The world is on fire and that’s not OK.
I’ve noticed a few people pen articles justifying why it’s OK to lose themselves in fiction, in games. This saddens me: The world is hard enough at the moment without people being made to feel guilty about their chosen coping mechanism.
But let’s not lie to ourselves: We are not in this together, since some of us have mansions while others struggle to eat. We cannot avoid recognising the continuum of privileges, when we grasp a controller while the apocalypse happens around us. But recognising things are not equal, that we are lucky in some respects and not so lucky in others – for example, being a brown man in a white world, who has lived with a disability – is not cause for shame. It is cause for not being blind, for not shutting your eyes, for recognising responsibility.
When white people or men talk to me about how their privilege means they’re being forced to feel guilt by minority groups, they miss the issue: Instead of framing it as guilt, frame it as responsibility. Being asked to look at our unequal world is asking you to recognise where you stand.
Imagine a completely empty landscape, a blank 3D canvas. Onto this canvas, put everyone in the world – or maybe all the people you know, to keep it simple. Now put each of these people on a pillar – these pillars will vary in height: Those who are cishet abled bodied white men will have the longest pillars and everyone else will have degrees less than this. Each person is equipped with a rope the length of the pillar.
When you extend that rope to someone below you, they can pull themselves up – their pillar rises with them. You remain where you are, the pillar just as tell, only someone else is able to rise.
Being asked to recognise your privilege is being asked to recognise the rope. Will you use the rope to help bring others up? Or will you claim being asked to acknowledge the rope’s existence is “guilt”, rather than moral responsibility?
When we have race discussions in games, a lot of people do not want to have it because they think games are no place for such discussions. It’s always been interesting to me: What is the place for them? As a person of colour, no one asked me whether I’d be hurt by instances of overt or unconscious racism in media, whether film or games. Yet, when writers of colour point this out, we are told “not yet, not here”.
Instead, those of us who want to see better treatment of people of colour must navigate the inherently unequal field to assuage the feelings of those who already benefit. We must put on the kid gloves, put on bright colours and speak in overly friendly tones? Must we clearly and concisely indicate a separate, wholly separate space dealing with nothing at all but just some conceptual thing called Racism? That’s not how this works.
The anger and rage you see around you comes from navigating an inherently unjust world, which constantly asks of people of colour to sit down, be quite, don’t move, prioritise white feelings over our own, lest we invite the consequence-free wrath of white people.
So when we ask you to think about race issues in games, we are giving you the opportunity to engage in one of the safest spaces imaginable. Media reflects the world.
(Feature image credit: PXFuel)
4 thoughts on “The Pillars of Privilege”
Tauriq, thank you so much for this post. I think this conversation in gaming is way overdue, and it’s been very much on my mind lately. I’m a children’s librarian, and there’s finally been the beginnings of progress in diversity in children’s books, though there’s still a very long way to go. Have you seen this infographic about it? https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/
I think if we created something like this for video games, it would be pretty illuminating.
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