Identity and Individuality – a trade-off?

Now that our class is discussing the issue of racial formation and its ramification in virtual world, I find it a good time to dig further into a concern I have always had, and experienced: why is this that even though there is such a significant amount of Asian users on multiple virtual communities and online games, I always feel associated with the “minorities”, or the “outsiders”. Why is this that a Caucasian look will be considered a norm, and other races will receive scrutiny from the communities? After years and years of revolution against racial discrimination, this issue should no longer exist. Why am I, as of now, still feel concerned?

There were times I customized my avatar as a completely different person: very light complexion, brunette hair, and blue eyes – just to feel normal. Often time it was due to the fact that the representation of my race, on certain virtual worlds, is a mere example of racial stereotyping that results in a highly limited set of choices. One single choice of small dark eyes (!), another choice of a basic black haircut, and these are all we get for our features. If I want to look “pretty” and have more choices to represent myself, I have to go for the choice of presenting myself as a Caucasian. The only way for expressing individuality is to follow this predesignated norm.

The reading, “”Black Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World”” resonates with my concern. In this study, Kafai et al explores the issue of racial representation on Whyville.net, a teen virtual world with more than 1.5 players, ages 8-16. The unique feature of Whyville is they player’ ability to customize their avatars with body parts designed by other members of Whyville. Kerri_87, a Whyville user, posted a message complaining about the lack of “bodies” for “black faces” in this community. Another user, always_black, was insulted in chat mode with racial slurs. Obviously, the Whyville community is not a judgement-free zone, and it “mirrors the racial stereotyping found in society” (Kafai et al 2).

This reminds me of a recent controversy concerning the widely popular game Grand Theft Auto 5. Among three protagonists, Michael De Santa, Trevor Phillips and Franklin Clinton, only Franklin is black. Rockstar, the developer of Grand Theft Auto 5, has been accused of portraying racial discrimination towards Franklin. Whenever the player chooses Franklin as the main character, the in-game police tends to have a proclivity towards arresting Franklin.

These are two examples that relate to Kafai et al’s discussion about whether or not this racial profiling focuses on the responsibility of the game industry, or it’s the user community’s attitude towards racial issue. To me, the limited choices in self-representation provided by the game industry makes me more conscious about my virtual appearance. Thus, the border between my virtual identity and my projective identity is always clouded. As I am projecting my choices to this virtual representation, I am giving up part of my physical features, including my race to adapt to the game, to be accepted, to appear normal.  I am giving up my identity to be given access to individuality.

Kafai, Yasmin, , et al. “”Black Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World.” n. page. Print.

P.S: I stumbled upon this photo just now. Another upsetting example of racial profiling.

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