themes, the storyline has had no detractors yet, and its more of a "mainstream" story than anything else.  No, this isn't a "Christian" game, although it is heavily based on the Apocryphal writings.  It crosses the boundaries into Zoroastrian beliefs, and ancient ritualistics.  I'd rather like to believe that it will be a "religious" game in about the same manner as Silicon Knights recent release, Eternal Darkness(a game which seems very much based on the concepts of H.P. Lovecraft, among others).

Anyway, I'd just like to say that I agree with the article, and that hopefully this medium will be recognized for what it is soon enough.
<<Zero_out>>

Adolescent medium | 38 comments (25 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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