Issue #19, Winter 2002 URL: http://www.colorlines.com/article.php?ID=389&p=4
“Living in Your World, Play in Ours” by David Leonard
It is estimated that 60 percent of Americans, approximately 145 million people, play video games regularly.
Video games represent a modern, sophisticated, multicultural, virtual form of minstrelsy. In other words, they provide players—a broad cross section of white middle-class suburbanites and young urban minorities — with the opportunity to be black athletes or Ninjas. In those frequent cases where white heroes rule virtual reality, the enjoyment comes from dominating characters of color, from transporting oneself into a foreign and dangerous environment. Video games enable the virtual enjoyment of those bodies and spaces (dangerous inner-city communities) which are currently off limits to a predominantly white middle-class suburban playing population.
According to historian Eric Lott, minstrelsy was a "manifestation of the particular desire to try on the accents of ‘blackness’ and demonstrates the permeability of the color line." He writes that blackface "facilitate[s] safely an exchange of energies between two otherwise rigidly bounded and policed cultures." Video games operate in a similar fashion, breaking down these boundaries with ease, given their virtual realism.
The games are big business, rivaling television, music, and films in terms of their social, cultural, and economic impact on American life. Video game sales reached $6 billion in 2000, and speculations put that number at closer to $8 billion last year. In 2000 alone, over 280 million units were sold throughout the world. It is estimated that 60 percent of Americans, approximately 145 million people, play video games regularly.
Unlike film or television, the images, ideologies, and messages of video games are repetitions. Every time you turn on your machine, the same scenarios and images appear. Video games are equally unique because of their...