The importance of cultural fashion in games

Virginia never imagined she’d be telling a Black woman it was okay to wear Black clothes.

As an African with lighter skin, Virginia had feared accusations of cultural appropriation when she first started making traditional African outfits for The Sims 4. Though she had spent the first 12 years of her life in West Africa, her mixed-race origins marked her as an outsider, and she worried people might see her creations as inauthentic. That only made the response she received to one of her West-African wedding dresses all the more surprising.

‘I’m African-American, I’m Black, but I don’t feel strong ties to Africa,’ read the email. ‘Would it be cultural appropriation if my Sim wears it?’

Virginia was stunned.

“I was like, of course not!” she recalls. “You’re a Black person asking me if you can wear clothes that were created for Black people. That’s your culture that was stolen from you, and you’re asking if you’re allowed to have it back? You should wear it with pride!”

For Virginia, that moment was a real eye-opener. The Sims might be a video game, its clothes stitched from 1s and 0s, but here was proof that a simple digital garment could make a big difference. Clothing, whether it be physical or not, allows people to explore their identities, to express themselves in ways they can’t through words alone. Being able to facilitate such self-discovery is one of the reasons Virginia began The African Sim, her African-focused Tumblr for The Sims, in the first place.

“A lot of African-Americans, some of them feel a connection to Africa, but some feel slightly ashamed,” she says. Recalling the West-African wedding dress, she continues, “I won’t say that I made [the woman] feel connected, but it did make her realize something about her roots that she had been denied. That felt good.”

***

Virginia’s career in cultural fashion began out of a desire for self-expression. After spending her childhood immersed in African culture, she couldn’t ignore the severe lack of traditional African fashion in The Sims’ wardrobe. With nobody else attempting to rectify the issue, Virginia was left with no choice but to take matters into her own hands.

Little did she know how important her creations would be.

“Most of the people who visit my site or look at my stuff, they aren’t actually Africans–they’re African-Americans,” explains Virginia. “They’re African-Americans who grew up removed from their culture.”

Having spent their lives surrounded by Western culture, many of her African-American visitors yearn for a way to reconnect with their African heritage, and wearing the traditional clothes of their ancestors is one way of doing so. Sometimes, though, it’s not feasible to wear traditional outfits in real life, and that’s where The Sims comes in. The game provides a safe space to explore one’s cultural identity without fear of prejudice and ridicule.

“Westerners tend to view [Western] culture as superior, or at least the only acceptable [one],” says Virginia. “People still find it strange if you show up at a formal event wearing traditional clothes. They say it looks shoddy, you look like a hippy or something. It doesn’t have to be like that, it’s very disrespectful.”

Beyond the cultural connection, traditional West-African garments often carry significant meaning to the wearer. Clothes are typically tailor-made for an individual, with the colors, patterns, and embroidery chosen according to tribal affiliations or to represent particular aspects of that person’s life. Wearing these garments is more than an expression of culture; it’s a way of honoring your life, your society, and your spirituality. For someone to deem that inappropriate is to deny who you are.

“You might not think it’s appropriate,” says Virginia, “but for someone else it very much could be. It’s something where we have to expand our minds.”

***

African fashion isn’t just about the clothes; hair plays an even more prominent role in cultural expression.

“The hair issue is important,” says Virginia. “It’s even more important than the clothes, because it’s what your body creates.”

African hairstyles often carry significant personal meaning. There are different styles for different occasions and different celebrations, and some can take many hours to craft. This made it all the worse when colonial America subjugated the African people as slaves, denying them the means to care for their hair and often forcing them to shave it off. Even decades on, the suppression of natural African hairstyles continues.

“For a Black person to look acceptable in White society, for them to look respectable and get a decent job, they have to take a certain kind of hairstyle which is flattened,” explains Virginia. “You couldn’t get an office job with a really bad-ass afro.”

This stigma isn’t helped by the lack of African hairstyles in many of today’s games. In The Sims 4, for example, none of the base hairstyles reflected those of a natural Black woman. Black hair tends to default to curly, with numerous variants each with their own designations: 2A, 2B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, and so forth. The only semi-appropriate hairstyle in The Sims 4, though, displayed no such nuance. In fact, it more closely resembled a potato than natural hair, which isn’t so surprising given it was originally modelled on a cauliflower.

To combat this stigma, Virginia has created and curated her own gallery of African-American hairstyles, allowing Black Sims to look, well, Black. The reception from The Sims community has been heartwarming.

“There’s an immense empowerment in saying ‘this is how god created me, and it’s fine. It’s beautiful, and I accept it.'” says Virginia. “A lot of my African-American friends who I’ve made through Simblr [Sims-focused Tumblr] are saying, ‘My mother was so insistent that I had to look decent, that I had to stop wearing my hair like this. That I had to straighten it and so on and so forth. And I feel good now, I feel so accepting of myself that I can be who I am. I’m okay like this.'”

***

While Virginia laments the poor state of cultural representation in games–and media in general, for that matter–she understands why it is the way it is.

“I don’t think [The Sims 4] was purposely created so there weren’t a lot of options for Black people,” says Virginia. “But people tend to create what they’re familiar with.”

This is why Virginia feels an almost moral obligation to raise awareness of African culture. Growing up with a part-Filipino mother and a family of both Black and White siblings, she was painfully aware of the unfair advantage her lighter skin brought her. That disparity has driven her to act as a bridge between Western and African culture, breeding understanding through awareness.

“I was lucky enough to be familiar with African fashion and African looks and African hair up to a certain degree, more familiar than some African-Americans themselves, because I have lived there, and it had been a part of my daily life. My teachers dressed like that, my classmates, my doctor who attended me. That was normal for me.”

For all her efforts, though, Virginia feels cultural representation has a long way to go. The stock-standard hero is still straight, White, male, buff and stoic.

“This is doubly harmful,” says Virginia. “On one hand, people who do not fit in that category, because they are transgender or from an ethnic minority or just female, it’s harder to relate to that character, and it’s harder to see yourself in real life as being the hero, or being in that circumstance. On the other hand, the people who do fit in that category and who don’t have much exposure to other cultures get used to seeing themselves and not other races, genders, or anyone different in similar roles.”

In general, Virginia wants to see the inclusion of more than just different cultures; she longs for more representation for the LGBT community, for women, for disabled people, for ethnic minorities, and for the elderly.

“Life is composed of all of this. We have short people in life. We have tall people, we have people with disabilities, people of all walks of life, all origins. I would like to see more diversity in general, not just from an ethnic point of view.”

***

The Sims isn’t the only life simulator where cultural fashion is fighting back against ignorance and prejudice. Second Life, the virtual world still going strong nearly 14 years after its release, sports an entire marketplace of player-made content. Everything from a rentable Hobbiton to Predator armor to lingerie can be picked up for the right price. Most pertinently, however, is the diverse range of cultural clothing on offer. Garments from all over the world celebrate the rich tapestry of our global society–but it wasn’t always this way.

The Dreaming Button, who preferred we not use her real name, joined Second Life shortly after she graduated from her Romanian high school. Fresh-faced and deep in the throes of self-discovery, Dreaming found Second Life to be both welcoming and diverse, introducing her to aspects of life she had never experienced. Foremost among these was Islamic culture. Many of the friends she made through Second Life originated from the Middle East, and Dreaming quickly realized that they were nothing like the stereotypes the media had bombarded her with. The more she learned about Islamic culture, the more she liked about it. In time, she started wearing a hijab around her house, the simple garment granting her a sense of elegance and empowerment she had never felt before.

Taking the next step, though, proved more difficult. Wearing a hijab in public can be a daunting prospect, especially in today’s socio-political climate.

“I saw this happening to other Muslim converts in Second Life,” says Dreaming. “They don’t have the courage to go in the streets outside wearing this garment. So they start to wear it in the game. And this is what I did also. I started to wear it in the game, and get myself used to my image wearing a scarf, because it’s so different, very different.”

***

Much like The Sims, Second Life provides a safe space to grow your identity and become comfortable with who you are. Free of the limits of physical society, people tend to be more open-minded, more willing to accept those different to them.

“It’s kind of funny,” says Dreaming. “People should be embarrassed of going naked in the street, not embarrassed of wearing clothing in the street. But it happens. Even two days ago, I was out in town here in a mall. I was sitting with my son and eating. There were some very elegant ladies, one of them nearly stumbled. She was walking and staring too much at me that she nearly stumbled.”

In Second Life, that sort of behavior is rare. Not only has the game granted Dreaming more confidence in her identity, it has helped her show others the value of Islamic culture.

“Most of the people that come to my store, they don’t know much about the Arabic culture. They don’t know much about Islam. [But] if I’m around, they ask me, and I’m happy to answer.

“I want the message to get out that Muslim people are just like any other people. That the culture itself is not something oppressing at all.”

***

For Dreaming, wearing a hijab both in- and out-of-game is about more than just cultural expression, it’s about freedom. Around the time she converted to Islam, she was hit with a series of auto-immune conditions. This wreaked havoc with her hair, thinning it out in spots and leaving her feeling uncomfortable with how she looked. Wearing a hijab gave her back the confidence to feel happy with her image.

Dreaming has heard similar stories from many people in Second Life. She has met cancer patients who wear headscarfs because chemotherapy has ruined their hair. She has met Jewish ladies who wear headscarfs, Christian ladies who wear them, sick people who wear them, all for their own reasons. Giving these people a way to reflect their realities in-game is what drives Dreaming to keep making her outfits, even as the pressures of being a single mother and looking after her sick father consume most of her waking hours.

Ultimately, Dreaming sees the virtual world as a powerful medium for spreading awareness and understanding, not just between different cultures, but among people in general.

“Second Life is good as a step between knowing and actually practicing something,” she concludes. “Be it the language, be it the clothing, be it the behavior, anything.”

***

Wishing for a day when games truly represent the world’s tremendous diversity isn’t enough. It is on all of us, developers and players alike, to follow the example of people like Virginia and The Dreaming Button and embrace the unfamiliar. It’s not easy, as Dreaming acknowledges, but that shouldn’t stop us.

“I learned to create things because I wanted to make them,” says Dreaming. “I didn’t already happen to know how to do this and start doing them. I just wanted so much to do them that I learned how to do them.”

Issues of diversity go far beyond the games industry, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.

“We can approach things and change things even from a game,” exhorts Virginia. “Some people say it’s just a game, don’t make a fuss, it’s just a game. But why not make it a positive platform for change?”

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68 Comments

  1. heliotropecrowe says:

    This was a very interesting premise terribly delivered. It had the level of analysis of a first year sociology essay written by someone with an apparently very loose grasp of the concepts involved.

    I can’t speak for Virginia’s background but the ugliness implied by the statement “as an African by culture but not by skin” should have been immediately obvious unless you think it would have been okay to apply the same logic to say “British” or “European” as you have to African.

    • onodera says:

      I must say that I agree. The article reinforces the idea that Euro-American clothing and hairstyles are the defaults, that they possess no special or significant meaning to the person who’s wearing them, unlike “exotic” clothing and hair.

      • heliotropecrowe says:

        There’s frankly an awful lot of questionable points in this piece. I think it was a poor editorial decision to run it as is.

        • Matt Sayer says:

          Thanks for pointing this out. It was definitely not my intent to imply any sort of cultural obligation to representation, nor that culture is bound by skin tone. I appreciate you letting me know where I’ve failed at this, and I will endeavour to do better in the future.

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      Graham Smith says:

      I’ve rephrased that line to be clearer about the specific cause of the fear.

    • saturday says:

      Yeah have to agree its not well done, too many generalizations. Please avoid this type of article unless better research is done.

      Would have been far better just to showcase the two contributors work that they produce and how they do so, as that is actually interesting and of good quality.

  2. Viral Frog says:

    I was under the impression that if you were born and raised in a country, you were a part of that country and it’s culture regardless of skin tone. By this logic, African-Americans are American only by culture and not by skin tone. That’s just stupid. And technically, Caucasian Americans would also fall into the “American by culture, not skin tone” category considering the fact that our European ancestors raped and pillaged the land from the natives.

    I hadn’t yet seen an article on RPS that made me want to put my head through my desk but hey, there’s a first time for everything. I am absolutely disappointed by this rag of a post.

    PS: I hate the term “African-American”, by the way. As if all people with dark skin are descended from Africa. SMH.

    • Viral Frog says:

      Because I’m pedantic, I do need to clarify that per our current understanding of the origins of mankind, everyone did technically descend from Africa, even those with dark skin. But I wasn’t specifically referring to the origins of mankind. As a pedant, I couldn’t allow this one to slide while another potential pedant picked it up and ran with it.

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      Graham Smith says:

      “I was under the impression that if you were born and raised in a country, you were a part of that country and it’s culture regardless of skin tone.”

      That’s a point made in the article, alongside discussion of how sometimes people feel remote or disconnected from cultures they belong to if they live geographically separate from them. And why, therefore, personal expressions of that culture through games can be important.

      • Viral Frog says:

        I’ll admit that I did skim the article the first time through. I took more time and gave it a proper read the second time. I’m still having some mixed feelings, but I see what you’re getting at. Good edit at the opening of the article though, Graham. Reads much better from the get go now.

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          Graham Smith says:

          Thanks for reading on and coming back to say so.

          I understand the mixed feelings. This is a heck of a subject and there’s not a lot of consensus about a lot of the topics raised, but I hope the discussion down here can be fruitful. And we’ll do our best to learn and do better anywhere we’ve messed up. Ta!

          • mouton says:

            No wonder you watch this piece closely, Graham. These topics are sadly very prone to exploding in the gaming sphere, for some reason. Still, I am glad you guys venture there, I just always hope you know what you are doing.

        • Matt Sayer says:

          That’s on me, and I really appreciate you pointing out where I can improve on articles like this in the future. I believe this topic is worth discussing, and I attempted to convey it with as few assumptions as possible, but I clearly did not succeed. Thank you for calling me out on this.

    • Rindan says:

      It might be stupid and unjust, but there is a pretty steep cultural divide that never healed between African Americans and the rest of America. Yeah, every American should be able to consider themselves American and be a part of American culture, but the cold hard truth is that if you are black, you are going to have a different experience. My country’s racist past isn’t behind us. A quick glance at our utterly insane incarceration rates and who we incarcerate makes this pretty damn clear.

      The thing you need to realize about the US is that we have communitie were 50% of the adult males have a felony. In the US, if you have a felony, for the rest of your life you will not be able to get a job much better than minimum wage, and even then, you will likely struggle to get even that. For life. You lose the ability to vote in multiple states. You lose access to many government aid programs. This creates a sick system that where young men are picked up while they are 16-22 and given a felony for low level drug possession. They might not even serve time, but it doesn’t matter because they are now fucked. They will be get their court appointed public defender who gives them 5 minutes of his time and tells them to plead guilty so they can get out of serving time. They plead, they get probation and felony, and they are now in the American undercast and cannot leave any other way besides death. That felony mark stays on you forever and can be accessed by any employer or government agent.

      So now imagine a neighborhood where 50% of the men have a felony and can’t work legally. They are shut out of most of our already shitty social safety net, and they not shockingly turn to the only people that will have them; criminals. This sort of thing is gutting our poor black communities. The men are legally banned from working, can’t use public housing or government aid, and you can discriminate against someone with a felony about as hard as you could discriminate against a black man during the Jim Crow era of “separate but equal”.

      This is what feeds the cultural division and resentment in the US. If you don’t understand, and many Americans don’t understand, you can be like, “yo, just stop being racist and treating people differently”. What they fail to realize is that we have deep structural racism that we barely recognize, and it keeps us divided.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Sorry, but this just can’t be the full explanation. There exists the legal concept of expungement, felony convictions can be erased from record if the person in question shows signs of rehabilitation. Especially non-violent offences of a juvenile, such as posession of trivial amounts of drugs, are eligible for this.

        • Traipse says:

          Sure, it exists. Which is only useful if (a) you’re familiar enough with the legal system to know that it exists, and (b) you can afford legal assistance to help you navigate the process. You know who that doesn’t help? People in areas with poor social services whose criminal record makes it hard to get a job for more than minimum wage.

          The existence of opportunities does not imply equal access to those opportunities.

          • Michael Fogg says:

            Excuses excuses. Just knowing that it exists doesn’t amount to rocket science, especially if YOUR ENTIRE FUTURE depends on it. And in the US people from underprivileged backgrounds have quite a lot of options for pro-bono legal assistance.

        • Rindan says:

          There certainly does exist expungement. You just need to know it exists, have a pile of money, and be non-citizen for a decade or two struggling with minimum wage jobs or no jobs, without turning to crime. Technically possible? Sure. Practically possible? Obviously not. Not that it will do you much good as you are already well behind everyone else should you managed to pull yourself up by our own bootstraps.

          If you have another one out of every four humans in the world living in a cage live in an American cage, and the US also sports the highest recidivism rates in the world with a cool 76% rearrested within 5 years. Compare this to Norway’s 20%.

          Go educate yourself. Read The New Jim Crow. The US has has >5% of the world’s population, <25% of the jailed people, and the must brutal post prison process in the developed world by far. On top of that, we brutally enforce incredibly racist drug laws. The highest rate of drug usage in the US is college campuses, and yet 50% of college kids don't leave college with a felony. Poor black neighborhoods on the other hand do end up with half the men with a felony.

          The US is fucked up. Americans are usually too deep in their bubble to realize it, and Europe rarely fully comprehends the full horror because stuff like a lifelong ban from most work for a drug possession charge is so far outside of their imagination they didn't think to ask if it exists.

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            alison says:

            Thank you for pointing this out. It’s astonishing to me how many people are ignorant of (or choose to deny) America’s problem with systemic racism.

          • ZippyLemon says:

            I applaud your comment. I suggest you read up on Scandinavia’s prison statistics though, so that you might cite them specifically. You look silly referring to this whole subcontinent as if it’s one unified culture and legislature.

            Danke beaucoup!

        • GDorn says:

          “There exists the legal concept of expungement, felony convictions can be erased from record if the person in question shows signs of rehabilitation.”

          Knowing it exists doesn’t magically grant you expungement. You have to file a petition and convince a judge to expunge your conviction. And, just like the systemic racism partly responsible for the felony conviction in the first place, systemic racism stacks the deck against you here, too.

          “Personal responsibility” is a great motto when the system treats everybody equally and isn’t saturated with systemic racism. It permeates the entire criminal justice system. If you are a minority, every step of the legal process is stacked more heavily against you. Compared to a white person committing the exact same crime, you would be:
          – More likely to be arrested
          – More likely to be indicted
          – More likely to be convicted
          – More likely to be charged and convicted of a felony instead of a misdemeanor
          – More likely to be given a sentence involving prison
          – More likely to be sent to a harsher, higher-security prison
          – Less likely to be given a shot a parole
          – Less likely to be granted clemency or other early release
          – And less likely to have your conviction expunged after serving your sentence.

          link to nyujlpp.org

  3. GernauMorat says:

    Some very strange assumptions being made in this article.

  4. Iaksones says:

    ‘I’m African-American, I’m Black, but I don’t feel strong ties to Africa,’ read the email. ‘Would it be cultural appropriation if my Sim wears it?’

    Virginia was stunned.

    “I was like, of course not! It’s a Sim!” she should have said.

    Plus there are some icky, regressive ideas here about culture being tied to race. It’s upsetting that people (African Americans who’ve contacted her, in this case) feel guilty about their deep interest in a culture they aren’t a part of (West African, broadly) and I’m glad Virginia’s assuaging their guilt. But it’s so backwards to tell folks they have a special racial key to do so instead of saying there is no barrier to learning about & celebrating other cultures via our favorite form of escapism.

    But I’m glad all these modders are enriching their virtual spaces with more diversity, and ultimately Virginia’s particular thoughts on ownership of culture don’t spoil that. Games and mods both have had a big role in my interest in people and places around the world, and it’s precisely because of content like what’s showcased in this article (though usually with a side of heavy casualties and bloodshed because I like 4X games).

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      This. Thank you.

      When I read that, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The implication seems to be that you have to belong to a particular race in order to play as a member of it in a video game.

      That said, I applaud the author for tackling a tricky subject and rolling with the inevitable punches that followed. Even if I don’t agree with everything written here, he’s handling readers’ reactions with maturity and professionalism, and that deserves respect.

      • Traipse says:

        When you say “The implication seems to be that you have to belong to a particular race in order to play as a member of it in a video game”, I think you’re missing the subtext of this person’s question. She wasn’t asking “Is it okay if I put African clothing on my Sim?”. As you point out, of course it is — it’s just a Sim. What she was really asking is, “Is it okay for me to identify myself with this character?”, which is a much more poignant question.

    • skeletortoise says:

      Pretty much my thoughts exactly. I don’t much buy into the concept of cultural appropriation and I generally find the idea of defining yourself by or needlessly forcing some sort of cultural validation via your ancient relatives pretty silly. Besides those questionable concepts, I think trying to learn more about other cultures and groups, dispel misconceptions, and connect people is great, so I’m largely on board with some of the spirit of this article. And of course, it’s good that RPS even tries with tricky subjects when most games journalism won’t.

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        basilisk says:

        My line of thought exactly, and thanks to lakshones for saying this. Cultures have been appropriating stuff from each other for as long as there have been cultures. That’s how it works. Trying to make other cultures untouchable is completely backwards on so many levels.

        The whole thing about cultural appropriation being bad started with (and should end with) portrayals that are blatantly racist and using the easiest signifiers of another culture to demean. Putting on blackface and eating watermelon while saying “dis be some good watermelon”. Wearing a “Mexican” costume that consists of a gigantic sombrero, a fake moustache and a bottle of tequila. That kind of thing.

        There is absolutely nothing insulting or wrong about exploring other cultures and being influenced by other cultures, even if you don’t have anything in common with them. The whole idea is upside down.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          I personally agree that what makes humankind great is the mashing up and remixing of all the cultures that came beforehand. My own background is a hodge-podge of different cultural influences and I don’t really know life any other way. But simply by virtue of being able to travel freely and not care about my ancestors’ culture or religion, I am exercising a privilege that many do not have.

          I come from an upper middle class family, and I am white, so I can do pretty much whatever I want because I am The Man. I do not face systemic discrimination or oppression based on my appearance or display of cultural identity. (Let’s forget for a moment that I am trans and a woman so do have to deal with other kinds of oppression.)

          The point is, The Man doesn’t get to decide what is and is not cultural appropriation. It most certainly did not start with racist stereotypes, and it definitely does not end there. I must admit I am pretty surprised and shocked at how many commenters here seem eager to dismiss the notion that people should even ask the question.

          • April March says:

            Yeah, this. I agree that, in a magical rainbow world where everyone is literally equal, cultures borrow liberally from each other and they all grow in their own way. But in the modern world, since Western white culture is so massively dominant, this cultural exchange is more often:
            – Western white culture sees a thing in another culture that it finds cool and adapts it to itself.
            – The adaptation of the thing becomes known worldwide in the way Western white culture displays it, dissociated from whichever context it had in the original culture.
            – Now, when people see the thing, they think of the simplified context it had in white culture, and, despite that, believe they understand it well.
            – Because everyone knows about it and knows about it in the wrong way, the thing’s importance in the original culture is greatly diminished.

            This happens even if any of these steps were made with good intent in mind. I don’t think it can be stopped, though – cultures borrow from each other, it’s what they do, even if one of them is a massive juggernaut that squishes everything else with its mere presence. But questioning it is, quite literally, the least we can do.

    • sith1144 says:

      ““You’re a Black person asking me if you can wear clothes that were created for Black people. That’s your culture that was stolen from you, and you’re asking if you’re allowed to have it back? You should wear it with pride!””
      What? Created for black people? Surely they were just clothes made for people, but in Africa, which has a majority black population. Either way, material culture is *not* the same as personal culture, the sapeurs in the Congo wearing ‘European’ style clothing are not stealing culture any more than Etruscans using Greek pottery were, modern Americans wearing (or expressing themselves as wearing or however you want to put it) African clothing are, etc. To put it another way, the materials have no bearing on what culture you personally belong/adhere/identify to, i.e. I have a Samsung phone, this has no bearing on my relation to Korean culture, likewise, to stick to Africa, finding Bantu-style tools somewhere does not mean the people that lived there were a Bantu-people.

      TL;DR: do whatever you want, its fine, you’re not stealing someones culture, merely using materials you like

  5. Premium User Badge

    Kiwilolo says:

    I can’t say agree with all of the finer points in this, but this is a very interesting subject and I’m glad RPS is posting things like this.

  6. Shiloh says:

    Is “Black” the new “black”? I just ask as I don’t really move in the kind of circles who’d know.

    I’ve now read this piece three times, and honestly, I think it really could have done with a healthy dose of the editor’s red pen and possibly also a quick chat about the fact that just because you believe something to be true, doesn’t necessarily mean it is… but then, it’s clearly not aimed at me, so I’ll leave it to others to ponder the somewhat dispiriting ramifications of taking the author’s worldview to its logical conclusion.

    • Matt Sayer says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I attempted to present the perspectives of those I interviewed rather than my own, but if I failed in this, I appreciate you calling me out on it.

      • Shiloh says:

        Hi Matt, on reflection I think my issue (and it is mine, obviously, you’re absolutely entitled to reject it) is essentially that you failed to challenge some of the baseline assumptions in the piece and give us a 360 view of what you and your respondents obviously feel is an important issue – as a sympathetic listener, you waved through a couple of things that in my view could have done with a bit more unpicking.

        That being said, you deserve a lot of credit for tackling the subject and for addressing the criticism head on. I’m an editor by profession, and I know it’s not easy for authors putting stuff out there for the world to read.

        • Matt Sayer says:

          Thanks Shiloh! This is tremendously helpful criticism, and I’ll be doing my darndest to challenge the underlying assumptions of future articles. Cheers!

  7. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I’m historically german, I suppose a ‘European-American” but I have no interest in German culture.

    There must be something horribly wrong with me, I’m not following my racial culture.

    • Hawkseraph says:

      The only real crime is not accepting our superior beer culture. You Bastard.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        Now I want to go to Munich and drink an American Bud Light in a beer hall.

        If I could manage to get a bud light down, that is.

    • cheesysmell says:

      There is actually an interesting history of oppression of German culture in America. However, I don’t believe there’s much systemic discrimination against people of German descent these days, so I’m not surprised at your lack of interest.

      • c-Row says:

        There is actually an interesting history of oppression of German culture in America.

        All the “Oktoberfest” partys celebrated in America are basically German History Month.

        • gunrodent says:

          Isn’t it more like “Bavaria History Month”?

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            Drib says:

            To an American, this question makes no sense. As an American, Europe is basically one big blob of castles, knights on horseback, and cockney british people.

  8. thelastdonut says:

    I thought this was interesting. I’m a little confused by some of the comments but I reckon its because a few edits have been made before I read this piece. Either way it was still interesting.

    • gunrodent says:

      I found it interesting too, thanks for the article. The confusing comments are probably upset that someone had the audacity to write about culture and identity. Then proceed to rap it for “terrible” delivery, “tone of the article” and other things that tries to make it look like “objective” criticism but still hiding personal dislike, mostly because of topics chosen. I am just making conjecture here, though…

  9. MaXimillion says:

    All human interaction is cultural appropriation, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  10. Ksempac says:

    The overall intent of this article are good, but I think the tone is off. In trying to convey how important the topic of cultural representation is, the author’s is making some weird implications / assumptions.

    Some already mentioned the weird moral issues implied by African-American trying to reconnect with what they perceive as “their African heritage”. But as a frequent consumer of US media, i know that’s currently a thing some African-American actually do so i can’t blame the author for mentioning this actual fact.

    The sentence that rang the most wrong to me of was this one:

    “Beyond the cultural connection, traditional West-African garments often carry significant meaning to the wearer. Clothes are typically tailor-made for an individual, with the colors, patterns, and embroidery chosen according to tribal affiliations or to represent particular aspects of that person’s life.”

    These beautiful, colorful clothes you see in West African countries? They are often made of wax. Which is a patterned fabric invented by Dutch, is mass produced and whose market is still dominated by the Dutch (to the detriment of some fabric that are actually from African origins).
    link to en.m.wikipedia.org
    So the author went a bit too lyrical on that one.

    This sentence is the best example of why I’m having issues with the tone of the article: it’s talking about the importance of different cultures but talk about an idealized version of said cultures. It’s important to get more diversity in games. But in trying to rectify this, it’s also important to not over-romanticize theses underrepresented cultures.

    • frightlever says:

      I’m not going to criticise the article, because I think it was well-intentioned, and while I disagree with the concept of “cultural appropriation”, I’m happy to see it discussed.

      Britain’s Imperial past has led to massive amounts of cultural “appropriation” (not to mention tons of actual appropriation) which people are likely just unaware of and which got mushed around all over the place. Paisley bandanas, for instance. Favourite head garb of 80s street gangs, basically very (Asian) Indian. I like 80s action movies, so I’m not going to holler cultural appropriation. Someone wearing a Bindi as a fashion accessory, or part of their personal spiritual awakening… I’m an atheist and it shouldn’t bother me, but it kinda does. I’m still not going to complain about it. I find wearing crucifixes as a fashion accessory fairly unpleasant as well.

      There’s also the pretty touchy subject when you look at the extremely diverse historical cultures in Africa and try to stuff it all into a big bag marked “RACE”, particularly with regard to North Africa. I’ll leave that for someone else to dig into.

      Honestly, it’s great for people to be energised about their culture, but I think it’s pretty much universally true that when they become defensive about it, hoarding it if you will, it’s because they feel like they’ve already lost so much that they can’t stand by and lose their unique culture as well. I don’t think the answer is to avoid sharing culture, it’s to materially lift the world up to the point where no-one is going to care. You’ll get a lot of problems solved that way.

      • Josh W says:

        Yeah I agree, the big motivating example for cultural appropriation is the native americans, which is probably why americans are the ones so pre-occupied with it.

        Start with the culture and language replacement policies common to a lot of indigenous cultures, add discrimination on the basis of cultural markers, and take away physical heritage like land use rights, then suddenly someone else using cultural things that you are encouraged not to use is going to wind you up pretty solidly.

        And honestly, they have every right to be annoyed. The only problem is generalising the problem from a particular people group for whose interactions with the dominant culture is particularly appropriate to characterise as “theft”. To be fair again, a lot of other indigenous cultures effected by western colonialism have some similar parts, but the solutions don’t necessarily map across.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          I am glad you brought up the American connection, because I think this is the root of a lot of communication difficulties around social justice issues online, and perhaps especially on RPS which has a big British contingent. (Although tbh that doesn’t forgive the particular ignorance exhibited by many commenters on this story.)

          Although cultural appropriation is definitely something that extends beyond just indigenous Americans – I remember almost 20 years ago hearing indigenous Australians discuss similar concerns – there is a lot of this sort of terminology that loses something outside of the American context. For instance, PoC is term that holds special meaning in the US, but may not always translate as well as a shared identity to other parts of the world.

          In my own minority (trans/woman) I find that American decisions on how we should refer to one another or who our allies are do not correspond exactly with my experiences in Australia or Europe, because the patriarchy exhibits itself differently in these places and the culture of oppression (or acceptance) evolved differently. But thanks to American “online imperialism”, our experiences are considered less valid or (at worst) taboo.

          Similarly, Americans don’t really understand the issues we have in Europe where plenty of “white” people are still extremely bigoted toward one another because of religious or national backgrounds. So, it’s a complex problem.

          Speaking as someone who has lived in a lot of different countries, I would love to see some more articles around how best to discuss social justice issues on the international stage. It’s an interesting topic.

  11. Rinox says:

    Maybe there were bad ones that have been removed, but I just wanted to say that I find the overall respectful (if critical) tone used in this discussion and the comments quite encouraging. It proves the RPS community is a notch above the internet average. Granted, a low bar, but still. ;-)

    Thanks for the article, and for the comments!

  12. Risingson says:

    Yeah, intent good, blah blah blah.

    What I am also wondering, in a much more frivolous tone, is why fashion in videogames is usually so horrible. I am talking about the very Hackers-era looks of Deus Ex, the frankly horrid tattoos of most modern rpg npcs, those hairstyles that look like being born in a Duran Duran music video and so on. Every time I start one of those games I can choose the appearance of the character and see the choices, I cannot do anything but facepalm. Oh my God, those designers, why did not their mothers tell them “WHERE ARE YOU GOING DRESSED UP LIKE THIS”.

  13. aerozol says:

    Really good article, the disparaging comments are to be expected, but I come to RPS because I trust you to keep putting up honest and interesting articles from the whole spectrum of experience even if it’s challenging to the average ‘gamer’. Keep it up, cheers.

  14. BarryDennen12 says:

    Oof, cultural appropriation – that issue that people yammer about when they’ve run out of actual issues to yammer about.
    You’d think the Sims would be a good getaway from all of that nonsense – apparently not.

  15. Farnbeak says:

    I’m really surprised to see such an article here on RPS.
    I want to point out that I’m happy when new types of articles appear here and I find the topic of this one interesting and worthy (although I would prefer other thematic sites to tackle such outright political themes).

    But I really don’t like the level of analysis and lack of selfcritisism in this one.
    I realize that going into details would be too long, so in short:

    I have a strong feeling that the worst offender is the choice of sources and the angle of coverage.
    Author tries to frame the material in the best light possible and, considering the dubious and stretched arguments, it results in a political piece, more akin to propaganda.
    Its dogmatic, statement-heavy with little place for selfdoubt (despite one of the piece’s topics – selfawareness), and the general flow a little manipulative, esp. given the arguments handling. It even reminded me of a specfic type of Kotaku articles.

    The context is quickly built around the term ‘cultural appropriation’, and empathy with the poor insecure girl. It lasts only a couple of sentences until we’re given the first quote with the claim “That’s your culture that was *stolen* from you”. Its hard to see any sign of selfawareness or acknowledgement of absurdity, when further the commentary of her friend on the ‘shoddiness’ of a traditional outfit leads the reader to an overblown statement “For someone to deem that inappropriate is to deny who you are” and etc.
    (Further there’s even the chemotherapy story sewn in, which (imo) felt out of place, even if its always a powerful tool)

    If this is a story about cultural appropriation, then it should either acknowledge its dubiousness or, better, contain strong arguments.
    If this a story about opression, then it should contain stronger evidence than “a woman ALMOST stumbled looking at me”.
    If this is a story about selfexpression, then it could have had any of the plethora of more interesting ideas/sources and just be genuine (no convenient assumption-crutches)
    Also, unfortunately, I didn’t find the article particularly informative, except the cauliflower part.

    All of the above is my personal opinion and I do not mean to attack or offend the author and I appreciate his mature responces to the other comments. I hope any of the above criticism will be beneficial.

  16. hey_tc says:

    Cultural appropriation. Apparently the bottom of the barrel has been scraped clean through.

    I expect better content from a site with such a fantastic reputation as RPS. This sort of cultural puritanism is really disappointing.

  17. keefybabe says:

    As a lifelong metaller I never quite understood cultural appropriation until they started selling Motörhead tshirts in Top Shop. Then I was like, “YOU DONT GET TO WEAR THAT!” And I got really grumpy at the idea of all these Mariah Carey fans walking around in Motörhead shirts, stealing my identity.

    And that’s not even close to the same level as someone appropriating your actual culture,

    • Sgt_Moose says:

      One thing that most people don’t talk about is how lumping all people of European heritage into one group is bad.

      I’m white. But actually, I’m 1/4 Norwegian, with some French, German and English mixed in for good measure. My mother made a point of teaching us about Norway, where grandpa came from, and a little about the culture.

      Each of those countries have distinct cultures and languages. I once heard a Hispanic man say, “Hey man I speak White!” when someone tried to speak to him in Spanish.

  18. Kelvin says:

    Culture divides people; that’s the point of America. You come in, you assimilate, you bring your old traditions and blend them with the existing culture. You forfeit any exclusive claim to those old trappings for you and your children as soon as you become a citizen: THIS is your country now and THOSE are your countrymen.

    This clinging to the trappings of old cultures, this cultural relativism is no good; and it leads to nonsense questions like “Is this cultural appropriation?”

    All culture is appropriated.

    From nature, from the stories of individuals, from evolution in art and character. It may *apply* more to one people than to another, but no-one has the exclusive right to a specific type of culture.

    Imagine how absurd it would be if I asked if you were appropriating American culture by eating a hot dog and listening to pop music, if you were appropriating Japanese culture by going out to cosplay or wearing an anime t-shirt, or that your were appropriating English culture by making a game featuring colonial explorers or tea.

    It’s utter fricking’ nonsense in America, it’s utter fricking’ nonsense everywhere else, and it is designed from the ground up to divide and factionalise people from one another based on skin tone and ethnicity.

    This may be my opinion, but that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.

    • GDorn says:

      You forfeit any exclusive claim to those old trappings for you and your children as soon as you become a citizen: THIS is your country now and THOSE are your countrymen.

      Exactly. If African-Americans didn’t want to forfeit their heritage, they shouldn’t have moved here.

  19. FreakazoidRobot says:

    For the love of god, please stop with this culture appropriation nonsense. It’s gone from absurd to ridiculous. Nobody “owns” a culture, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    • GDorn says:

      For the love of god, please stop with this culture appropriation nonsense. It’s gone from absurd to ridiculous. Nobody “owns” a culture, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

      Seriously. I spend so much time in the Social Justice Reeducation Camps, my Minstrel Show Reunion group can barely find time to practice. And then when we do land a gig, the PC Police censor and boycott us so hard we can’t even afford the hypo-allergenic kind of greasepaint.

      And then, to top it all off, after a day of arguing with people who for some reason aren’t flattered by my calling them the N word, I just want to unwind with some Counterstrike. But of course, my favorite server is overrun with Fake Gamer Girls.

  20. desolation0 says:

    Thanks for writing this article. Keep it up. Even on a miss you’ll get feedback for how to cover these sorts of topics better.

  21. GDorn says:

    “Most of the people who visit my site or look at my stuff, they aren’t actually Africans–they’re African-Americans,” explains Virginia. “They’re African-Americans who grew up removed from their culture.”

    I was picking up most of what she was laying down, until this. There’s so much patronizing Orientalist bullshit in this one quote, I’d need to hire a moving company to haul it to storage before I could even begin to consider unpacking it all.

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