Sunday, March 31, 2002

By way of Gonzalo: Technology Review - Cyberspace and Race by Henry Jenkins.
Jenkins argues that we are carrying our prejudices into CyberSpace, the colour of your skin matters no matter how your avatar is. I would like to point out that you carry your entire culture into CyberSpace. To be Norwegian in all-American chat-rooms can be a very alienating experience, and I am certain being american in a all-Norwegian chat-room would feel like having landed on the moon...

Race and class are, as is gender, a naturalised distinction, but still one trained into us since childhood, and Jenkins is right, we don't drop it as we log on.

There are however online games where exactly race and class are part of what they play with: particularly race. Aarinfel and Azhad both have restrictions on what characters it's advisable to create. On Aarinfel having blue eyes and pale skin meant that you were cursed by the deity of death, and people with this combination were shunned. Blue-skinned orcs were no problem though.

On Azhad, the connection race and class has been turned upside down. The aristocratic pure-bloods are all black; dark hair, skin and eyes. Paler skin or eyes is a sign of "pollution", and the whites are outsiders, scum and often slaves.

The regulars hardly think about this, but for newbies it's always a surprise. The skim the race-descriptions, and pick a race close to something they are used to thinking of as high status in Western Europe and North America, and end up being treated like lepers. Always a hard way to start a game where you had planned to become a high-status aristocrat...

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