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Asian-American devs discuss longtime struggles after a year of rising racism

IGN news editor Matt Kim shares stories from Asian-American game developers examining Asian representation in games and how anti-Asian racism manifests in the video game industry.

Bryant Francis

March 25, 2021

2 Min Read

In the last few weeks you’ve probably read a number of headlines discussing the rise in anti-Asian racism over the last year that escalated terrifyingly into the killing of eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, at a series of spas in Atlanta, GA last week.

Though the rise in violence and verbal assaults has been attributed to racism driven by former US President Donald Trump and baseless anger over COVID-19’s spread, many game developers have been cognizant that it’s built on a broader base of racism that impacts not just their personal communities, but their professional ones as well.

For the last few months, IGN news editor Matt Kim has been speaking with developers about their experiences, capturing a moment in time shared by a generation of developers. Among the many insights developers offered, Kim captured how developers of many backgrounds have felt stereotyped by their peers for being Asian American.

Producer Jessica Jung told Kim that “When we say Asian developers, I think those folks usually tend to get pigeonholed as software engineers, as technical folks.”

Serenity Forge founder Zhenghua Yang explained that at events like Game Developers Conference, he had to set a policy to bring a white coworker along to meetings after being mistaken for a programmer, not a businessman. “After our first GDC, because I realized [how] little people would take me seriously in a convention setting — in a meeting setting,” he said.

“We had a new policy that I always had to bring a white person from our team to these meetings. That’s the only way for them to realize that I’m an American businessman.”

Several women explained to Kim that they experienced additional, sexualized comments too. Asian women have been stereotyped in film, TV, and games for over a half-century as being either sexually aggressive or broadly submissive, and developers speaking to Kim shared comments that covered both categories.

Innersloth community director Victoria Tran described a number of inappropriate comments she’d experienced at professional and online events, while Ubisoft community developer Elisa Choi shared a story about how a colleague grew upset that she had been direct in an e-mail.

“But when I pointed out that a colleague of mine — who is in the same position, but she’s white — when I pointed out that she was just as direct to me in an email she was given that excuse of, ‘Yeah, but she’s from Russia so it’s okay. You should be able to give her that cultural understanding.’”

You should definitely take the time to read Kim’s full reporting, which also covers the nuances of representing Asian characters in games (such as Jesse from The Last of Us Part 2), to the reliance of Western studios  utilizing iconography from Asian countries sometimes are symbols of conquest over other Asian countries.

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