I’ve only recently been made aware of the controversy surrounding Rust. The controversy surrounds lack of choice in selecting characters. Well to be more specific, gamer’s were upset having to play a Black character. Many of these gamer’s went to the internet to make their concerns known. Kotaku author Nathan Grayson also writes about the controversy here.
I recently discussed this with my class and a student, a White male, made this comment:
So they’re mad that they’re Black? Welcome to the world of women and people of color in gaming. They never have a choice. All they have is a white guy and a bigger white guy.
Another White female commented:
So why are they up in arms when people of color ask for characters that look like them? Diversify so we can play all kinds of characters. They see how it feels now.
This last comment gets to the heart of this post:
Why weren’t people up in arms about CJ from San Andreas? We all loved playing that black dude? Because he was a thug probably.
Yes informed student of mine. Remember CJ from San Andreas? Remember Cole Train from Gears of War? No one had issues with these problematic Black characters. And why is that?
I informed my students, that research from larger media shows that mainstream audiences comfortably consume Black characters when they are situated in certain types of roles: 1) as slaves, domestic servants, or other subservient, help roles; 2) as comedic buffoons; or 3) as criminals. Within the gaming realm, athletes are an additional category in which mainstream gamers don’t mind playing Black characters.
Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole from the popular series Gears of War, CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Black characters from Street Fighter, and others are all examples of stereotypical representations of Blacks in video games. The mediated story of Black’s is limited and situated within buffoonery (comedy) or crime. Media outlets have created essentialist notions about Blackness and what it means to have an ‘authentic’ Black experience. And because there are limited counter narratives, this singular narrative only confirms hegemonic notions of what it means to be Black (Gray, 2014).
So what happens when Black characters are created outside of these tropes? Rust did just that in assigning a regular Black dude to the mainstream gamer. And the response reveals so much with our so-called post-racial society. Yes race still matters and it matters within games.
But what is the issue really? Is it lack of options? No. It is lack of player control? No. It’s rooted in privilege as certain bodies are no longer the focus. The world no longer revolves around them and it bothers them. Let’s be honest with ourselves. There are little to no options in character diversity. As my student stated, you either get to be a white dude or a big white dude. But to folks like me (QWOC), we’ve normalized this. We said, “ok, we’ll play with characters who don’t look like us.” We’ve been playing straight, white dudes, stereotypical characters of color, and hypersexualized females for a long time now. Let’s mix it up a little bit.