Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2014-05-17 07:38:42
Nintendo is racist now?
Another week, another complaint directed at Nintendo - this time not in the form of financial evaluations but over something far more troubling. In what appears to be a conscious effort to politicize video games, a review run by Paste Magazine - which I won't link in here but can be found on Google easily enough - suggests that the Mushroom Kingdom lacks cultural diversity and that the cast of Mario Kart 8 should be shaken up in future games to include more racially diverse avatars.
Plenty of people have pointed out how shaky this commentary is, if only because the Mushroom Kingdom is a land where dinosaurs, apes and Italian plumbers coexist. The most concerning thing about the Paste piece, however, isn't the article itself, which is mostly harmless, but is instead how it was picked up by other media who ran with headlines along the lines of 'Nintendo accused of racism' or 'Is Mario Kart 8 racist?' which further fuels a fire of criticism against a game that, quite simply, doesn't deserve it. Is a review of Mario Kart 8 really the time or the place to appeal to developers to include token minority characters for the sake of it? There is a very real case to be made that games could, and perhaps should, diversify their casts - but you can find plenty of games that are more in need of this stern talking to than Mario Kart 8.
Any allegation that Nintendo is a racist company is unfounded. After all, one of their first characters, who in turn accounted for a good deal of their early success in the electronic entertainment industry, was black: Mr Game & Watch. Call the character being black a graphical limitation if you will but there's no denying that his on-screen avatar is certainly not white. If you look throughout Nintendo games there are no shortages of ethnically diverse characters. The biggest concern I have about complaints about Mario Kart being racist for not including any black characters - an argument that some articles have now run with - is that it seems to reduce racism to a simple divide between black and white, when the matter is far more complex.
Mario and Luigi, two of Nintendo's biggest mascots, are not 'white' - whatever that means - but are Italian. Italians are painfully underrepresented in video games, as are all sorts of nationalities and cultures, but nobody seems to care because Mario and Luigi don't have 'dark' skin and so are seen as being part of the problem. People only cry foul when there's no black characters in a game, as if you can only be one or the other - black or white. It's impossible to represent everyone in a given product and to believe that any medium could truly give every single social group equal prominence is unrealistic. With a game like Mario Kart 8, there is without a doubt more diversity in its cast than all sorts of games you could list, and yet this is the one that seems to have got that one reviewer - and subsequent commentators - buzzing.
I think it's a sad state of affairs when a game as fun and high-quality as Mario Kart 8 can't be enjoyed for what it is, rather than what it isn't - you could complain about any film, game or TV show for not representing every culture equally (I notice nobody attacked the critically-acclaimed Breaking Bad for lacking any primary black protagonists) or you could just play the game as it's meant to be played and fight against injustice where it actually exists.