Games

Personal Identity and Gaming in Today's Political Landscape

A character creation screen for the forthcoming Mortal Online.

Video games have made me used to inhabiting the skin of others. For many of us, this is one of the biggest reasons we play games.

I’m used to inhabiting the skin of others. I’ve been elves, dwarves, massive bro-dudes, and young girls. I’ve captained spaceships, maintained small cottages, and poked around a college dorm room. Games have always given me opportunities to live the stories of others, to be someone I’m not. For many of us, this is one of the biggest reasons we play games. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to reconcile the uncomfortable politics of being someone else.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my older brother pulled my sister and I out of school to attend a political protest. It was a pivotal moment in developing my political self. The protest was against California Proposition 187, which would severely limit access to public services to undocumented immigrants. This included restrictions on access to healthcare and public education to children. I can’t say I was an expert on immigration at such a young age, but some of my family members were undocumented. I knew it felt wrong.

At the protest, as cars drove by yelling out racial epithets and giving us the finger, I felt more brown than I had the day before. In the face of racially-motivated antagonism directed towards a group of kids, I was scared. Though it was eventually found unconstitutional, those same feelings came back when Prop 187 passed. Today, as the New York Times kicks off a "This Week in Hate" column monitoring the rise of hate crimes in the wake of Trump’s election, I’m reminded of what it means to be brown.

The sense of being brown isn’t the same sense of being that I feel playing a video game. For one thing, I can’t stop being brown when I turn off my PS4. To be brown is to feel it, to be aware of my otherness. Of course, that’s not something that I’m always aware of. I don’t brush my teeth as a person of color. But, nevertheless, when I look in a mirror, there I am. When I show affection to my partner in public, I do so knowing our status as an interracial couple is frowned upon by roughly 9% of Americans. My "browness" is experienced in response to the context that I find myself. And so it is with the recent election that I feel more brown today than I did a month ago.

I suspect this is true for many others. Perhaps your feeling of being a woman or LGBT or black feels more punctuated today than it did this time last year. Maybe that’s even true if you’re white. And, hey, maybe, like me, you find this sense of being following you into your hobbies. Do you feel more "you" while gaming? I do.

My reaction to the current political climate isn’t solely about fear, fearful though I am. Rather, I am more self-reflective in everything I do -- including gaming. Here’s the question that I’m trying to understand as a POC and someone who has dedicated their life to gaming. How do I be more brown, embrace, feel it, and use that feeling to empower action, and yet still embody other heroes, live in other worlds? Because right now, it’s hard.

I think I can feel my tastes changing. It’s been obvious for so long that the games industry suffers from a lack of diverse stories. Still, at least personally, that lack of diversity feels true now more than ever. I want to embody an other who is, in fact, othered, like myself. Right now, in today’s political climate, escaping into one of gaming’s conventional heroes feels like a betrayal of my own personal identity.

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