Is Watch Dogs racist? That’s the allegation of some reviewers who have noted the video game characters based in Chicago use black stereotypes.
The video games industry has long fought the stigma of being sexist. The infamous booth babes still linger in the memories of many gamers, and game publishers are said to be hesitant to publish games with a lead female character because they supposedly do not sell as well as games featuring a male lead. Of course, that belief seems to contradict the success of Tomb Raider, although some may point out how, ironically, no one remembers Remember Me despite it having a strong female lead whose mixed heritage included being African American.
Male gamers might be surprised to find out that video game developer Infinity Ward claims female Call Of Duty players comprise 25 percent of all multiplayer gamers. According to a study by the Entertainment Software Association called 2013 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, 45 percent of gamers are women and they make up 46 percent of the most habitual video game purchasers. The ESA also found that adult women represent 31 percent of the video game population and boys 17 and under make up only 19 percent of gamers.
Even when it comes to African American video game characters, they tend to present a stereotype. For example, in GTA 5 Franklin fills the role of the stereotypical black gangster:
“Franklin’s dialogue is riddled with more n-words and curse words then actual dialogue. To continue the stereotype, he owns a big scary dog, murders police and other criminals like it was going out of style and still holds hope that he can rise above the fray to become someone of quality…. Franklin’s character embodies the majority portrayal of black males in video games through this point in history. With only a few notable exceptions, this stereotypical black video game male is violent, angry and foul mouthed with few redeeming qualities.”
Of course, this is Grand Theft Auto we’re talking about, which thrives on making mockeries of stereotypes of all types, including dropping in parodies of real-life celebrities and household names. So the question remains on whether Watch Dogs is being racist in its perpetuation of racial stereotypes in a game that is supposed to take the subject matter a little more seriously.
First off, I’ll start off by saying I have not yet had a chance to play Watch Dogs at all. So I can not comment myself too much upon what is being said about the game. But other reviewers have already begun to pick apart how Watch Dogs portrays Chicago.
For example, Polygon writes:
“Female characters in Watch Dogs are victims, to be kidnapped or murdered in the interest of plot or character motivation and are almost all overtly sexualized. Black characters fall into two camps – the aforementioned victims, or, just as maddeningly, criminals. The city of Chicago has an incredibly complicated, difficult history with race, discrimination and segregation. This is a difficult subject to explore in any kind of entertainment. But Watch Dogs’ portrayal of Chicago’s racial divide seems potentially tone-deaf. Meanwhile, the Profiler’s “flavor text,” dynamic descriptions assigned to the randomly created NPCs that fill Watch Dogs’ Chicago, frequently seem to be lowest-common denominator attempts at humor. When I saw “transgender” and similar attributes presented as throwaway personality quirks, I wasn’t laughing.”
Paste Magazine also took note of how the black citizens of a virtual Chicago were portrayed:
“While it shows us minorities when discussing crime and gunplay, this suggests that poverty and violence are the only contexts in which minorities exist in the Chicago of Watch Dogs…. I would not go so far as to call this racist, or even to think it was done with malintent, but it does strike me as dishonest. Ubisoft wants us to believe that they have accurately recreated Chicago in miniature, but given what we have seen from the game, I only see a set. This is a playground in which we will play. A part of the Chicago that I experience as a black woman living in it, one where the racial politics are ingrained on each block, might not make an appearance. If it does, it will be as the rungs on a ladder that a white protagonist will climb over on his tale of revenge.”
What do you think; is Watch Dogs racist and/or sexist? Or do you think reviewers are being too critical?