Opinion

What happened when gamers couldn't choose to be white

In March this year Facepunch Studios, developers of Rust, an early access survival game on Steam, decided to be pro-active about the imbalance in racial diversity in video games. When some players opened their game on March 14th, they discovered that their white male game avatar turned into a black male game avatar overnight. A lot of players were not pleased with being "forced" to play as a different race.

Rust game white.jpg

All Rust players are assigned a standard white male avatar

Rust black avatar.jpg

The black upgrade

Facepunch owner, Garry Newman (from Gary's Mod), explained the change via a developer blog:

"Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are – you can’t change your skin colour or your face. It’s actually tied to your steamid.

Right now your avatar is randomised via three things. Skin colour, head mesh and head material. We only have 2 face textures and 2 face materials, which means there’s 4 possible combinations. We will be adding more of these later on (at which point your face will probably change).

There’s a lot of skin colours in the world, and it’s really easy to appear racially insensitive when doing this. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is really used to seeing this guy as a white guy, so when you see him as a black guy it feels like he’s just “blacked up“. So we’re spending a lot of time trying to lessen that effect.There’s still work to be done, so consider this just the boilerplate of an idea for now.

It’s quite pleasing to see different races working together in game, and makes you realise how arbitrary race is."

Here are some of the responses, courtesy of Aljazeera.

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Facepunch's decision to change some player's avatar from a white male to a black male opened Pandora's Box of gamer entitlement. Some refused to play as a black man, others threatened to withdraw their support. For me, the most interesting comments are those who accuse the developers of forcing a decision on them, taking away their choice. The problem with that argument is that no one had a choice to begin with. Every Rust player, no matter their race "were forced" to play as a white male! The moment the developers decided to let them play as another race they suddenly scream, you took away my right!

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I wonder how every other gamer that isn't white feel every time they play a game and they "are forced" to play as a white dude?

I am not saying there's something wrong with having white male game leads, or with people who prefer playing as one. I'm also not saying developers should suddenly make all game characters a non-white race. What we do need in gaming is more diversity; the option to play different races, genders, sexual preferences. What we desperately need before more diversity is empathy for gamers that are non-whites. We also need to take a hard look at how we react when we are "forced" to play as a non-white character.

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Take a moment and extend yourself, think about gaming from the perspective of someone from a different race. For years we've lobbied that video games are important. That it's more than just silly games for teenagers, that it's also art, a tool for education and the biggest entertainment industry in the world. We've all advocated that gaming is a good thing, and how we want more people to enjoy this incredible medium we love. We've talked about gaming's positive influence on child development, we've listed the health benefits, and how it boosts cognitive skills. But we've forgotten about making gaming a safe place for any person, regardless of gender, race or sexual preference.

I've had a chat with MWEB GameZone's Product Manager, Brad Kirby. He's the father of GameZone and his experience in the industry, as well as being a white male gamer make his point of view on the subject very interesting. "I would love to see how gaming can make a better world, not only for the future, but how it can and should remove some of the intrinsic and basic issues facing humanity as a whole today."

I dare you to stretch your thinking, climb into the skin of a non-white gamer and try to look at the gaming environment from their perspective. It's gonna punch you in the gut, so don't go there if you can't stomach it.

Thank you to Megan Condis for having the guts to start the conversation on Rust and it's uncomfortable black avatars. Why don't you read her brilliant article "The Web is not a post-racial utopia"

Han: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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