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Uncharted 2 and the Burden of Consciousness

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the latest product of white hegemony and cultural obliviousness in entertainment. Join Drake on his plundering adventure as he sacrifices innocent villagers and objectifies exotic dark skinned girls.
This post could also be entitled: "Uncharted 2 and Why I Can't Enjoy Anything Anymore."

Ever since I've taken on a more, shall we say "militant" bent, I've become aware of things that I had taken for granted before. I've had discussions with various people - particularly African-Americans - about video games where they expressed to me their problem with the prevalence of white protagonists. They felt a disconnect from the characters they were playing for this reason, felt they couldn't "relate" to them.

For most of my life, whenever I've had this conversation, I've thought it was silly. For one thing, I didn't feel that way at all. For another, there were plenty of ways/reasons to identify with a character outside of race/ethnicity. For another, in my view, most of these games were taking place on other worlds - worlds where our racial categories do not exist. Even where themes of discrimination were visited, as in the game Chrono Cross, it was likely a problem between humans and some actual other race - like Elves or Metahumans or whatever else. So what did it matter that the hero in this world happened to be a blue-eyed blonde-haired ubermensch? I'm looking at you, Cloud Strife.

But, as you can imagine, something has changed for me. I still maintain my "other worlds" argument, but the fact is that these games are made BY people from THIS world, and so I have developed a bone of contention not with the white protagonists, but with a development community that completely ignores diversity, or where non-white characters are featured as stereotypes or mockeries.

I'm looking at you, just about every game out of Japan.

This new problem became even more present in the case of the latest game I've played - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for PS3. In it you play as Nathan Drake, the white treasure hunter (thief). Let me give you a quick background on this guy. In the first game, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, we learn that Nathan is the descendant of Sir Francis Drake - one of many (as I know now) brutal conquerors of the Western world. Nathan is pursuing a lost treasure that his ancestor is said to have left behind. My problem with that game, ASIDE from the fact that Nathan is plundering cultural sites, is that it maintains the mystique of Francis Drake the explorer, rather than Sir Francis the conqueror. Now you may say, it's a just video game, not a social commentary. But that's just it. It doesn't have to be a social commentary to at least acknowledge that Sir Francis Drake was a piece of shit.

Anyway, this really created for me the problem of not being able to relate to the main character that others had described to me in the past. And my "other world" argument doesn't work in this case. Here we have the descendant of a plundering conqueror doing some more plundering - and he's the goddamn HERO of the story.

He starts off fighting native soldiers of what looks to be some place in South America, and ends up fighting some kind of zombies or some other nonsense. I'll let the killing natives thing slide, because it's to be expected that the villain - some other plundering asshole - would recruit locally. Cheap labor and all that.

The "zombie" thing could've been interesting if they were the vengeful dead left behind by Francis the conqueror, but it was nothing so relevant as that. It was some magical B.S. that changed people into creatures.

That was the first game. And I brought all that baggage with me into the second game. There was not a moment of playing Uncharted 2 where I wasn't thinking "I don't want to be this plundering white boy". Nathan Drake for me, by his very premise, is character with few redeeming qualities. As the game proceeds, we see Drake robbing a museum in Turkey, but at least having the moral sense to use only tranquilizer guns on the museum guards - at least those he isn't pummeling into unconsciousness or choking out. These guards are all dark-skinned, which from my understanding of Turkish demographics, is rather improbable.

He goes on to loot temples and other sites in Nepal. The villain - some burly homicidal Eastern European - is exploiting some sort of Civil War in Nepal to raze temples to the ground in search of a certain artifact. Drake is hot on his trail, not to stop him, but to beat him to the punch.

Disaster happens, Drake ends up isolated in some snowy mountains, and is rescued by a Nepalese mountain man. A popular story. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a village where, as is to be expected, no one speaks English. Drake makes a number of snide references like "Yeah, I still don't speak that." and "Why do I bother?".

Oh, SORRY to burden you, white plunderer, by having the audacity to not speak your fucking language up here in the Nepalese mountains, and hinder you in your efforts to steal from us.

By some sheer coincidence, Elena - Drake's reporter friend from the first game (she's white, too) - who for reasons unknown can speak the language of the Nepalese mountain people - is there waiting for him when he wakes up. She proceeds to take him to someone who "really wants to meet him". At this point I was expecting the Nepalese equivalent of the "magical Negro", some sagely old woman or diminutive hunchback, maybe. But imagine my surprise when it's some jolly old white guy wearing the Nepalese garb - obviously a transplant. Turns out he was once an "explorer" like Drake, looking for the same elusive artifact, but he gave up and settled in this village. Phew! Good thing there was another white guy around, because for a minute there Drake's quest for plunder might've been obstructed by a language barrier!

Drake's presence in this mountain village eventually brings a full scale assault from the villain down on the natives, who are mowed down relentlessly as Drake himself runs for cover. We're talking men, women, children - being gunned down by soldiers and a plowed by a tank. A tank. Seriously. In exchange for your hospitality, kind villagers, I bring you DEATH. In spite of the mass devastation of innocent villagers, the only two moments of mourning in the game are upon the deaths of Elena's cameraman - also white - and Schafer, the former treasure seeker.

Maybe the moral of the story is, if you're a Nepalese mountain person and find a white man collapsed in the mountains, leave his punk ass there to die.

Oh, and did I mention Chloe? Well, she is Drake's other potential love interest, a direct contrast to Elena, his reporter friend. Elena is white - very white - with blonde hair and blue eyes and an investigative journalist. Chloe is dark-skinned, green-eyed, dark-haired, and a fellow thief. She's the "exotic" one. In only her second scene in the game, we find her straddling Drake, ass in the air, putting his hands on either of her hips before leaning in for a kiss. Completely forced and disingenuous sexual banter continues between the two throughout the game - brilliantly written lines like "You know you're going to miss this ass", and "I think you're enjoying this too much" as she climbs a ladder.

And of course she's all kinds of shady, selfish, with her motives and loyalty repeatedly questioned, whereas Elena is the reliable mainstay. Elena's also the only one to call Drake on being a pig, and to have anything close to a sense of feminism - that is to say, some self-respect as a woman. She's also the one that Drake chooses to "love" in the end, with Chloe going on to...who knows where. But no worries, because Drake points his friend, a lecherous cigar-smoking old white man, in her direction. So we can assume she won't be alone for long. You know, because she's just waiting around for the next white dick. All women should be so fortunate.

Once upon a time, I was able to just play video games and enjoy them. I didn't see race, I didn't see cultural issues, didn't see gender issues, didn't see anything. Games were, after all, my escape from such heavy things. But now, being more "conscious", I can't help but notice them. And damn if it isn't a burden. This burden carries over into just about everything these days. There is hardly a movie or a game or a book where I'm not looking for and easily spotting a slew of cultural faux pas and outright offenses that can only be attributed to the dominance of an oblivious majority.

Does anyone else get this? Do you mournfully reminisce the days of blissful ignorance? I do sometimes. Yet, I don't think I'd be willing to trade it for my current awareness.

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