Skin Deep: An exercise in making an empathetic game about racial stereotyping

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how games are great for awareness of issues because they’re so flexible, empathetic and immersive – part of the reason why I arranged Asylum Jam last year, because games are such a flexible medium for us to tell our stories. I’ve lived all over the world in numerous countries with a bunch of different cultures, and there’s a true beauty in learning from people different from you. However, racial stereotyping from others towards friends/colleagues/strangers is something I encountered a lot and is something I would at least like to contribute even the tiniest change to. It’s a huge barrier to great intercultural communication and sharing, and it sucks big time. This is still a basic barrier we need to overcome, and that’s why I thought about Skin Deep.

How it works is that you select a difficulty at first – you can play from a privileged (Caucasian) perspective, or you can play from the perspective of someone who may not always receive the ‘easy’ conversation choices from people who racially stereotype. Each round will be a different conversation or scenario, and depending on what difficulty you pick, the dialogue will be different. Bubbles will pop up around your character’s head of things they could possibly say – things that have become normal for people of colour to hear while being racially stereotyped, or perhaps the conversations we who are privileged are more accustomed to.

(there used to be sketches here, but there’s things I already want to change– the instigator of the conversation to the player will be a grey figure, as profiling can come from anyone)

While I don’t want there to be a score, I’ve been trying to come up with some metric that will incorporate both game play and awareness of the topic, which has not been easy as I don’t want to cheapen the issue at hand. My first idea was, to emphasize how frustrating it often is for POCs to have to justify themselves or correct racial stereotyping, there will be a stopwatch counting up until you reach the cessation of the conversation. Naturally, by the end of the ‘difficult’ stage you will have a much higher time score than the ‘easy’ route. I’m perhaps thinking of even forcing the player to play through the ‘easy’ mode first and then the difficult one so they can see the comparison, and (hopefully) empathize with some of the stuff POCs have to put up with. I’m still going to think about this, though. Another suggestion from someone I consulted with was to somehow display microaggressions, but that’ll take some pondering.

As I want this to be as accurate and honest an experience as possible, I want Skin Deep’s conversations and scenarios to be totally extrapolated from real life situations and conversations POCs have been privy to where they’ve been racially stereotyped by someone else, should anyone wish to challenge the legitimacy of the issue. There are (sadly) an inexhaustible stockpile of these, and they need to be shared to help bring light to the fact we need to change. I’m also working with people of colour that are involved in the independent gaming scene as well, and will continue to consult with them closely to make sure the game reflects an accurate picture (as I am aware I am developing it from a position of privilege myself). Even before writing all this, I wanted to check to see if this game would be welcome or constructive, and thanks to their feedback (positive!) I’m going to go ahead with it.

So, as a first step towards developing Skin Deep, I’m putting out a call to all people of colour who have a story, conversation or situation of their own that they want to share. You don’t have to share your name, or anything else personal apart from your ethnicity and your story, so if you want to stay completely anonymous, that’s totally fine. However, if you’d like to be credited at the end of the game, you can submit a moniker if you’re comfortable with that.

You can submit them here, and if you do end up contributing, you have a great deal of my appreciation for being willing to share your experiences for the game.

(As for my terrible drawings, the game is in it’s development infancy, so please bear with me!)

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