Geek Out 

Virtual Blaxploitation

Admittedly, playing videogames may not seem like the most gangsta way to spend an afternoon. And yet those who have brought about the recent emergence of both hiphop-inspired and street culture-based games would like to convince you otherwise. The most high-profile gaming to be had of late is, of course, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which allows you to live thug life in early '90s Compton. Not to be outdone, a couple of prominent rap-culture figures from that period, Snoop Dogg and film director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) are teaming up to produce Fear & Respect, a game set in the ganglands of South Central, while 50 Cent: Bulletproof should hit shelves before the end of the year.

But some of these virtual forays into black culture feel more cynical--like Def Jam Vendetta, a standard pro wrestling game from the makers of WCW vs. NOW. But here's Def Jam's catch: the wrestlers are rappers! Doesn't taking something as integrally white and hackneyed as pro wrestling and overlaying the profitable hook of black media culture seem a bit exploitative?

If it does, this wouldn't be the first time we've seen black exoticism employed as a tool to draw in a thrill-seeking (and largely white) audience. Videogames seem to be experiencing their first throes of blaxploitation, as film did in the '70s; the difference here is that blaxploitation in film started out, at least, as a forum for black artists to make their voices heard. Conversely, the vast majority of videogame producers are not black at all--black culture and celebrities are merely employed by white game makers to create and sell their product.

Regardless of the producers and programmers, people of color represent less than 20 percent of the characters in today's games. Though the means of production may be dubious, from a game player's standpoint, the variety of subject matter provided by "street gaming" is greatly appreciated.

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