We live in a society constantly on-edge for potential discrimination. No longer is it “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” it’s “Baa, Baa, Rainbow Sheep.” No longer is it the black sheep of the herd, its just the odd one out. Even innocent Gollywogs have become controversial.
When it comes to considering video games as offensive on discriminatory grounds, let us remember to always take a step back and a moment to think. Let us always consider intent and context thoroughly before pointing the accusatory finger.
The issue of discrimination is a very real and a very serious one, but claims of what constitutes discrimination these days are often as ridiculous as the very idea of a rainbow sheep.
Are we to consider
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as racist because its human denizens are discriminatory to Gorons and consider Deku Scrubs to be much lower than themselves? In this instance, we cannot fall into the trap of mistaking the conveyance of racial issues within a video game as the game itself being racist.
Metroid: Other M; it is accused of being sexist because of its portrayal of Samus, a large-breasted blonde, as overly-emotional and dependent upon her male mentor, Adam. There are also jabs made at Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII for a few raunchy garments.
In both cases, the female protagonists are presented as fallible humans on personal journeys with thorough characterization. Their games are merely labeled as sexist for having female protagonists; an all too common trend for such an unsustainable argument.
Going on, should we label the classic
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as ageist because Link is deemed too young to be capable of his heroic destiny as a child? To do so is to label the plain truth that sometimes we really are too young as discriminatory.
When conducting analysis for traits such as sexism, racism and ageism, we need to be cautious that the video game we are commenting on is itself inherently offensive, and not merely acting as a social comment on discrimination.
Imagine a hypothetical game like a procedural prime-time crime drama. If every criminal arrest made was of an ethnic perpetrator, then the game would be racist. If only half are ethnic, then it’s realistically balanced.
Majora’s Mask involved Link actively persecuting Gorons, then it would be racist. To be sexist, Lightning Returns would involve dress-ups only so you can then watch Lightning roll around and jelly-wrestle. A few revealing garments does not sexism make.
There is an important distinction to be made between being discriminatory and conveying discrimination as an issue. We must also consider whether a game has a malicious intent to discriminate given its cultural context, or whether it was a developmental happenstance.
For this, let us look at another
Legend of Zelda title: A Link to the Past. If released today the game would be considered sexist as it involves saving not one, but seven damsels in distress. Given its 1991 release, the kidnapped female was culturally an accepted, even expected, element of fantasy.
Ocarina of Time seven years later and of the seven sages seeking rescuing, five were female and two were male. A Link Between Worlds, the sequel to A Link to the Past, was released last year, and of its seven captive sages, four were female and three were male, close enough to a balance.
Released today, sure, A Link to the Past could be considered somewhat sexist, and so newer games in the Zelda franchise have adapted the cultural norm of avoiding discrimination and balancing their genders-in-distress. However, to misconstrue A Link to the Past as intentionally and maliciously sexist is unfounded. Had the game’s narrative conveyed woman as completely helpless and utterly dependent upon males then it would be blatantly sexist.
It would not be absurd to say moments such as in
Paper Mario, where Peach bakes a cake, are moments of assigning gender roles and sexism. Yet even then, we need to realize individual characterization. Not every female in Paper Mario constantly bakes cakes, and nowhere does the game imply this is a woman’s role; it’s merely what Peach often does.
We can always draw attention to games such as
The Last Story, where humans are (at least predominantly) white, and the villainous Gurak are both black and partly-humanoid. We can say that it’s racist, but like society around us, we need to firstly properly grasp what racism and discrimination actually is.
Identifying one black sheep in a herd of white ones as “the odd-one out” is not racist, it is an observation, a comment. To persecute that sheep, treat it as lesser and remove it from socializing with the white sheep is racism. To tell the story of the black sheep is not racism unless it encourages and justifies like behavior as acceptable.
When discrimination occurs within a video game we must carefully consider whether it is a comment on the social issue made by the developers or an intentionally malicious act to offend. Let us remember this when analyzing video games and, for that matter, when we analyze all media forms and facets of society.