Friday, July 14, 2017

Black Is Beautiful, So Why Do Video Games Lag Behind?

Yusef Cole and Tanya DePass, writing for Vice Waypoint, talk about the challenges black gamers and other gamers of color have in finding characters that look like them being rendered as well as their white counterparts-- if they're rendered at all. In looking at the challenges of bringing black player characters to the small screen they found the problem's roots in the silver screen in "Black Skin Is Still A Radical Concept In Video Games":

As we begin to see more characters in games who resemble us and more developers taking the time to think about us, a question worth asking is: How well do games visually represent black people and others with darker skin tones? The clues to begin answering this are situated in the history of film, a medium to which games owe much of their visual aesthetic.
Stretching back to the earliest instances of film photography, capturing darker skin tones has rarely been prioritized or even much considered... To this day, many black actors are underlit, even on big-budget movies and TV shows.
The film industry did not-- and still fails to-- prioritize taking care in rendering and lighting and considering how darker skin will look like in different scenes and environments. Video game development has a similar story, especially when it comes to 3-D rendering. But are technology limitations really to blame?
"I don't think technology is holding us back at all," [Shareef Jackson] posits. "We accomplish things with each generation. You can have hair and clothes flapping in the wind if you want. So if companies wanted to get it right, they prioritize it. Unless they have people on the team willing to call them out on it as well, it won't change." 
For Robert Yang, a game designer and professor at NYU Game Center, this prioritization is a natural outcome of the unchecked biases that lie behind the 3D technology that powers modern gaming. "When 3D artists test their new skin shaders, they often use a 3D head scan of a white guy named Lee Perry-Smith," he notes. "What does it mean if we're all judging the quality of our skin shader solutions by seeing who can make the best rendered white guy?" 
...Mainstream games with well-lit black protagonists like Mafia 3 and Watch Dogs 2 are proof that the technology necessary for lighting black skin is already there. Meanwhile, indie developers of color are forging their own path forward when it comes to depicting black characters of all shades in games. "People that are not black don't think about the different shades of blackness or browness," says Allen, "That's a problem."
Cole and DePass also spotlight game developers of color working to broaden video games' palette both literally and figurative and doesn't shy away from issues like colorism and developer forethought, either. It's a fascinating read, go go check out the whole thing.

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