"Black is an EXTRA feature… Therefore, you hav[e] to PAY for it."

Via kynn who found it via symbioid; some information on Acclaim’s new game, Dance, where the default is white. One of the users took issue with this and began a thread called, I GOTTA PAY TO BE BLACK?

This situation is, perhaps, one of the most clear-cut examples of how the privileged groups are normalized and the non-privileged groups are Othered. First of all, this game seems to be still in the development stage; they’re testing out game mechanics and the like. Just as with Fable, as I discussed in my gender-inclusive video game thread, treating a female option as an “extra” rather than an intrinsic part of a game that supposedly lets you be anything, Acclaim’s Dance treats white as the default and non-white as an extra feature. As one of the moderators on the board explains, “Black is an EXTRA feature. It makes your person look unique, so that is an EXTRA feature. Therefore, you having to PAY for it.”

A site administrator takes a different tactic from the “it’s a compliment because it’s unique” approach, by implying that this is the best way to handle things because the game structure won’t allow for anything else. The staff member says, “As an optional character upgrade, we must put this in the item shop for players to acquire. This is the only way to offer the African-American heads.” The “only way”? Really? Perhaps at this stage it would be so costly to make the necessary adjustments to the system that it seems like the only way is to make it a paying option (although, really, in that case I can’t see why they couldn’t at least make it 0 points instead of 1, but I digress), but if they had programmed from the ground up with diversity in mind instead of allowing white to be the default, then there would be no problem — hence framing it as something out of their hands reads, to me at least, more like a tactic for avoiding responsibility than the full truth.

A more detailed explanation of the moderator’s stance — non-white skin colour as unique — is as follows [emphasis mine]:

THE REASON, there is no available choice at the moment is because, being white doesn’t necessarily have to represent you color in game. To change your skin color in the game, IS a special feature. It makes you STAND OUT. Therefore, your going to have to pay for an extra feature. Maybe in full release, there will be a bit more leeway, but for now you have to stick with what you got and test the game, and don’t worry so much about your character they’re going to be wiped regardless… We didn’t mean for this to be a racial bash. But the default skin tone we have in DANCE! is white. If you want something extra your going to have to pay. Nothing in life is free.

[From I GOTTA PAY TO BE BLACK? comment by coasterguy26]

Acclaim wasn’t aiming to be racist. I would say that no successful company — at least none that want to stay in business — tries to be racist. But the whole point about privilege is that you don’t have to try to be bigoted, but you have to actively try not to be bigoted because of the way the bigoted point of view is normalized in society.

See, privilege is about not having to see yourself as the Other. The moderator quoted above — and the company he represents — don’t see the hypocrisy in saying that they didn’t “mean for this to be a racial bash” and then in the very next sentence say that “the default skin tone we have in DANCE! is white”. They don’t think of it as racist because in our society being white is “normal”, it’s the “default” and it’s certainly nothing for anyone to get worked up over.

White people, who do already have it so that the avatars “represent [their] color in game” (and in most games, movies, tv shows, comic books, books, etc), have the luxury of seeing race as an extra, as something to do to make yourself unique and stand out. People of colour, who aren’t automatically represented in this game or most other parts of society, don’t have that luxury. If they want to have their avatars represent someone like themselves — something a white person doesn’t have to think about if they don’t want to — they have to pay. They get to see themselves be Othered and then told that they should be grateful because they are seen as “unique” and something to be desired. What is a fun accessory for a white player is a necessary component for a player of colour who wants to have the same ability as the white person to allow their avatar to represent their real life self. Privilege is not having to think about how the “extras” afforded to you come at the cost of allowing non-privileged groups the same basic representation that you take for granted.

It’s certainly much easier for Acclaim to take the tactic that they have — it’s out of our hands, we’ve made it an extra feature to help make you unique (so we can’t be doing a bad thing), and, hey, we don’t mean to be racist so obviously we can’t be! — than it is for them to acknowledge that they fucked up and take the time to fix it.

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12 thoughts on “"Black is an EXTRA feature… Therefore, you hav[e] to PAY for it."

  1. Xp

    I really don’t have anything more intelligent to say other than that, I just thought I ought to say something in response to the moderators cluelessness.

  2. Interesting note from the marketer over my shoulder: On pure numbers terms, if it was about market and money-making and so on, the default would be black, and you’d have to pay to be white, because the assumption is that the white market is bigger, more resourced, and more willing to spend.

    I’d personally add that it’s also that the white market is generally less willing or able to identify with a character whose colour doesn’t match their own, because they haven’t had to do it for most of their lives in order to have decent characters to identify with.

  3. That’s true, arielladrake, except that there’s the potential for some whites not to purchase the game if they have to pay to be white. When I worked retail, there were parents who refused to purchase books for their boy children if the book had a female lead- I can see a company fearing that whites might feel less inclined to purchase a game if the main character selections didn’t include “white.”

  4. They of course, ignore the possibility of making the default a wooden mannikin and having *all* human appearances be extras…

  5. They of course, ignore the possibility of making the default a wooden mannikin and having *all* human appearances be extras…

    Pcha, you and your Earth Logic. Offering up obvious solutions that could work with the game dynamics and takes away the last shred of the excuse that they put up to cover up their racism.

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