The Racialized Experiences of Video Games
This research explores the ways different people experience the racial content of video games. Building on DeVane and Squire, this research speaks to content analyses literature that shows video games as modern minstrelsies. Using Bonilla-Silva’s definition of Racial Ideology in conjunction with Winddance-Twine’s concept of Racial Literacy, I examined racial ideology and its role as an interpretative framework. I also used Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital to account for video game cultural knowledge. Data were collected through personal interviews where participants played the video game Grand Theft Auto: the Ballad of Gay Tony for 30-50 minutes. A sample of 31 participants covering variation in gender, gaming experience, and race answered questions assessing their racial ideology, then played the game introduction, and finally answered questions assessing interpretations of game content. Racially aware people with little gaming experience echoed the content analysis minstrelsy findings while colorblind racist non-gamers believed the content accurately represented the world. However, deeper familiarity with gaming and other mass media opened up a new interstitial space for challenging the racial status quo. Racially aware gamers saw the franchises as lampooning the shallow stereotypes in mainstream society. More importantly, with a more sophisticated media context, many colorblind racist gamers also saw racial representations as intentionally offensive. Gamers herein create inventive, non-threatening but meaningful, ways to address racialization across a spectrum of racial literacies. As a result, content analyses need a richer understanding of the experiences of video games in consumers.