Gender Studies Professor Edmond Chang calls for more representation in video games

Jenny Luo / Daily Nexus

Jenny Luo / Daily Nexus

Assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon Edmond Chang gave a talk titled “Brown Skins, White Avatars: Racebending and Straightwashing in Digital Games” at the MultiCultural Center on Tuesday.

Chang discussed how video games like Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft manipulate race and sexuality, reinforce stereotypes and sometimes lack diversity. He argued for a more progressive era of gaming in which more racial groups existing in reality are represented in the virtual world.

Chang said people tend to “naturalize” certain virtual character images.

“We assume different kinds of characteristics,” Chang said. “Like, when Darth Vader comes on the screen, how do you know that he’s the bad guy? There are lots of cues, the first being that he’s dressed in all black. We have these sorts of attachments to certain ideas.”

Chang said Resident Evil 5’s storyline features a white-versus-black conflict.

“[The game’s storyline is] essentially a narrative about a white protagonist killing mostly very black zombies,” Chang said.

Chang said there are games that incorporate racial or sexual diversity mainly to appease their audience.

“Representation and content in games are often window dressing,” Chang said. “Games tell us that they want to be inclusive of people of color, they want to be inclusive of queer people.”

Jeremy Douglass, an assistant professor at UCSB who specializes in English and teaches game study classes, said Chang offered an insightful presentation.

“I really enjoyed the way that he described being able to play games he loves and yet find things in them that he wanted to criticize,” Douglass said.

Charlene Jimenez, a fourth-year global studies and Asian studies double major, said Chang shared perspective on games that she had not previously considered.

“It opened my eyes a bit so maybe I’ll pay more attention,” Jimenez said. “This is what the gaming industry is like now, but what will it be a few years later? Will we change it or will we stay the same? We wouldn’t know yet, but his talk was very interesting.”

Fourth-year feminist studies major April Jackson said she was glad Chang highlighted the lack of diversity in video games.

“As a person of color you grow up watching, and you get used to the protagonist [being white],” Jackson said. “Video games now have people of color.”

Jackson said it is refreshing that video games now often give players the option to customize characters to be more diverse.

“It’s very interesting because now people want variation,” Jackson said. “I’m happy that you can play games like Pokémon and finally change the skin tone!”

A version of this story appeared on p. 6 of the Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 edition of the Daily Nexus.