Valkyria Chronicles, and How Games Talk About Racism

maninahat

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Michel Henzel said:
maninahat said:
I'm playing through Valkyria Chronicles, an enjoyable, if weirdly conceived, turn-based strategy game set in a fantasy WWII. There is a subplot in the game wherein a bunch of your squad members are bullying another squad member because she's Darcsen - some ethnic minority nobody likes. I've not finished the game yet, but presumably there will be some life lessons wherein everyone overcomes their differences through teamwork or whatever.

Anyway, what makes this subplot weird is how the racism is presented in the game in the first place; Darcsen people are literally identical to everyone else in the squad, except for having dark hair. If she dyed her hair, she could pass for any one of the gang. Come to think of it, even though there are dozens and dozens of characters, all of them have the same generic anime white skin (outside a couple with greyish tans) and there are no other distinguishable races. So my issue is this: how could the game developers come to the decision to talk about racism in a game with apparently only one race? Did they not think it was odd when they were designing the characters?

This is pretty much the exact same problem with the Witcher 3, in that the devs went to the trouble of depicting racial discrimination in their setting, but their setting is one where everyone is a white. There seems to be this weird hypocrisy behind criticising racism whilst excluding every other race from your game. How does this even happen?
How is there hypocrisy? You said it yourself, they depict racial discrimination, which, by definition, includes discrimination based on ethnicity and nationality. Since the Valkiria franchise clearly depicts other European based ethnicities I don't see your point in the slightest. And it actually fits in the setting as ethnic based racial discrimination is the most common type in Europe.
There is a distinction between nationality, ethnicity and race, but there is a lot of overlap as well to confuse things. Racism is often used to describe prejudice against all of those things (and religion too), though strictly speaking it is meant to be tied to race - which is an arbitrary set of biological differences. The problem I have with the game is that it presents one group being racist against a group that looks the same. To the player, these guys literally all look alike. Now either the game is going for some commentary about the petty nature of racism [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi7QQ5pO7_A], or the game writers didn't sit in the same room as the character designers so it never occurred to them that they would need to make their characters have distinct racial traits.

People have countered that the Jews aren't a different race. But as far as the Nazis were concerned, Jews were a distinct race with distinct physical characteristics (with stereotypical eye and hair colour, skin tones, face shape, hair type etc) and the Nazis targeted people who "looked Jewish". If we saw a movie in which a gang of soldiers persecute one of their squaddies, we would also spot that the character at least looks stereo-typically Jewish. The art style of the game however means that everyone has the exact same generic looking faces, with hair colour often being the only variable.

All of this is to say as well that the game probably should have a bit more diversity in it. Perhaps they should have gone for an art style that lets them show more detailed and subtle facial characteristics, or maybe they could have included people who are obviously from a different race. this WWII fantasy permits women and openly gay people to fight on the front lines, but somehow this army also doesn't have any non-whites, whereas in reality the European armies had a lot of them (yes, even the Nazis had a few). To not have them is an oversight. To not have them in a game that talks about racism is a bigger oversight.

TLDR: A game tries to be conscientious about race but isn't conscientious about race.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Zetatrain said:
So what you're saying is that despite other noticeable physical attributes among non humans, you're saying that TW3 can't explore race related issues because skin color isn't one of those attributes? That seems incredibly arbitrary
I believe that what he's saying is that there's a case to be made that CDPR has a sort of cognitive dissonance. The elves/dwarves/humans/witchers conflict is an allegory for racism and CDPR (and Sapkowski) are explicit about that being the idea. Yet, CDPR, a developer who talks about racism as an important facet of their game, manages to fall into the trap of making people of color invisible by omitting them from their game (until Hearts of Stone anyway). This failure of representation is not explicit racism, but an important component in the unwitting propagation of unintended racism.

And before we go there, no, medieval Europe was not a place of only white people. The Golden Horde (ASIATIC HORDES!) was within a few hundred miles of the then Polish Empire in the 13th Century, there were a lot of Arabs and Berbers, merchants, craftsmen etc., running around Europe and black Africans were kept as either slaves or simply as novelty retainers by many nobles around Europe. Not to mention all those Greeks, Spaniards, Italians and other people of decidedly non-Northern European complexion. Considering that a skin texture requires no additional riggning or animation, it'd have been a breeze for CDPR to include a few peoples of color in TW3 on release.
 

jademunky

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I thought VC did alright with its depiction of racism. Yeah the Darcsens looked barely different from anybody else but that's what makes it more believable. Real world racism is often based on just as flimsy a distinction.

The game certainly handled in-universe bigotry better than anything the x-men franchise ever did where you had protagonists who were an oppressed, downtrodden minority who could melt scyscrapers with their eyeball lasers.
 

Kerg3927

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I don't get it. My thought is that all people are the same, and I've always tried to think that way. Not just treat everyone the same, but try to THINK of everyone the same. Because we are the same.

But it seems like the new way of doing things with regard to race is to use a heavy hand to divide everyone into competing teams, put everyone into separate categories, and emphasize that each team is different and should be thought of and treated differently. And then from that try to force equal representation from each team. And anyone who doesn't do it that way is going to face criticism.

Just seems like an misguided way to bring people together, by constructing walls between them and emphasizing that they are different. It doesn't make any sense to me.

When I played through the Witcher 3, I don't remember thinking about skin color at all. But now I've learned that, according to the new rules, the Witcher 3 is a racist game or is at least "propagating racism" because of its "failure of representation."

What would the Jews of 1930's-1940's Europe think about our modern idea of racism? Or black people living in the American South in the 1960's and prior? I bet they would laugh.
 

Chimpzy_v1legacy

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maninahat said:
What part of me saying "of course there is a lot more to race than just skin colour" did you not understand? Also, the parallels with Poland mean nothing when a) it's a fictional setting, with fictional races, that they've never-the-less decided have to be white, and b) despite the overwhelmingly white demographics of Poland, it still has People of colour, so it isn't even accurate to portray a Polish-esque setting as exclusively white, especially if your setting happens to feature harbour towns, traders, and other hubs to the outside world. Heck, you could literally have a single black character in the game and have a character pass comment about how unusual that is, and that would be far more plausible.
Actually ... that sort of happens in one of the DLC.

In Heart & Stone you can meet an Ofieri (aka fantasy Arab) Runewright looking to set up shop in the Northern Kingdoms. If irc tho, it's the other way round, with the Runewright expressing surprise at Geralt for apparently not thinking anything of meeting an Ofieri that far north, implying others very much do think it unusual (if not react with hostility, considering how xenophobic the Witcher's world is).

The same DLC also has you meet some other Ofieri, but those dealings are much less pleasant.
Their hostility is understandable, since you unwittingly killed their crown prince.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Kerg3927 said:
But it seems like the new way of doing things with regard to race is to use a heavy hand to divide everyone into competing teams, put everyone into separate categories, and emphasize that each team is different and should be thought of and treated differently. And then from that try to force equal representation from each team. And anyone who doesn't do it that way is going to face criticism.
The idea is to realize that our ethnicity, gender, class, religion and what have you actually makes us different. Treating everyone the same is great (seriously, it is), but in actual practice it doesn't work and probably doesn't lead to favorable outcomes. You yourself even realize this later in your post when you point out that European Jews in the 40's and black people in the US south in the 60's would have different ideas about something then the average Caucasian of the same time and location.

When black people never show up in a game, even games that ostensibly talk about racism, that's sort of a problem. It is easy to be a part of the majority or the assumed normal (white heterosexual man in video games) and talk about how everybody is similar and equal. However, most people who are not the majority or assumed average are unlikely to have that idea, simply because they know that people like them, who look like them, think like them and share their experiences or cultural heritage are not often represented.

As a woman, let me point out that we are not the same. Our bodies are not the same, our socialization is not the same, our lived experiences are not the same and society's expectations of us are not the same. I genuinely think it is good that you want to see it that way, but it is an over-simplification that erases the unique experiences of everyone who isn't the majority or assumed normal

Kerg3927 said:
Just seems like an misguided way to bring people together, by constructing walls between them and emphasizing that they are different. It doesn't make any sense to me.
Maybe. In this case I think misguided is largely in the eye of the beholder, as I consider attempts to gloss over or erase differences as more harmful then acknowledging and respecting differences.

Kerg3927 said:
When I played through the Witcher 3, I don't remember thinking about skin color at all. But now I've learned that, according to the new rules, the Witcher 3 is a racist game or is at least "propagating racism" because of its "failure of representation."
I never said the Witcher 3 is a racist game, never said CDPR are racists either. At worst TW3 can be accused of doing nothing to change the situation, but that in itself also means propagating racism if racism is prevalent in society. Of course, there are plenty of ways to see this situation, and one can legitimately claim that it is not CDPRs or TW3s job to battle racism.

Kerg3927 said:
What would the Jews of 1930's-1940's Europe think about our modern idea of racism? Or black people living in the American South in the 1960's and prior? I bet they would laugh.
Sure, sure. I am sure they'd look at BLM and the police shooting of young black men and sort of chuckle at how their children and grand children are all just being sensitive in this post-racial society. Or maybe they'd see that the same systems that oppressed them are still there, maybe they'd see that even as things have gotten better the same people that went after them still go after their children. And maybe they'd see that even if society say that black people are equal, black people still aren't allowed anywhere near equal representation in fiction and media. Some times it is as simple as a fantasy game not having a single black character, because it is just yet another game in a long line of games that have elves, aliens, magic and future technology, but nothing but white people in the cast.
 

Catnip1024

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See, I thought VC went in overly heavy-handed with it's blatant WW2 themes. But if you don't get that the Darcsen represent the Jews, and as such are culturally distinct despite not necessarily appearing so, clearly they have to try harder next time.

(I'm going to assume you're an intelligent peep with at least some sort of knowledge of the history of the Jewish communities across Europe in the 1900s. Maybe I overestimate the worlds general knowledge, though - I had someone ask me what Dunkirk was based on, the other day)
 

Zetatrain

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Gethsemani said:
Zetatrain said:
So what you're saying is that despite other noticeable physical attributes among non humans, you're saying that TW3 can't explore race related issues because skin color isn't one of those attributes? That seems incredibly arbitrary
I believe that what he's saying is that there's a case to be made that CDPR has a sort of cognitive dissonance. The elves/dwarves/humans/witchers conflict is an allegory for racism and CDPR (and Sapkowski) are explicit about that being the idea. Yet, CDPR, a developer who talks about racism as an important facet of their game, manages to fall into the trap of making people of color invisible by omitting them from their game (until Hearts of Stone anyway). This failure of representation is not explicit racism, but an important component in the unwitting propagation of unintended racism.
If this was actually set in the real world that might be a significant issue. But its not, its in a fantasy world and racism is explored by examining the relations between humans and non humans which have plenty of racial and cultural traits to identify them without skin color. And while the lack diversified skin color among the humans could be interpreted as racism, you'd probably have to already be very racist or ignorant of the game as a whole considering how much the game does to actively denounce racism. The lack of different skin color in the TW3 is at worst a minor problem.
Gethsemani said:
And before we go there, no, medieval Europe was not a place of only white people.
Actually I just assumed Sapkowski just based the population of the Witcher world primarily on what Poland was like during the 80s and 90s.
Gethsemani said:
Considering that a skin texture requires no additional riggning or animation, it'd have been a breeze for CDPR to include a few peoples of color in TW3 on release.
True, it wouldn't be hard, but would it bring about any substantial change? As I said before most of the racism in the Witcher series and games is between humans and non humans, not between different races of humans.
 

gyrobot_v1legacy

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inu-kun said:
gyrobot said:
inu-kun said:
maninahat said:
In game there's a bit more going on, they have traditionally pale skin and black hair and usually sports some sort of cultural fabric on them not too dissimilar to the jewish kippah. So it's quite close to the Jewish situation of "usually very similar minority with a different culture hounded for an imagined past transgression".

VC did the racism angle quite well, not dwelling on it too much and showing there's no point in it, some of you party members are anti darcsen. VC3 was kinda disturbing in that you are against an elite squad of Darcsens fighting for the empire who in turn promises them a country if the war is successful, a really great story and villains but damn the implications are uncomfortable.
Then again, Calamity Raven got so desperate to the point where they will invoke a second race war between everyone just to get their point across, once they had won they would make sure to give their just due and make the great calamity myth an actual fact which propels the cycle of hate even further.

To be fair, I was expecting Imca to get raped at some point given her status as a penal battalion soldier by some assholes in another unit. There is literally nothing she would be able to do except maybe cause a friendly fire accident
Yeah, the last part of VC3 felt tact on so the players could have a climatic end of the world battle but didn't make much sense in how the Calamity Ravens acted, this was a shame since they were awesome up until that point.

Imca best waifu besides head banging for her suicide mission that can't succeed because canon.
A group's who whole motif was "We are sicked and tired of being target practice, slave labor and srcond class citizens" is going to ineveitably reach this conclusion.

Better to die with a weapon in your hands fighting those who have oppressed you than to die like meek sheep who has to turn to the kindness of strangers to free you.

Well for Imca it felt personal because these are the people who had turned her people into slaves, second class citizens and fodder. Killing Selviria would be a rallying cry to the Darscen and ironically enoigh crush all notions of peace as the population believe their hated foes are indeed vulnerable and it is time to seize the day.
 

Michel Henzel

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maninahat said:
There is a distinction between nationality, ethnicity and race, but there is a lot of overlap as well to confuse things. Racism is often used to describe prejudice against all of those things (and religion too), though strictly speaking it is meant to be tied to race - which is an arbitrary set of biological differences. The problem I have with the game is that it presents one group being racist against a group that looks the same. To the player, these guys literally all look alike. Now either the game is going for some commentary about the petty nature of racism [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi7QQ5pO7_A], or the game writers didn't sit in the same room as the character designers so it never occurred to them that they would need to make their characters have distinct racial traits.

People have countered that the Jews aren't a different race. But as far as the Nazis were concerned, Jews were a distinct race with distinct physical characteristics (with stereotypical eye and hair colour, skin tones, face shape, hair type etc) and the Nazis targeted people who "looked Jewish". If we saw a movie in which a gang of soldiers persecute one of their squaddies, we would also spot that the character at least looks stereo-typically Jewish. The art style of the game however means that everyone has the exact same generic looking faces, with hair colour often being the only variable.

All of this is to say as well that the game probably should have a bit more diversity in it. Perhaps they should have gone for an art style that lets them show more detailed and subtle facial characteristics, or maybe they could have included people who are obviously from a different race. this WWII fantasy permits women and openly gay people to fight on the front lines, but somehow this army also doesn't have any non-whites, whereas in reality the European armies had a lot of them (yes, even the Nazis had a few). To not have them is an oversight. To not have them in a game that talks about racism is a bigger oversight.

TLDR: A game tries to be conscientious about race but isn't conscientious about race.
Sure they might be different, but it really doesn't matter what you think about it personally. Legally, if you discriminate based on race, ethnicity or nationality you are guilty of racial discrimination. And sure, racial discrimination and racism are technically not the same thing, in Europe, we use racism as a synonym for racial discrimination, so ethnicity and nationality does count. Which is why I reject your claims of hypocrisy.

I also reject the assumption that the game is a commentary on racism/racial discrimination as you provide no real prove that that is what they set out to do. A simpler reason for the Darcsen could simply be a plot device to evoke emotion in the player, and keeping with the WW2 theme of the game.

Now criticism of the art style is fair, even among the other white characters, there is little distinction, even though some are clearly supposed to be different ethnicities. Though I suppose that is the nature of the art style, and unlikely to change since we have 4 games now where it hasn't.

*edit* cut for size