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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 9, 2006

Written by C.N.

Portraying Asian Americans in Video Games

A student at the University of British Columbia has just completed a detailed study of how Asian Americans are portrayed in many popular video games and probably not surprisingly, found that in virtually all instances, such portrayals were stereotypic and even racist:

Kung fu warriors and faceless, yellow-skinned victims are two prevalent images of Asian males found in top-selling video games which tend to trade in racist stereotypes that society generally condemns in other media, says a University of British Columbia student researcher.

“Parents, government and media watchdog groups have protested the widespread violence and sexism in video games, but the blatant racism has gone largely unnoticed,” [says Robert Parungao]. . . . For his study, Parungao looked at four titles that span two decades of video game design: Kung Fu, Warcraft 3, Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto 3.

Grand Theft Auto has been a best-selling franchise for more than 10 years, says Parungao, and features non-white characters who are mainly triad members, yakuza gangsters, Latino gangs or Black hoods. “These stock characters are seen in a lot of games and function as narrative obstacles to be overcome, mastered or ultimately blown to smithereens by the white hero.”

Further, Parungao says games designers like to use a mix and match grab bag of Asian stereotypes that are often nonsensical. “The villain in Shadow Warrior goes by a Chinese name, Lo Wang. But when he fires his rocket launcher at his enemies, he screams ‘just like Hiroshima.’”

Bravo to Robert for finally documenting what many of us have suspected all along. He provides rather convincing evidence that the video game industry has a long way to truly reflect the demographics of North American society and in particular, the demographics of its core audience, many of whom are young Asian Americans.

It is also interesting to note how these findings about the racist portrayals of Asian Americans in video games meshes with (and perhaps contradicts) an earlier post claiming that young Asian Americans see themselves as having a notable impact on the video gaming culture of American society.

This story also highlights the need for Asian Americans and other people of color to become more involved and active in creating their own video games and influencing the images of themselves, rather than leaving it up to young White males who are more likely to rely on stereotypes and ignorant historical images of us.

That’s an idea that we as Asian Americans should all strive toward — portraying ourselves rather than letting others portrays us however they want.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Portraying Asian Americans in Video Games" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/08/portraying-asian-americans-in-video-games/> ().

Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=284