POWER IN THE VISUAL: EXAMINING NARRATIVES OF CONTROLLING BLACK BODIES IN CONTEMPORARY GAMING
As many gaming blogs and forums have raved, the number of titles featuring black protagonists in nonstereotypical positions has dramatically increased. As Sam Blackmon states, the release of two black heroes in popular culture who were "Unapologetically Black" reflects either a recognition of inclusive stories by gaming culture or an inability to continue to ignore the demands of gamers demanding more diversity. (1) While she is referring to Luke Cage (not a character in a video game) and Lincoln Clay from Mafia III, her analysis can extend to other titles released. Watch Dogs 2, Battlefield 1, Assassins Creed: Freedom Cry, and others extending back a couple years reveal to the gaming community that blackness must be consumed holistically--no longer through singular lenses.
However, the black gaming community is divided on the extent of these black in-game depictions, as many express that blackness is still consumed through traditional criminal narratives (Mafia 3) and the dangerous black body (Assassins Creed: Freedom Cry). Others contend that the hypervisibility and hyperconsumption of black death in Battlefield 1 fit within the problematic framing deployed in mainstream media.
Media portrayals offer singular visions of marginalized lives, behaviors, and roles within society. Specifically, blackness is consistently underrepresented and/or misrepresented across various media. (2) These images are in a constant clash with black reality, as hegemonic narratives control them. The racialized element inherent in mediated imagery further serves not only to limit agency but also to influence public perception of black life. Conflicting constructions of blackness only serve to reify who is and who is not eligible for full inclusion into humanity; hence, the utterance "Black Lives Matter" leads to controversy and claims of reverse racism. Black men, women, and transgender individuals have long had their identities constructed by outside forces, most notably by white masculine heterosexuality and by other entities not valuing black agency.
Mediated Representation of Blackness in Media
Mediated representations of black bodies that reach mainstream levels can most often be viewed through the dichotomy of positive and negative. Through one lens, black characters are portrayed as individuals who are trying to survive in a (white man's) world with goals no different from those of their white counterparts. These narratives deploy the dangerous myth of assimilation for people of color without focusing on the racialized reality that people of color still reside within or the myths associated with meritocracy. (3) Positive representations such as these are used to provide evidentiary claims that inequalities no longer exist. (4)
Black characters are also often ghettoized, with emphases on crime, drug abuse, and materialism, or painted as money-hungry criminals who are jobless, lazy, hustlers, gang members, angry, often involved in conflicts, and working in menial jobs. (5) More recent are the portrayals of blacks on reality television, such as Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop, and Bad Girls Club, which extend problematic portrayals of blacks and reinforce the notion that black women are angry. An additional narrative depicts black characters in progressive positions but still subject...
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