SOCIAL REALITY: (EN)CODED RACE IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT

If we take on board Alexander Galloway's (2006) claim that "video games render social realities into playable form" (p. 17), how might we identify and interrogate the "racial logics" of WoW, beyond a close reading of "fantasy race" as allusion or allegory for "real world race," to begin to theorize how race is visualized, articulated, and coded. In other words, in a game of fantasy race, how and where and why might offline race and racism be deployed, negotiated, disguised, and taken for granted? How can this mediating space between race within the game and race outside the game be challenged and explored? Might these be one and the same?

On the one hand, gamic race and all of its trappings may simply signal benign difference, fantastic otherness. They are tools for characterization, for establishing setting, a signal of time, place, context, and distance away from the "real world." Most designers (and even players) might want to believe such a rationalization to be true. Online Game Interactivity Theory (2003), an industry how-to manual for game development, devotes a third of the book to character creation, player interaction, and game community development. The text attempts to disavow any attempt to mix and confuse a game with the real world. Its rhetoric reveals the internal tensions between game and real life, between online "lifestyle" and "behaviors" and offline "prejudices" and "expectations." Game design "theory" vacillates between knowing that the real world manifests within the game and the rationalization that the game is just a game. In fact, race (and other identifications) as a category is so troubling to game designers that it is often ignored or glossed or neutralized. According to the logic of cyberspace, offline race should not matter, the lived lives of players should not matter, and the online lives of avatars are at most suggestive or pale reflections of the real world. In order to ameliorate the tension between off- and online worlds, race (and other logics of identification) is dramatized, seemingly trivialized, reprogrammed, or as Lisa Nakamura (2002) observes, "[R]ace is far from elided in these narratives; instead it is repurposed and remastered, made to do new work" (p. 21). A generous critique and approach might argue that gamic race points up the cultural constructedness, structures, arbitrary assignment of qualities or stereotypes to real world race and that these racial formations or problematics of representation or racial logics are naturalized, essentialized, yet might be potentially manipulable.

On the other hand, signaling benign difference, fantastic otherness, and this-is-another-worldness risks replicating or further shoring up real world racial and representational logics and formations. Even in fantasy games like WoW, real world race is incorporated and cited and often screened behind the game's narrative, programming, and logics of play. Though designers and players may intend to keep on- and offline domains separate, there are ways obvious and unobvious the two cleave together, intersect, and inform one another about race. In WoW, fantasy race belies real world race. The dwarf speaks with a Scottish accent, the night elves build pagoda-like buildings, humans can be made to "look" black, and a player can name their character "Osama. Real world race is "ported" into the game, tesseracts of prejudices, signification, policing, and racism form player-to-game, player-to-player, and even within the game itself. Nakamura calls this porting in of offline race, this online stereotyping, "cybertyping."

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