Media Release | Jul. 19, 2006
UBC Study Finds Top-selling Video Games Rife with Racist Asian Stereotypes
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.
“These images have gone unchallenged for the past 20 years or more,” says Robert Parungao, who graduated from UBC this spring with a B.A. in Sociology and completed this eight-month analysis for his honours thesis.
“Parents, government and media watchdog groups have protested the widespread violence and sexism in video games, but the blatant racism has gone largely unnoticed.”
During recent months, video game producers have come under intense pressure from U.S. state and local legislators to restrict youth access to content that is sexually explicit or violent. The video game industry currently generates more than US $30 billion a year in worldwide sales, surpassing the motion picture industry in profits. In Canada, 35 per cent of households -- and nearly 50 per cent in the U.S. -- own a video game console.
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. He analyzed the storylines and characters, and spent 100 hours playing the games.
Grand Theft Auto has been abest-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 protagonist 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.’”
Parungao says video games have not kept pace with the changes seen in other entertainment media.
“Film and television come under greater critical scrutiny so civil rights and minority groups can voice their concerns and effect some change,” he explains. “But video games have generally been seen as kids’ toys. There aren’t the same mechanisms or critical forums to encourage game designers to evolve.”
Parungao says he believes that video games as an interactive media have a far greater impact than movies or sports, which are passive and observational.
“It’s very different for a 15-year old boy to see stereotypes in a movie like Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Mickey Rooney plays a bucktoothed Japanese character versus entering the world of Grand Theft Auto where you can walk into Chinatown and start mowing down Chinese gangsters with an AK 47.”
In September, Parungao will begin studying for his M.A. in Sociology at Montreal’s Concordia University.
“I hope to continue looking into ways to improve video games because they’re fun and I’d like to see them turn into positive media instead of negative ones.”
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