Virtual Normality

We happen to live in a world of stereotypes. A world that itself is slightly in part responsible for these stereotypes, but it seems as if society refuses to make it easy to break these boundaries. The social hierarchy and cultural injustices are seen consistently in our society, from the workplace to neighborhoods, perhaps all rooted in education, or further in history, that can be argued. However one thing I had never realized was racial stereotypes portrayed in the video game world whether intentional or not. Not once did I ever stop to think about the Grand Theft Auto games as means for those who could not understand such worlds to transport themselves into it. A romanticized and fantasy world of stereotypes all for the appetites of the suburban youth who in turn further absorb these images as valid ideas only furthering the struggle to break these stereotypes. I took it as a valid argument for increased violence in teens, but never one for micro aggression or micro racism towards the races being portrayed.

Perhaps I took it for granted that although, yes these worlds do exist in small similarities, the common sense and logical thinking was that most ghettos and impoverished neighborhoods are being fantasized from single mothers and hard working families struggling to survive into uncontrollable war zones where morals and rules seem to vanish. I never once thought of it as a tool to become a stereotype, however I also never looked at video games from a marketing perspective and realized who they were really trying to sell these games too. It was not me, it was the suburban white teens who truly could not tell the difference between what they were being sold and the real inner cities, at no fault of their own. Simply just society and capitalism selling an idea and stereotypes because they could, and because it was profitable. David Leonard in his essay, “Young, Black (& Brown) and Don’t Give a Fuck: Virtual Gangstas in the Era of State Violence”, insisted that, “The opportunity to control virtual gangstas, whether playing, regulating the availability of games, reducing ghetto spaces to ones of play and consumption, or prosecuting those youth who perform virtual gangsta identities in the real-world, reflects the White supremacist orientation of gaming culture”.

While perhaps this could be an over exaggeration due to a focus on a specific genre of games the same racial bias is noted by Yasmin B. Kafai, Melissa Cook, & Deborah A. Fields in their essay, ““Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World”. While the virtual world was once a place where identity was not an issue or even a thought, we have come far from that to a point where virtual identity is sought to be as detailed as possible. However how fair can it be when the options are not there for those who are constantly misrepresented? In the essay the authors are able to find the difficulties in properly creating avatars or identities who must be a color besides peach (olive, brown, yellow). They do point out that “ while the current situation may be an improvement from 2000-2002 conditions, it is still not as easy to assembly a brown, olive, or yellow look as it is to assemble a peach one, as one citizen recently noted in the only Whyville times article to address the subject since 2002, “I went to Akbar’s and typed in Latino. I bought a head, ears and a shirt — but I was appalled at how few Latino parts there actually were. Eventually, I put together a fairly decent Latino face, even finding a Latino girly arm.” [3] The presence of accessories like the “Latino girly arm” probably represent an improvement over the past, but at least some players still do not find it as easy to complete a non-white look” (5). It is still surprising to me, even though perhaps it should not be that beyond being improperly represented in the real world, minorities are also improperly represented in the virtual one, perhaps only enforcing the stigma and underlying racial issues that still need to be addressed in our society.

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