C&W Saturday Keynote Session “Racing Games: On Games, Race, and Community Building”
Presenter: Samantha Blackmon
Review by Liana Clarke
Samantha Blackmon, Associate Professor of English-Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue University, delved into the issues surrounding representation in gaming through her own personal experience “bring[ing]a part of me into my research” to locate the reciprocal nature of body and research as she tackled race, the academy, gaming, and pedagogy. Blackmon used screenshots of herself in the act of gaming through live-streaming as she began the presentation, making the connection between people of color and the digital.
Blackmon’s visual presentation (despite the couple of hiccups we encountered regarding audio) brought her speech to life. As she talked about questions regarding authenticity of the narratives of the oppressed as provided by white hegemonic society, Blackmon shared with us an example in the form of a game. The clip she used as an example was from “Detroit: Become Human” and showed the moment when an Android of color is blamed for a crime he did not commit and is told not to defend itself as it is accused and in danger. Not only does this android become self-aware, but it touches on issues for people of color concerning how they are viewed by society and consequently how they view themselves.
Blackmon stressed the important of gauging these types of conversations with students and providing the tools to help them effectively enter those conversations. The way that Blackmon connected her research on representation in video games to the classroom expertly navigated the tricky (but necessary) issue of talking about race in the classroom. Often times, instructors fail to acknowledge the complexity of race relations inherent in the classroom and this can lead to stilted viewpoints and flat discourse. By encouraging, and working with students, to tackle this type of scholarship and engage in these discourses we are opening the space for critical thinking to take place. Many of our students participate in the digital on some level and this connection between cultural and digital rhetoric has yet to have been fully excavated and analyzed, leading to assumptions and misrepresentations of marginalized peoples. Computers and Writing is a fairly white conference—there’s no question about that—and so it was encouraging to see Blackmon talk about these cultural and representational issues in this digital spaces.
Blackmon made an important connection between the gaming industry and academia—they both lack representation. Gamers can be used for educational purposes especially if we take this analysis and look at ways in which we, as a community, can increase representation of the field, representation of the conference, and begin to question what access looks like in these spheres. Blackmon’s presentation extends beyond video games and should extend beyond the constraints of the Computers and Writing conference to push Rhetoric and Composition and academia to look at the ways in which we are communicating about these issues, if we are communicating about them at all.
Blackmon said that “absence can be detrimental” in reference to the lack of presence of marginalized peoples in video games, but I think that statement rings true especially for conversation. Ignoring the issues and feeding into colorblind racism halts any type of conversation that may be pivotal to the way we approach difference. What Blackmon found in her research is that not only is there a lack of diversity in video games (although people seem to operate under the misguided notion of “equal opportunity”), but there is also a flattening of differences. This was brought up in the Q&A (by yours truly because I asked waaaay too many questions) in response to how the gaming industry—and many other institutions—will have one person of color and think that’s representative of an entire group, completely ignoring the nuances and multiplicity inherent in difference. Blackmon said that there are a few people here and there who are beginning to understand the need for accurate representation, using the gaming industry as an example. However, she still sees a long way for us, as a society, to go. Her hope is to see other marginalized people in these spaces because that can truly be empowering for others and urges us as a collective and on an individual level to start, or to continue, to question representation and the flattening differences. In breaking down ideologies that claim racism doesn’t exist or that they “don’t see color” Blackmon hopes to encourage students and scholars alike to do this important research.