Addendum: Asian characters in video games


My last entry, which questioned the dominance of characters with white features made by Japanese game creators, created an unexpectedly large and colorful conversation, both here and on other sites where it was cross-posted.


I wanted to add a quick addendum to it, for people who are not familiar with my past work – I had no intention of insinuating that Japanese game developers are somehow worse than predominantly white Western developers, in regards to racial representation.  It just so happened that, with the blockbuster release of Final Fantasy XIII, I could ask a question that I always wanted to ask.


I also wanted to make it clear that I have no intention of policing what an Asian person looks like, nor do I believe in ideas of racial purity or weird essentialism in that regard.  My main question remains: what colonial, historical, racial, and economical powers shape what we create?


Interested people can read a more in-depth (but older) essay I wrote on videogames here:


Also, check out the excellent articles and posts regarding race and videogames on Racialicious, especially as LaToya recently spoke at a panel at South by Southwest:


Thanks for my homie Keith Chow, who pointed out this great article by Jeff Yang:


He draws an incredibly important distinction between Asian and Asian AMERICAN characters.  My one challenge to Jeff’s excellent essay, would be questioning if Japanese characters are truly over-represented just because so many Japanese make games.  I would argue, that Japanese developers make far more games featuring non-Asians then Western developers make games featuring Asians.  So proportionally, there’s still something about the economics of race and colonialism that makes it much more likely that any game you pick up will feature a white protagonist, even though so many Japanese people make games.


And another issue: a lot of Western developers make games set in Asia and the Middle East but with a white protagonist, or a non-Asian, non-Arab protagonist.  Along with the many different Vietnam, WWII, and Middle-East themed war games which feature mostly white (sometimes one Black) playable character, here’s a short list of Western developed games/upcoming games set in Asia that feature non-Asian playable characters:


Project: Snowblind

Red Steel

50  Cent: Blood on the Sand

Just Cause 2


Far Cry

Killer 7

Army of 2: the 40th day

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days


Fellow nerds, feel free to add to this list.

Interesting: the new True Crime game seems to feature an Asian playable character.  Hopefully it'll be better than the other True Crime game, which featured an Asian American who would yell "Kung Pao" when he kicked someone.  It's a different developer, who have stated their vision is to create a game based on the excellent "Infernal Affairs" movies.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Last thing for now: Ninja Theory, creators of Heavenly Sword, are coming out with a new game based on the Chinese classic story Journey to the West.  Three guesses whether they’ll be any Asian characters in it.  Which is weird, since Heavenly Sword had a main character, Nariko, who could be read as Asian.  So, you can make a game with an attractive Asian female character in it, but when it comes to making one with an Asian male, he’s… a blond monkey?  Hmmmm….