Amaroq's Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas (PS2)
| [July 27, 2009 12:13:06 AM]
| I have decided that I will not continue playing this game after finishing my game logs. I feel that stereotyping of Blacks to the degree that GTA: SA does is unwarranted. A few missions involving a certain character have heavily influenced my decision to avoid this game in the future.|
I just completed two missions with a character named Jeffrey, a.k.a. “O.G. Loc”. I activated the first mission through Big Smoke; he wanted me (C.J.) to drive him and Sweet to a prison to pick up the recently released Jeffrey. As I approached the prison, the game cuts to a scene where Jeff stands on the prison’s front steps, wearing jeans and no shirt. His torso is covered in tattoos, and he folds his arms together while cocking his entire upper body (head included) to one side in what would have been classic B-boy pose… if he hadn’t contorted his body so much (he looks like a fool who‘s trying way too hard. C.J. and friends rightfully laugh at him).
C.J. and friends start talking to Jeff, who admonishes C.J. for not addressing him as O.G. Loc. During this conversation, Smoke says, “Eh, I thought you were going to a college! HA, HA, HA!” Smoke and his friends guffaw raucously.
(RED FLAG NUMBER ONE! This goes beyond establishing the main characters‘ personalities. How does C.J. and friends mocking O.G. Loc for having college aspirations add to the story or the game‘s atmosphere?)
While driving O.G. Loc to a Latino’s house (the offender’s name is Freddy) who apparently stole his rhymes, the characters have another convo. C.J. asks what Loc has planned now that he’s out of prison. Loc replies, “Mother fuckers trying to get me a job!”
Big Smoke mutters, “Mother fuckers always trying to keep a player down.”
(RED FLAG NUMBER TWO! So having a legit job is undesirable? While on one hand if the main characters value a criminal lifestyle, it would make sense that having a legit job would be shunned. However, coupled with the earlier disparaging remark about college, one can interpret the comment as Black people not valuing an education and the legit opportunities gained from obtaining one.)
C.J. and O.G. Loc kill Freddy, and C.J. drops Loc off at his job at a burger fast food restaurant. In another mission, Loc asks C.J. to steal a D.J.’s van (after a mini-game where C.J. must prove his dancing abilities) so he can jumpstart his career as a rapper.
(RED FLAG NUMBER THREE! Seriously, Loc has to be a rapper of all things? It isn’t enough for the game to glorify stereotypes of Black “thugs”, gangs, and hoods, but it also has to include a terrible “rapper” for comic relief. C.J. has to steal for this budding artist, too, a notion that supports another stereotype of rappers (and by association, hip hop) of being inherently immoral.)
Frankly, I find it not only unethical, but offensive that the developers of GTA: SA chose to include such ideas as character aspects. They already created a game world based on the Black stereotypes that the (white) mainstream fears most, simultaneously playing into that same fear to allow gamers to vicariously live out any “hood” criminal fantasy they may think about. To include more stereotypes that are not vital to the characters or the game universe, like the “college” and “work” comments or the everyday conversations on the streets being almost entirely vulgar or pointless (at least in the beginning portions of the game) is not only unnecessary, but also disrespectful to Black culture and Black individuals. Using act utilitarianism confirms the unethical principles: would exploiting stereotypes for the purpose of entertainment make individuals happy? Perhaps in a different genre of entertainment (like comedy) if the stereotypes are cleverly employed, they can be effective. From what I’ve seen in GTA: SA, I don’t believe the stereotypes (mostly the random NPCs) are incorporated effectively.
I must consider the possibility that the game’s characters grow and change as the storyline continues. As of now, though, I’m not interested in discovering those possibilities due to my belief that the game's characterizations of Blacks are unethical.
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| [July 26, 2009 09:16:16 PM]
| “Suck my dick, ole bitch!” a young Black man bellows at a passing woman.|
“I mess with girls and guys! So?” a Black woman shrieks back, rolling her neck so quickly her head becomes a blur.
“I’ve been sellin’ guns, servin’ the community for over thirty years! Ha!” a middle-aged Black male exclaims.
As I progress through Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I hear such expressions used repeatedly by random non-playable characters (NPCs) roaming the streets, primarily uttered by the Black American NPCs. In my first entry, I wrote about my concerns about the game’s prevalent Black stereotypes and I wondered whether they were necessary to fully render its atmosphere. I have observed, however, that language, particularly the type of Black slang frequently labeled as “hood”, “ghetto”, or “thuggish”, seems to have a huge role creating that very atmosphere.
1. GTA: SA’s storyline involves Black gang warfare in primarily Black and/or Latino communities.
2. In the 90s, gangsta rap and Black films gained national prominence. Rappers like Public Enemy, Ice-T, N.W.A., and Ice Cube rapped about Black gangsta lifestyles and hood culture. Films like “Boyz In The Hood“, “Tales From The Hood“, and “Friday” may have portrayed some Black characters in a stereotypical “thug” manner, with the former two films emphasizing the more serious aspects and “Friday” emphasizing humor. GTA: SA’s storyline and presentation appears to be heavily influenced by earlier gangsta rap artists’ music (look up Ice Cube’s songs “It Was A Good Day” and “How to Survive In South Central L.A.”) and the films “Boyz In The Hood” and “Friday” in particular (compare Ryder’s appearance to Ice Cube’s character’s appearance in “Boyz In The Hood” for example).
3. The vast majority of Black characters, both randomly appearing ones and those crucial to the storyline, use Black “hood” slang with Black “ghetto“ accents.
4. Even in non-dialogue moments, the game’s text is written out in “Black” slang terms. For example, at the beginning of a mission for Sweet, the mission objective cheerily reads, “Chase the car down before they cap your homies!” Would such language be used if the game did not have its hood atmosphere?
Is it ethical to liberally use “Black” vernacular not only as a means of constructing the game’s universe through dialogue but also as in-game text? Is it exploitative?
Without the distinctive rhythms, cadences, inflections, and vocabulary of 90s Black ebonics, GTA: SA would not be believable as a simulation of a Black “ghetto” community. But still, the usage of the language does not have to involve blatant (and at times, offensive) stereotyping of characters solely for the sake of an atmosphere. My understanding of the Kant approach to ethics is to treat others as “ends” , not only as the “means“. I feel that GTA: SA treats “Black” slang as the “means” of shaping its universe, or “end”. It does not consider how those same “means” and “end” can be interpreted by individuals outside of itself– namely, the multicultural, multi-age demographics of individuals who play the game. Therefore, according to my understanding of the Kant approach, GTA’s over-reliance on Black ebonics is unethical.
I do admit that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game. Perhaps delving further into the main storyline I will find valid justifications for the portrayals of Black people in the game.
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| [July 26, 2009 12:01:11 AM]
| Some homeboys stay standin’ on the corner, sellin’ yay and crack and not even givin’ a fuck. They steady rockin’ all purple, too, just chillin’ all casual n’ shit on the block, no trace of punk ish, all up on my block like they own that muthafucka… Aww hell naw! I’m ‘bout to roll up on ‘em in my Cadillac, bumpin’ that new Shabba Ranks on the radio, and bust a cap in all they bitch-asses…|
…And in reality I get a text on my cell, ending the gangsta thug fantasy simulation more popularly known as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
With it’s early 90s gangsta-funk soundtrack, old school slang, and distinctive characters designed to resemble images of Black American hood cultures, GTA: SA transports gamers into a war fueled by drugs, territories, and unhinged violence. The game’s protagonist (and who the game controls), Carl Johnson (known as C.J.) is a tough, street-wise Black man who, after leaving Los Santos for five years, must re-earn his reputation as a dangerous (and apparently sexy) gangsta. He must assert his machismo by spraying his gang’s graffiti sign over other gangs’ graffiti (and in some cases, gang members), getting and remaining in shape, getting tattoos, having a nice hair cut, shooting & terrorizing rival gangs, assisting his homeboys in their crimes, and otherwise not being a “buster” by simply refusing to submit his pride or his life to another (GTA emphasizes all of these factors, seeing that they all comprise the actual gameplay).
The first thing that fascinates me about GTA is how thoroughly the game renders it’s atmosphere. From the opening credits, 90s gangsta rap era G-funk style hip hop beats blare a gritty backdrop to C.J.’s deep baritone as he narrates his reasons for returning to his hometown. No sooner does he grab his luggage from the airport when two police officers, fellow Black American Frank Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Eddie Polaski (who seems Italian to me, but I may be wrong) arrest him. They steal C.J.‘s money, ridicule him when he states that he isn’t involved with the gangs anymore, frame him for a case in which another office was killed, and leave him stranded in a rival gang’s territory. During this cut-scene, the game begins to establish C.J.’s personality, his circumstances, and more importantly how the characters interact with one another; when a Latino officer at the airport drives off after C.J. is apprehended, Polaski shouts, “Stupid Mexican!“. Later on, Tenpenny, after describing how he will frame C.J., exclaims, “Wow, you work fast, NIGGA!”
What bothers me, at least in the hour or so that I have played the game, are how vivid the stereotypes of Black Americans and 90s Black culture are rendered in the game. From just running down the streets, I encountered a Black man wearing a red early-LL Cool J-style fisherman’s cap, nothing covering his upper body except for tattoos and a gaudy gold chain on his neck, and red baggy jeans swaggering (note that I did not use the verb “walk) down the street with unabashed hood coolness. His swagger alone to outsiders outside the Black community hollers “I’m so raw and can’t nobody touch me!”, an aura that has simultaneously entranced and struck fear into the heart of mainstream white America. Turning on the radio in the game’s cars reveals historical accuracy in the songs and artists played in the 90s, with artists like En Vogue, SWV, Boyz II Men, and Ice Cube getting airplay (all artists I listened to growing up in a predominantly Black suburb). Black and Latina women wander the streets wearing bikini tops and tight pants, speaking with exaggerated accents (Black hood girl and Latina boriqua styles, respectively), cursing out the men who “spit game” or cat-call at them. This gaming universe strives to achieve a high level of immersion into a fictional minority ghetto, where gangs and crime dictate how its denizens live their lives. And it definitely succeeds in achieving that high level, to frightening results.
The stereotypes of minorities (in this case, the Black characters), bothers me. Some may argue that historical accuracy is why the game portrays minority characters in such manners. The character Ryder, for example, comes off as a hyper masculine, thuggish N.W.A. reject who looks like a cross between rappers Easy E., Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. He smokes cigars, talks with ebonics and a heavy “Black” accent, and commits violent acts without remorse. He seems like a character pulled out of a 90s Black film like Boyz In Da Hood. The other characters do not act much better: Big Smoke and Sweet all talk in similar manners, and they all want to re-assert their gang’s dominance. But does “historical accuracy” and “research” justify the game’s stereotypical depictions, especially when considering that many gamers, of all ages, races, and backgrounds, will buy GTA: SA and possibly internalize those same stereotypes as reality? In fact, exactly who researched the culture referenced in the game and deemed it historically accurate? Who are the gate keepers who designed the game and encouraged its Black gangsta aesthetics? Basically, is it ethical to portray these Black stereotypes in the name of “historical accuracy” or simply for effect, when many individuals who play the game may not be able to distinguish between its fictional elements and reality?
At this point, I’m conflicted. As a writer and a life-long gamer, I understand the desire to craft a story and to create game scenarios that reflect the story and the elements pertaining to it. As a Black Latino person, however, I do feel some anger at the idea that the game developers used blatant stereotypes to create the atmosphere and story within the game. As of now, however, I’d like to delve more into the game and further observe its racial and cultural representations of minorities.
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Amaroq's Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas (PS2)
Current Status: Stopped playing - Something better came along
GameLog started on: Saturday 25 July, 2009
GameLog closed on: Monday 27 July, 2009