When racism and video games combine, their meeting is usually in the subtext: the offensive personality of a character, the sociocultural dynamic of a setting, the ethos of an enemy. Sure, the voice-chat transmissions of online gaming’s grade school population aren’t much to aspire to – on racial-tolerance and many other grounds – but rarely is racism equated to any widespread game-industry agenda.
Assassin’s Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson, however, believes a “subtle racism” lies within the business of games journalism.Speaking very candidly to CVG, Hutchinson draws the distinction based upon the critical treatment given to Japanese games. The director had already expressed his vision for turning Assassin’s Creed into an ongoing franchise – “like Mario or Resident Evil” – and he ventured an explanation for why Nintendo was so successful in constantly renewing its flagship titles:
“You want my real answer? I think there’s a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists’ side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it’s condescending to do this.”
Particularly, Hutchinson objects to the way Japanese stories are interpreted by industry journalists – he believes they get preferential treatment.
“Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There’s no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say ‘oh it is brilliant’.”
“Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it’s the worst written narrative in a game ever. I’ll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.”
“It’s patronizing to say, ‘oh those Japanese stories, they don’t really mean what they’re doing.’”
That Japanese games exist within their own realm of storytelling unique to the Western world is no secret. That American and European games exist within their own realm of storytelling unique to the Japanese market is also a given. Pointing out the differences would produce a list as wide as the Asian landmass/Pacific Ocean between the two.
What Hutchinson is alluding to is how the media weighs these cultural/racial differences with its cultural/racial expectations. Are we being subconsciously biased when we don’t hold Mario‘s mythology to the standard of Assassin’s Creed? When we mention celebrated Japanese storytellers, like Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto, by noting their peculiar eccentricity in same breath as their ability to create engaging, articulate and compelling narratives? Is our resulting praise masking an underlying underestimation?
Clearly there are standards for what makes a good game, what comprises a good story or entertaining gameplay. But as with any art form, they’re relatively loose. Where one opinion sees consistent quality in a franchise, another sees repetitive laziness (a perennial debate with Call of Duty). Where one reviewer can note a flaw, another can excuse it as a cultural divide.
Hutchinson deduces a racial element from this arbitrary chemistry – and some may agree. But is he right in extending the criticism to games journalism as a whole?
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