Blogs of the Round Table: Being Other OR Identity Crisis

Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.

Whenever questions like this come up, I always think of two things.

First, I think of a girl I knew in high school, Angelica Hernandez. Smart girl, pretty, and an incredibly hard worker. We were both on the robotics team (Falcon Robotics Team 842, look it up) and the robotics team was hella in involved with the AZ immigration protests. And any talk of immigration in AZ inevitably turns to the hilarious amount of casual racism that permeate's this state.

So she tells me a story. She's talking around in a department store, shopping as teenage girls are wont to do; pick something up, carry it around, compare it, put it aside, etc etc. And after a while she realizes the security is following her around.

This blew my fucking mind. Angelica is the fucking model citizen. She's nice, she's smart, she's a hard worker, she's the FUCKING VALEDICTORIAN AND PRESIDENT OF AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED ROBOTICS CLUB. And she was followed around while shopping in a department store, a normal, American, and mildly boring thing.

Can you imagine that? Born and raised American, and being followed around while you did normal American shit*?

Second thought: Ya ever read Brave New World? Wonderful, naive, condescending, and visionary, all at once. One of the key 'things' about the book is the 'feelies' a rather wonderful opiate of the masses. While the exact mechanism of their operation is never quite explained** the effect of a feelie is allowing whomever views it to feel whatever the subject of the feelie is feeling. So, if a Savage was, say, lashing himself to avoid temptation, and someone was recording that for a feelie, the viewers of that feelie would feel the emotional and physical sensations of the Savage in question.

And hey, here comes the point!

When people bring up race and sex and gender in the context of videogames, and specifically the context of identification, I inevitably come back to Angelica's story, and specifically my reaction: "who would want to live like that?"

And now here's the point!

Anyone who would want to experience that type of shit is, in my eyes, sick. I understand living with it. I understand wanting to understand some small portion of it. I understand the desire to be empathetic to your fellow man. But to have the absurd conceit that you 'know what it's like', to take a whole promising artistic medium and to pigeon-hole it back into these old absurdities, to not let it breathe an explore it's own potential...god, how bizarre.

*unless you lived it, no you can't
**making it better than all modern sci-fi HIIIYOOOO!!!


  1. Adam, I'm not quite sure I understand the jump from identification to "wanting to experience" the effects of racism. Isn't an important part of identifying with what someone experiences putting yourself in their shoes, imagining what they experience?

    1. We can imagine it plenty fine as is. But I feel like when people talk about this stuff in the context of videogames, this is the type of stuff they're getting at. Maybe it's in my head and I'm being a little silly, but I don't see why you need a videogame to get the sense of empathy at all.

    2. I don't think anyone's saying we need games to experience empathy for a victim of racism. But in terms of the media we have which allows (or should allow) us to get the closest to an experience (so that we might understand it better) aren't games pretty good at that? Or at least, shouldn't they be able to do that better than other media? Wouldn't that be something useful to be able to show or convince people who think racism, etc, is a thing of the past?

    3. I think that a telling point within the post is first asking us, "Can you imagine that?" and then saying, "unless you lived it, no you can't." In passive media like books and film we can view the oppression and racism and get a sense of what it's like, but with video games there's a chance to actively participate and react, drawing the player into an even deeper understanding like you seem to want of us. However, you then say that anyone who wants to experience anything close to that is "sick." Don't get me wrong, I liked your post, I just want a little consistency to what you're trying to convey. What's wrong with a little empathy experienced by "playing" a situation like the one your friend went through?