We all have that one uncle (or aunt, or grandfather, or whatever) that just has a few ideas that seem a little outdated. He keeps doing outlandish things like— eh, nevermind. At the end of the day, they just use a lot of derogatory terms, and just generally can’t seem to keep his history from showing up in the ugliest ways possible.
The world of video games sort of has the same thing: crazy uncles that can’t help but remind us of how the world was not a few short decades ago. Or, in some cases, how it still is today.
Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of really cool aunts and cousins that think women should be paid the same as men, that homophobia is completely antiquated, and the colour of your skin should matter less than absolutely everything else about a person, but it would be nice if we didn't need to qualify any of this. By and large (and quite unfortunately), there’s more crazy uncles than woke aunts.
And then there are a few games that are like great grandpa, aren't quite living in the modern era. Yeesh.
Anyway, here’s a few games that still need to get with the times.
15 Resident Evil 5
When Resident Evil 5 was first announced to be taking place in Africa, the world rejoiced. Finally, a Capcom game that will depict Africa as the multifaceted and unique continent that it is. Then they told us there’d be a zombie outbreak where you’d spend all your time as a white man, Chris Redfield, shooting black people — it raised a few eyebrows. Okay, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Never mind the fact that it is Africa and they are zombies, you’re still mowing down hundreds of dark-skinned former humans, and that doesn’t exactly look politically correct.
To combat the public outcry, Capcom inserted a few random white zombies into the game, but this really only seemed to make them stand out like lost tourists in a zombie apocalypse.
14 Diablo 3
Diablo has always been a hack-n’-slash action series that prided itself on a wide variety of roles to choose from. In Diablo 3, you have the powerful and potent wizard, the enormous and imposing barbarian, and the ludicrously racist witch doctor.
Setting aside the fact that the witch doctor is obviously a stereotype for African shamanism, it also gets it entirely wrong. The big flashy masks and colourful leg upholstery are entirely ceremonial and never worn on a day to day basis. Honestly, how are you supposed to fight the demonic forces of evil if you can’t even see?
Not only that, but Diablo completely forgets the doctor part of the witch doctor, which traditionally focused on the healing arts, not throwing jars of poisonous spiders at people.
13 Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Here we have another American attempt at tackling the thorny drug issue, and like all times previously they get it completely wrong.
The eleventh title in the Ghost Recon franchise, Wildlands takes place in Bolivia circa 2019. Things seem to have gone terribly for poor Bolivia, as the game depicts the country overrun by a Mexican drug cartel to the point where it’s become a complete narco-state. In an outstanding display of American machismo (and ignoring all previous history on the subject) the US sends in a special task force of special operatives directed to take down the cartel piece by piece.
The game’s depiction of Bolivia was so bad that it got an official complaint from the Bolivian government, saying it is not a narco state and it misrepresents the country to the world.
12 Call Of Juarez: The Cartel
Believe it or not, Call of Juarez is a franchise of Wild West-inspired first-person shooters. The first game took place in the 1800s, along with its sequel Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. And then for some reason, they decided to bring the franchise to modern day Los Angeles, but they brought their 1800s sensibilities with them.
The game starts with an LAPD detective, FBI agent, and DEA officer all walking into a bar. I kid — they actually go on a killing spree. They slaughter people by the hundreds, in the most brutally inaccurate depiction of the Mexican drug war imaginable. At one point you hunt down human traffickers stealing Americans and bringing them to Mexico, even though that’s the exact opposite of what happens in real life. Add on an in-game achievement for killing more than 40 primarily African American LA drug dealers and starting a gang war, and you’ve got the most racist game at the race party.
11 GTA: Vice City
You knew that Grand Theft Auto was going to find its way onto this list somehow, the only question was which one. All of the games feature racial stereotypes to varying degrees, but none of them quite catch the racist rain as GTA: Vice City does.
Taking place at the height of the crack epidemic in 80's Miami, Vice City follows Tommy Vercetti after he’s just released from prison and immediately goes about rebuilding his criminal empire. To do it, he’ll have to get rid of the gangs that have moved in his absence: the Cubans and the Haitians. And what better way to do that than a good ‘ol fashioned gang war? The moral of the story seems to be it’s OK to be an Italian criminal, but not Cuban or Haitian.
10 Mafia III
As a semi-historical game taking place in the Deep South in the 60's, Mafia III’s argument for its blatant racism is “that’s just how things were back then.” It's a story worth telling. When the mixed heritage protagonist walks by and a woman clutches her pearls, or a white man sneers that’s just how the 60's were if your skin was anything but the purest white.
Displaying racism as an ugly reminder of what the past was like is all well and good, but Mafia III then doubles down on the racism card by giving us a drunken Irish mob leader, a spaghetti sucking Italian mafioso, and a Haitian crime lord who moonlights as a Voodoo Queen.
On the plus side, you do end up killing a white supremacist leader, so I guess it’s not all bad.
9 Final Fantasy VII
Let’s be honest, the whole Final Fantasy franchise has been sort of whitewashed from day one. But in no Final Fantasy is this more evident than arguably the biggest game of them all: Final Fantasy VII.
There is exactly one non-white character in the game. His name is Barret Wallace, and while he is most certainly non-white, he is also a living caricature of non-white. He looks like Mr. T, talks like Samuel L. Jackson, and is built like Shaquille O’Neal ate both of them for breakfast. The fact that his dialog sounds like it was written by a Mr. Speak and Spell set to “ebonics” is just the racist icing on the cake.
About the only thing worse would have been if the director had chosen Barret to die instead of Aerith.
8 Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect is a series that portrays humans as a universally accepting race with a cosmopolitan society of all species living under one citadel. The rest of the species in the game run the gamut between accepting and outright xenophobic, but there’s a few that particularly stand out.
First off is everyone’s favourite Martin Sheen role: the Illusive Man. As the leader of Cerberus, he has tasked himself and his organization with the protection and advancement of humanity at the cost of all other species. The player has a choice between curbing his anti-alien tendencies or going along with them, and the wider Mass Effect universe is full of atrocities that Cerberus has done in the name of humanity.
Then there’s the Geth and the Quarians, two species that are, as a gross oversimplification, so racist they’ve been at war for centuries. Luckily you have the option of ending the race war in ME3, but the racial tension remains even if both species survive.
7 Survival Island 3: Australia Story
Lest I mislead you into thinking that North America has a lock on racism, Australia had its own brand of bigoted game in Survival Island 3: Australia Story.
A mobile game released on iTunes and Google Play, it featured a fair skinned player struggling to survive in the wilds of the Australian Outback. One of the ways the player had to survive is to kill hordes of attacking Aborigines before they ransack your camp.
The most interesting thing about the game was that it was released not too long ago, just in 2015. Imagine if a game was released today that featured the player killing hundreds of Chinese or bludgeoning a bunch of Mexicans? The outcry would be quick and merciless.
And for Australia Story it was. The game was pulled from both phone vendors about a month after release.
6 Street Fighter
Oh man. Where to begin with Street Fighter? The whole series is just filled with racial stereotypes from A to Z.
Let’s start with Vega, the Spanish nobleman obsessed with his own beauty and wearing the traditional trousers and red sash of a matador. Or how about Guile, a major in the US Air Force whose buzz-cut has its own zip code. What about Chun-Li wearing a Qipao, a Chinese dress that was fashionable literally a century ago. Or what about Cammy, an MI6 operative who wears the same beret as the Special Air Service. Or maybe Rufus, the cantankerous and morbidly obese American wearing a way-too-tight motorcycle jumpsuit.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
5 BioShock Infinite
Imagine a game that dredges up all of America’s dirty laundry and puts it on display for the world to see. That gives a tiny idea of BioShock Infinite’s depressingly Americo-centric setting.
After having rebelled and broken away from the original United States of America (something painted as a uniquely patriotic thing despite the fact it was literally the opposite) the floating City of Columbia worships America’s founding fathers like deities while the Columbian government brutally enforces an agenda of white supremacy. The fantastic steam-punk atmosphere quickly reveals a hidden dystopia where being in a relationship with any non-white is grounds for a public stoning.
While the game presents the obvious institutional racism as a negative, it still gives the player the choice to support or condemn it.
4 Border Patrol
Around 2002, a small flash game started popping up on various flash sites around the internet. The game was called Border Patrol, and the objective of the game was simple: "keep them out ... at any cost!"
“Them” in this case were Mexican immigrants, and at any cost meant putting a bullet through them. That’s pretty bad on its own, but Border Patrol went the extra mile by portraying Mexican immigrants as terrorists, drug smugglers, or pregnant “breeders” who are rushing into the country just to ensure their child is born a native.
You won’t find it on any console, but just type it into Google if you want a taste of how awful it is.
It may be one of the best games of all time, but that doesn’t make it any less racist. To start, the Nords were basically racist against anyone who wasn’t also a Nord, and especially those part of the Stormcloak rebellion. Everyone hates the Khajiit as a race of scoundrels and thieves, and similarly, everyone thinks the Argonians are pirates.
Perhaps worst of all are the Redguard, a dark-skinned race that in Skyrim have the inherent “adrenaline rush” ability which makes them better at any athletic task. If that sounds like a familiar black athleticism stereotype then you’re on the nose.
At least it wasn’t as bad as Oblivion where the Redguard take a massive intelligence penalty compared to all other races.
2 World Of Warcraft
There’s a lot of racial tension in World of Warcraft, which seems only natural when there’s a bunch of warring factions. Much like in Skyrim there’s even tension among allied factions, but that petty racism seems to pale beyond the one, giant stereotype staring everyone in the face: Pandarens.
Everything about the Pandaren screams bad Chinese stereotypes, from their dress to their crockery to their own history which tells of the Pandaren culture being a formerly globe-spanning empire (a reference to the global influence China held during the Tang dynasty). There’s even Pandaren acupuncture!
It’s amazing the Chinese market actually gobbled up the Mists of Pandaria expansion as fast as the Western one did.
1 The Legend Of Zelda
Oh boy. To start, Hyrule is a whitewashed enough place to make any 1960's middle-class housewife feel right at home while having a Tupperware party, but that’s not enough on its own to warrant placement on this list. No, what makes the fantasy world of Zelda racist is their portrayal of the Gerudo.
The similarities between the Gerudo and the much maligned Gypsy people are too numerous to ignore. Both are nomadic tribes, both are often seen with aquiline noses and bronze skin, and both are prejudicially adorned with some pretty outlandish attire. Worst of all is Ganondorf, the first non-white dude in the decades-long series. He’s an arch-villain, has awful magic powers, and in most iterations of Zelda threatening to destroy the world if he can’t remain its high tyrant.