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Moving Forward On Race In Games: Manveer Heir Speaks
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Moving Forward On Race In Games: Manveer Heir Speaks

August 5, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

I feel like a lot of people may not see why this is important to do. Perhaps there's no convincing anyone that doesn't already think this is something that needs doing. Do you have any thoughts for how people can be convinced that this is a thing that we should care about?

MH: Sure. Like the number one argument I hear against it is, especially, what I just said, worrying about offending people. "Why do we have to put a minority character or a female character in a game just so we don't offend minorities or females?" To me, it's never been about that, at all, to me. It's not about fairness, it's not video game affirmative action. It's about actually pushing our medium to make better games, to tell better stories in our games.

I've played certain characters over and over in video games. Every time I save the world, it gets less interesting. It doesn't matter what the journey was to get there. Ultimately, I know what's going to happen. I know I'm going to save the world at the end, and I'm going to play the same like archetypical character to get there, because mythology says there are certain archetypes -- the savior.

So, to me, thinking about the sexual orientation, the gender, and the race of a character can change... Even the age of a character -- that can change the way your game is structured, what your game is about, the things a game can comment on, the mechanics of a game. They can bleed into several areas.

I find that to be incredibly interesting because I don't want to see this medium get ghettoized, like what happened with comics, where we're just making superhero things the entire time. Then there are games that are certainly trying to be more serious and more mature. And I'm not saying all the games need to be like that, but I would like to see a subset go that way, because that's what I'm interested in. So, for me, if we make more diverse characters, when we do it well, we can make new and interesting experiences, which potentially can tap into new and interesting emotions.

That, to me, is the best-case scenario. So, this is just one tool in the toolbox. There are many ways to add to games. This is just the one that I'm interested in. This is the one that I'm pursuing as best as I can while working in the industry. And I just hope that other people will think about it and hopefully join the cause.

People tend to design stuff based on what they already know or what they already feel without doing any kind of research or getting some extra insight into doing something that they might not be fully aware of. The research, I think, is pretty important.

MH: Yeah. I can totally agree. Research can be a pain in the butt. Some people love research, some people hate it. I totally agree. If you were to make a game in the 1960s, you would probably research the time period. The art director would probably research what the architecture was like in that area, whatever area your game resides in, right? You're going to do all that work, so you would do the same thing with the game characters.

And if you have a game that's fantastical, or in the future or something, where you can make more up, you still know the background, the history up to this point of what has happened in the world. So, you can invent... "Well, this is the race trouble that's happened in America for a hundred years, and here's the equality or non-equality that occurs," right?

There's been some controversy recently about white actors being cast in Asian roles. If people are doing that in movies like Akira or Avatar: The Last Airbender, it feels like somebody must be doing some market research. If some white dude is going to be called Akira, and some white dude is going to be called Kaneda, it's going to be like, "What is that? Why are these people calling each other that?" That's almost more jarring, isn't it?

MH: Right. And it's also a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? Like if a marketing person says, "When Asian people are on the screen, we don't sell as many tickets to the movies, so we're not going to put Asian people on the screen." Well, then there's less evidence to prove against that, because you just keep reinforcing it by not having Asian people on screen. And anytime a movie flops, but there was one Asian guy in the cast... It was all his fault, clearly. Obviously that's generalizing and not exactly how it goes, but yeah, if we don't ever actually try, we're not going to know these things.

And then Harold and Kumar and Slumdog Millionaire come out, and people are like, "Oh, alright. I guess maybe you can make money sometimes if you want to."

MH: Seriously, when Harold and Kumar came out... I loved Harold and Kumar because they're stupid stoner comedies. I literally went to that film with my friend who is Korean, so there's an Indian and Korean guy walking into a theater full of white people. We're like, "This is kind of hilariously weird that all these guys that we'd think would never want to watch a movie like this..."

Everyone was really interested. It was college, you know? Everyone wanted to see it. It was a hilarious movie. Everyone loved it. It made fun of racial stereotypes. It had a sense of humor about itself, which was important. It was self-referential, and that's important to have.

And wasn't Harold and Kumar written by two Jewish guys? Again, it comes down to confidence... I mean, it's more than just confidence. If you're good at your craft, you should be able to handle multiple viewpoints. It's the same way there are times that I design things that are not like what I would like to play personally, right? But I understand that what interests me, sometimes, in video games does, not necessarily interest the vast majority, and my job is to make a game that is going to be the highest quality game possible for a mass audience.

That's why I have to go, "That's a little too hardcore of a mechanic that would be awesome for me, but that's probably not awesome for the average gamer who's sitting down on his couch." So, I have to know to pull myself back as a designer and say, "Okay. Here's how we change that mechanic to work for generals."

The same thing applies to writers. You just need to know how to pull back and apply something to a different group of people. And I've seen that good writers in the industry are doing that. We just don't have enough of them because most good writers want to be movie writers. Most that I have come across. It's mostly anecdotal. We'll see what happens.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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