WINGS 101: Learning Race and Racism from Videogames

After reviewing this content it doesn’t represent our current perspectives. Our authors remain committed to supporting anti-racist and anti-white supremacy movements.

  • SarahBeck
  • Currently works as a software developer of EA. She has a BSc in Computing Science and enjoys JRPGS, anime, and Ruby on Rails. You can find her on Twitter at @sarah_bytes. Opinions are my own.


  • The problem with your example of San Andreas is that you have situated one of the game’s constructions without context. This is actually something that Watkins/Everett’s study does as well. The speaker contrasts the game San Andreas as a game that perpetrates RPZ’s specifically because it perpetuates a negative stereotype that exists in black crime-narrratives (and this is quoted within the paper itself) such as Boyz’N’ The Hood, Baby Boy and Menace 2 Society. The speaker then compares San Andreas to another sandbox title, Bully, attempting to assert that Rockstar’s choices with regards to racial zones reflect a predominantly negative racial stereotype. However, Watkins/Everett’s paper does not reflect on the context of the game with regards to it’s placement in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The Grand Theft Auto games are a numbered or subtitled series of games that function as caricatured narratives that take storylines, characters, motifs, and mission design directly from american crime films. Some earlier entries in the series, for example, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and GTA 3, reflect films such as Scarface, Training Day, Casino, and Goodfellas. However, that crime film genre is largely based around italian-american and west coast crime fiction, featuring elements such as the boston mob and the mafia, which being derived from caucasian based regions and cultures, do not have any black characters. Rockstar’s entry, GTA San Andreas, is meant to evoke black crime cinema, and if compared narratively to say, GTA 3, is relatively similar in terms of content- except it reflects a cultural paradigm that very much existed at one point in american history. By creating a game that explores that narrative space and contextualizing it with that form of cinema, Rockstar is exploring a space that does not get explored in a sympathetic manner at all, and avoiding the whitewashing of a specific cinematic period. In this way, Everett/Watkins paper is revealed as deeply problematic- it has a foundation based on assumption and without narrative or cultural context. Rhetorically wouldn’t it be worse to make a game about ghetto culture cinema starring a caucasian protagonist? San Andreas regularly gets cited as an example of a game perpetuating racial stereotypes, without regards to the cinematic movement it is trying to reflect, which was an actual facet of 1990’s black cinema.

    I’m not saying that perpetuating negative stereotypes doesn’t occur- but GTA San Andreas is a step forwards, not a step backwards. I would even hesitate to put Irish on this list, simply because RDR is a reflection of american westerns- in which the drunk irishman is unfortunately a constructed archetype (see John Ford’s entire filmography, or any interview where Tarantino discusses John Ford). In summation, Rockstar’s entire routine is depicting a period in american cinema culture in videogame form, their games are reflections of american cinematic culture, which itself is deeply embedded with offensive stereotypes, and to ignore them in what is meant to be a reflection of american culture is a blatant whitewashing of american cinematic history.

    It’s easy to dismissively handwave ghetto cinema or even blaxploitation- but both of these genres found success in depicting not only black protagonists who acquire power or success onscreen (which was a rarity in the late 1980’s/1990’s, unless it was nonthreatening Sidney Poitier-type character) but are an integral part of american culture, and to ignore them is repress a culture by deeming a type of crime cinema belonging to that culture as “too offensive” or threatening for mainstream videogames.

    • I think part of Everett’s point was noting a game where a conscious effort to be inclusive has been made, and they have create a culture based on a stereotype. The same carries through with propagating narratives about Italian crime bosses and such. So arguably the god father game does this as well. The only problem is the difference in the bubble they keep casting these characters in. So it is not enough to just include a race, but to make sure that people are equally represented in all classes and roles in society.

      Also saying that things are a tribute to a certain time period is interesting because they are following the mainstream representation of that history. We are still looking at whatever culture through the white lens of mainstream media.

    • Yeah, but homages can be just as racist as the original—they don’t get a pass because they’re harking back to something that had a marginally progressive aspect thirty years ago. I don’t think that acknowledging the context changes any of the points in the article.

Comments are closed.