I know everyone says they are tired of hearing about political correctness, or whether something is “woke”, but there are a few instances where one sees things that we should not be seeing in 2022, things that bring the whole sexism/racism/stereotyping argument to the forefront. Whether or not these things were put in maliciously or innocently enough, racist and other questionable moments in videogames can make one uncomfortable and even ruin a game for many people. While I bet I could round up a whole list of intentionally evil things from racial separatist groups depicting grotesque acts and terrible storylines, I’m going to try to keep to mainstream game releases. Perhaps ones where a bad idea slipped by some stuffy execs and saw the light of day. Without further ado, here is my list, in no particular order.
While I wasn’t going to put this game on the list originally, I know that many immediately think of it when one mentions racist videogames. Custer’s Revenge was an Atari 2600 game intended for adults in a small market of pornographic videogames at the time. The game starred a caricaturized version of the infamous General George A. Custer as he gets “revenge” for his bloody death at the hands of The Lakota tribe. This “revenge” is basically raping all the “noble savage women” within the tribe for no apparent reason at all. Despite the inane and completely derogatory nature of the plot, this really isn’t the only pornographic material that sinks this low; in fact the porn industry was basically built on the same sort of storytelling.
A few years ago Persona was finally released to English speaking countries in a form more like its original Japanese release. Missing quests were intact, and more importantly, character localizations were removed in favor of the Japanese versions. This was great news because the game was somewhat tainted for years with an overzealous localization attempt that changed things for the the worst in many ways. In the original American release, the game was once deemed “too Japanese” by the localization team at Atlus. Thus we ended up with American names, which honestly weren’t that bad, and American looks. Suddenly hair was lightened, skin was lightened, and in one case a character was made into a zany black stereotype.
The character Masao exists as the comic relief of the game, as he appears to be an uneducated kid “from the streets” that spouts goofy one-liners and doesn’t take things seriously. The localizers must have noticed that he was a graffiti artist and loved dancing and thought “I know what we should change him to!”, thus we got Mark, the Jar Jar Binks of the game. Mark could have been an great change (inclusion is always a good idea!), but when his dialog was altered to consist of “street colloquialisms” that appear to be how corporate people think black people talk.
With over 600 Pokémon there is no doubt that at least a few might have some resemblance to a real life person or character. Problem is that one of the many that does happens to be Jynx. Jynx was based on a fashion style called yamanba from Japan. A decade ago a handful of Japanese girls started trying to emulate the looks of Hollywood starlets with blonde hair, light makeup, and even fake tans. This style, called Ganguro, further evolved into another style called yamanba. Yamanba ditches the semi-realistic coloring for an even more distorted look with brown skin, stark white makeup on the eyes and lips – problem is some yamanba sort of look like they are wearing blackface make-up ala Little Black Sambo, a series of books popular many years ago. Jynx has been re-colored purple for most of her (his?) Western appearances, but stays black in Japan.
Speaking of Little Black Sambo, What started as an innocent children’s book in the 1890’s turned into a racial slur not too soon after. This was largely in part due to the illustrations of Sambo that looked like he was wearing traditional blackface make-up. “Sambo” soon became a derogatory word for black people, and the titular book was all but banned not too long ago. The game Scribblenauts was a popular Nintendo DS game that allowed the player to write words on the screen to make items appear. The game has images for over 1000 words, so people went in and tested some less than savory ones, and thought “I wonder what happens when you write “Sambo” into the game?” Unlike most words, that one actually worked. That’s right a watermelon appears, thus combing a bad racial slur and a racial stereotype also from minstrel entertainment…nice job guys.
Miburi & Teburi
Leave it to Sega to sarcastically poke fun at American fetishism of Japan by having a character in a game that seems to be a mockery of the concept. Enter Miburi & Teburi , a game where one tries to solve crossword-like puzzles through “charades” styled gestures from live action characters on the screen. A few of those characters are presented as “typical American tourists” and as such are covered in hair, huge, and stupid. Just about everything they say is something like “I love Japan. I love Japanese people!” Yeesh!
Whenever any company makes a game that contains characters from around the world 99% of the time this results in a grab-bag of silly racial stereotypes. In Street Fighter games we have just about everyone covered from a Sumo Wrestler, a huge Russian wrestler, to a Yoga master with shrunken heads, and even a U.S. Military officer with a flat-top. While I wouldn’t say that the series in itself is racist it does promote racial stereotypes that could be seen as racist, especially if moved to the extreme…
… Like Punch Out! I mean seriously when you punch Glass Joe, the weakest guy in the game, he not only secretes croissants somehow, but he begs for surrender. Then we have characters like Great Tiger, an Indian man with a tiger and a magical turban. These stereotypes were mellowed out a bit in Super Punch Out! but we still had a hillbilly, a ninja, and a Jamaican guy that was basically Bob Marley.
Spanish For Everyone
One would think that an educational game about learning a language would teach about the culture of said foreign country in a non-questionable way. Enter Spanish For Everyone, a game that throws logic out the window. We begin the game with a kid named Shawn playing a game on his DS, a friend named Miguel walks by asking if he can also play it. Shawn hands the game over only to have Miguel’s dad drive up telling him to get in. Miguel then steals the DS (accidentally I hope) and he and his dad drive away chased by cops.
Shawn’s Aunt shows up and assumes that Miguel must have fled to Mexico, so they drive there. During the trip His aunt makes it clear that she may be a bad stereotype of a Mexican sex-worker or something as she keeps telling Shawn “I can teach you many things and Spanish is definitely one of them.” And it’s all downhill from there folks. We also see Shawn’s uncle who’s profession is “an exporter”, clearly alluding to something else. The game is full of scenes where Mexico and Mexican people are portrayed as a lawless crime movie stereotype, thus causing a minor backlash upon release.
Square’s Tom Sawyer
One has to wonder if the Japanese actually know what a person with dark skin looks like. While there has lately been an attempt to have positive black characters in games and other media such as anime, you still sometimes end up like questionable characters like Mr. Popo from Dragonball Z and our next entry. I’m sure most Americans on here have read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, most likely by force in school at some point. This game takes the plot of both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and mashes them together into something vaguely like the original books.
If you have read the books you will know of the character “Jim”, a runaway slave that joins Tom and Huck on their adventures. While many in America have been trying to “clean up” the stories by removing all racist language, The Japanese game developers went the other direction by making “Jim” into a minstrel show styled, grotesque black-faced monster of a man. With huge lips that take up the entire character image and small beady eyes, one has to wonder “what were they thinking?”
One of the more recent games on this list is actually one of my favorite games of all time. Persona 5, is however, not without it’s faults and one of them is it’s portrayal of a homosexual couple in the game. In the original Persona 5, a pair of unnamed gay men approach the character Ryuji unprompted, they openly discuss how he is obviously underage, but they can’t help being attracted to him in a predatory way. These scene becomes VERY uncomfortable as everything seems to be becoming unsafe.
The newest version of the game, Persona 5 Royal, has the same characters, but Atlus made an effort to “fix them” a tad by now making them try to pressure Ryuji into a gay bar called “crossroads” rather than attempt to sexually assault him. “You can’t deny it!” one says. “We saw you peeking into Crossroads! Well sweetie, if you’re curious, we’ll help you look DIVINE!” This is still questionable and didn’t exactly fix the situation.
An educational game about being a “pick-up artist” can’t be too bad right? Problem is, that the very act of following any advice from this game is basically a way to become a huge sociopath and manipulate women into being nothing more than an object of sexual conquest. Many say this game promotes “rape culture”, but I think most can agree it’s “sleazy” at best. Its release on PlayStation 4 was pulled by Sony shortly before it was due for release. Despite this, they apparently had enough buzz to make two sequels, with the second installment blocked from release by Nintendo soon after. Despite releasing the first two installments, the third installment was pulled from Steam.
And there you have it, are there any other games that deserve to be on the list?