I recently received an e-mail from a OS.CB reader regarding choosing a human character of a different race to play in a video game. The letter is as follows:
I’ve been struggling with coming up with an answer for this question, so I thought I would ask for your opinion on the matter.
As I was playing World of Warcraft, I decided that I would like to make an Alliance character. Sifting through the options, I chose to play a human mage. Being human, you can choose from a variety of skin colors. This is where the anxiety began for me; I really liked the look of having a black female mage. I had zero intentions of stereotyping her in any way; I just liked how she looked.
It comes down to this: as a white woman, I was too afraid to create a black character. I was afraid that I would be called racist, or accidentally offend people. My question is this: Can I, as a white woman, play a black female character, or is that too offensive?
I have done the same in Oblivion; I shy away from creating Redguard characters because I feel I don’t have the right to play as a black character.
I just wanted to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Video games often give us a way to explore different aspects of ourselves. When we’re given a choice over character development, oftentimes we will choose avatars that are in some way different from our “mundane” personalities. I have, in the past, criticized men who play as women, but I think that the important deciding factor in whether or not having a woman avatar is sexist lies in how the female persona is treated, not in the gender of the player. I think it’s important to ask questions such as: Has she been picked because she’s a hot piece of ass? Exotic in a way that a male couldn’t be to the player? Roleplaying wise, has she been picked to play The Girl, or is she a well rounded character who happens to be female?
My first thought on the matter of race would be to treat it as much the same thing: choosing a human character of another race is not inherently wrong, but it can become offensive if you treat that character like The Other. But, of course, I have the same dilemma that my reader did: as a white person, I’m coming from an outsider’s perspective and so I’m not in a position to judge if, in fact, the two situations (a man playing as a woman, or a white person playing as a person of colour) are comparable in any significant way.
So, with this reader’s permission, I have decided to post the question to all of you: What do you think of a white person picking for their avatar a character of colour that’s clearly relatable to real life racial delineations and does this change when discussing a fantasy race that doesn’t have clear correlations to real life?