So there’s a character in Borderlands 2 by the name of Tiny Tina. I guess some people are pretty upset about her? Apparently she’s a petite young (as in, probably twelve to fourteen) white girl who talks in stereotypical ebonics, or “Gangsta Slang”. I guess a lot of folks are really upset about that. Of course it’s the internet and a lot of folks aren’t too. And of course it’s the internet so we have a myriad of people insulting each other and arguing over the character in an exceedingly unintelligent and aggressive manner.
Now, I’ve got a personal policy to just not get involved in internet slap fights, because so long as people can hide behind the shield of anonymity they will 99% of the time continue to be rude, unintelligent and antagonistic. That’s probably the largest problem with the internet (y’know, aside from hackers and junk); when people have the option of treating you however they want to with zero consequences, unfortunately the overwhelming majority of people choose to be abusive instead of kind. Oh well, what are ya gonna do right?
So, I have Borderlands 2, but I haven’t spent very much time with it. I’ve played it long enough to know that I really like it, which is cool since I really didn’t have a lot of fun with the first one, and I’ve played it long enough to know that Zero is my favorite. Tina, or rather the Mechromancer job class was the one I was looking forward to the most, but due to various commitments and the fact that I’m still waiting on that Vita port that may or may not happen have kept me from spending too much time with the game. As such, prior to writing this article, primarily spurred into creation by the ignorance of commentors on various other blog sites, I had pretty much zero exposure to Tina’s personality. About all that I knew about her was what you got out of the very quietly recorded sound bites in interviews that generally had loud convention people talking over them anyways.
I’m also not a follower of the girl who plays her character, so, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would it be the same as the “Wrapped in Black” Sonic Rush Adventure “controversy”, or was there something there that as an intelligent black male who doesn’t carry himself like a po boi stereotype I should be offended by?
After watching a video with the titular character talking and digesting it all for a while, I came to the conclusion that while she is kind of annoying, I didn’t really feel that she was inherently racist, just misguided.
First things first: No matter what the Gearbox guys are saying, Tina’s lingo and dialect was created because they thought a little white girl talking like a ghetto black girl was funny. I’m not goin’ out there and saying that’s racist or that they are, but Gearbox, don’t think that you’re pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes on this one. I’ll give you half props for your PR attempt, but no, there’s no logical reason to write Tina the way that she was written beyond the fact that the team thought the white girl talking ghetto trope was funny.
Now then, I’m not denying that there are some Caucasians that grow up in environments where they end up adopting the lingo and the slang; in my neighborhood we’ve got pretty much every color under the sun and they all talk like they’re a stereotypical black thug. Most of them are posers by the by 😛
The question at heart however, is whether or not the Tiny Tina character is racist. Honestly, I’m inclined to say that I’m a wee bit offended not because of the slang, but because of how bloody overboard she is with it. I’m not referring to the four letter words or various other obscenities in her lingo; really her hyperness and ADHD kind of make her like a foul mouthed Vanellope Von Schweetz which is far more adorable to me than it should be. What I mean is, there are times that I can sorta believe that’s just this VA’s personality, but most of the time it sounds really forced, and hearing someone talk in ghetto slang in a forced matter rapidly and overtly is just really, really annoying after a while. Topping that off, even the super ghetto people that I know don’t necessarily talk in the way that she does, and so I’m not so much offended that she speaks the way she does, but whatever they were going for ends up getting lost in translation because of how forced it sounds. With that said, I do have to give the voice actress credit where it’s due; when she’s sounding natural the character is more amusing than annoying, and the delivery on the final line “…Best tea party ever…” belies the psychological scars that the otherwise happy go lucky character bears beneath her facade. I’m not sure if Gearbox had the insight to go “Look, there’s layers to this kid!”, but whether they did or not it was interesting to see the dialogue more as a traumatized kid’s coping mechanism than anything else.
Ultimately I feel like it’s a “Wrapped in Black” situation, except for not quite because Gearbox went out of their way to go “white girl sounding black is so cray cray!” with the writing. Allow me to shed some light on the Sonic “controversy” for anyone who doesn’t know.
A while back a game called Sonic Rush Adventure came out for the DS. It was part of the stellar Rush series that Sega cancelled for reasons that I can only equate to hating being rich and successful, as Rush was their most well designed and hottest selling spin-off at the time. Part of the plot for the game had Sonic visiting Blaze’s world, the Nega World or some name like that. In the nega world, everything was negative or reversed. They had a villain called Eggman Nega, who was the inverse of our Robotnik (I refuse to call him Eggman), and that was the first perceived racism.
Firstly, people were like “Nega? That’s racist!” Pretty much every gamer of minority descent was like “No…not really…it means negative…” and other gamers in what I’ve come to call “Misguided Anti Racism” rallied to educate us on how we should be offended by the name and the fact that the guy in the negative zone wore black. We were pretty much like “…That’s dumb…”
The next level of “controversy” came from the last boss stage as well as the song, Wrapped in Black. I’m just going to point out a few things real quick here:
1) You’re in the negative zone.
2) You’re fighting an inverse villain who wears a black uniform.
3) You’re fighting in a black hole.
4) The villain has the power to suck out all light and hurt you with darkness.
The lyrics of the song, quite appropriately if rather silly, consisted of “Wrapped in black in black in black, wrapped in black, wrapped in black! TOO BLACK! wrapped in black TOO STRONG! wrapped in black TOO BLACK! wrapped in black TOO STRONG! wrapped in black” on repeat with the charming dance and house styles of Hideki Naganuma (you might recognize his awesomeness from Jet Set Radio). I guess we were supposed to be offended by the song and by the villain filling the world with darkness and that being a bad thing apparently, so I was led to believe by a number of gamers online who, I’m sorry, were not of the race that logically should have been offended.
And once again minority gamers were like “It’s…it’s not racist. The lyrics are kinda stupid, but, they’re not racist…” However the majority of the non-minority gamers kept trying to get us to understand that we should be offended…
What does this have to do with Tina? Lots! Tina is similar in that she’ s not necessarily racist, just kinda stupid and annoying. I’ll say that I’m far less bothered by her than I am by, say, Big Bo in Binary Domain or most any other black character in video games. I’ll also go ahead and point out the Cole Train, Augustus Cole from Gears of War. I’m…strangely not bothered by him. He reminds me of an uncle I have to be honest. What’s more, in the audio book adaptations of Karen Travis’s Gears of War novels (which are bloody amazing by the by), everyone man, woman, white, black, Samoan and more are all voiced by a Caucasian guy doing various accents for each character. He voices the Spanish Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago, he voices the black Cole Train, he voices the almost southern Baird, he voices the implied to be Scottish Bernie Mataki (even though she’s a south islander…) and the Polynesian Tai Kalyso…who is like…Scottish in the book for some reason…
And I’m not bothered a lick by it! Actually, after spending hours listening to the audio books, Marcus and company sound strange when I go back and play the games! So, at the end of the day I’m honestly more offended that Gearbox is trying to hide and say that Tina wasn’t written the way she was for the obvious reason that she was, than I am by the actual character herself. Really, I almost hate to admit it but when she’s not making me want to pour acid in my eardrums she’s actually pretty adorable in a “I would absolutely die if my daughter talked like that at that age or any other” sort of way.
Wrapping this up, let’s talk about the internet for a moment. Internet? You really ought to consider shutting up about race issues in gaming. I don’t care if you hypothetically know a black guy who isn’t bothered by it, or if you are a (ghetto) black guy who isn’t bothered, while there are instances of people stirring up controversy for controversy’s sake, certain things are genuinely offensive and you really have no right to tell a particular people group that they don’t deserve to be upset over them.
I saw one Kotaku poster by the handle of “chamoo232” make the following statement:
“Tina use slang typically associated with black culture. Sir hammerlock talk with a British accent. It’s all balanced. I think his bosses just didn’t want to be associated with a developer who start fights on twitter with other developers especially when it’s not even that justified.
If you put Resident Evil in Africa it’s racist because there is black zombies. If you make a game with no black characters it’s racist for being all white. You do a black women who speak like some people do in New Orlean in Deus Ex, it’s racist. You do a little girl that act like a gangsta, it’s racist. You have a white woman voice a black girl in Assasin’s creed… racist! wtf does he want? Everyone looking asian like Final Fantasy? with 1 black guy so it’s not racist?
Video game characters are part of a story made by people. They have the right to do it whatever the hell they want. Not happy? Play Mario and laugh at the little chubby Italian guy with the funny accent and shut up.”
User “Stormblind” adds:
“Heart if it still existed. Getting really sick of these white knight socialist idiots. And I say this as someone who counts himself as a member of the Canadian Left (That’s almost communist to you yanks out there :P).
Stop with all the f***ing white guilt s**t, it’s getting tedious.”
Allow me to take my politically correct gloves off for a moment and say “Shut it up children; you haven’t the faintest clue what you’re talking about. Also, if you don’t like having certain things thrown in your face, stop bloody doing them!”
The bottom line is if you are not black, you will never, ever be able to understand the pervasive level of ignorance, abuse and hate that we have to deal with. And no, before this is taken out of context, I certainly don’t think that every Caucasian person is like these less than savory examples above. I’m close friends with quite a few people of every race; people are people good and bad. Howevs, you really don’t have the right to lecture someone on something that you couldn’t possibly and never will possibly be able to understand.
Let’s address a few things real quick, and then we’ll call it a night. I told myself this was going to be a short article, but…yeah…I don’t think I know how to do short!
Resident Evil 5 was the first example of what I apparently shouldn’t be allowed to be offended by. The problem there wasn’t black zombies; heck, Haiti is commonly attributed as being the birthplace of the zombie mythos. No, the problem was the visual of a strong, muscular, well off Caucasian soldier talking about soulless savages with no intelligence in their eyes as he walks around shooting a bunch of black people, Africans specifically. The trailer in question that featured the slights has since been removed from nearly every venue, but it’s there if you want to find it.
Being attacked by the tribal people again wasn’t inherently racist, but the visual of the big white guy putting down a bunch of “stupid natives”? Yeah, that pissed me off. And don’t even get me started on Sheva’s cheetah print loincloth “tribal” costume… Suddenly the vaguely intelligent black girl is portrayed as a barefoot savage hanging around the big smart strong handsome white soldier, and yet none of the other girls have costumes that are as demeaning or that have anything to do with an extreme of their race. Reaaaal classy Capcom.
Conversely, the black thugs at the end of Asura’s Wrath with the giant pink lips and the super dark skin? Also racist.
Moving on to Deus Ex, the particular black woman in question? Super racist. Dare I even say super mega racist. I mean, that wasn’t even slang, I was waiting for her to start tap dancing down the street singing mammy for crying out loud! Adam’s manner of addressing her wasn’t super great either…
The Caucasian voice actress of Ash Ketchum voicing Aveline in Assassin’s Creed? I’m not going to say it’s racist, but I was greatly upset that we finally, finally get an intelligent black female lead in a game and they couldn’t be bothered to find a black actress. Ubisoft of course gave the PR excuse of “We chose the right actress for the right job; we simply didn’t find anyone that fit the character” blah blah blah. Honestly, I’m going to hazard a guess that not unlike making every video game lead a Caucasian male, they honestly probably didn’t even think about it until they were publically called on it. They likely already wanted Amber Goldfarb to do the job, and while I have nothing against her I can name a myriad of talented black women that could’ve voiced the part as well.
“Oh, but Aveline is mixed so why can’t she be voiced by a white woman?”
Yes, Aveline is mixed, so why can’t she be voiced by a black woman? Here’s the thing, at some point or another in their lives every black child asks their parents “Why aren’t there any heroes/anyone smart who looks like me?” or some such variation of that question. At least once in every black child’s life, generally after they are called a nigger for the first time, they tell their parents that they feel ugly/hate themselves/wish they were white. Black children grow up wrestling with this self loathing until they are either able to be lovingly brought out of it, or else they bury the pain deep enough that they’re able to at least move forward.
Every black parent at least once in their lives will go through the struggle of desperately trying to find some example, any example of a strong, intelligent black male or female that does not portray an ignorant stereotype for their child to look up to, to feel normal. My parents managed to find African versions of the Grimm’s Brothers tales I grew up on, and I came to enjoy heroes like Static, but there’s pretty much nothing out there for us. The bottom line here, is that Caucasian children will never, ever have to deal with that. Caucasian parents will never have to deal with that struggle. You will never have to confront that level of fear and self loathing. I still remember the first day my beautiful little cousin sat crying telling me how ugly she felt an asking me why there was no one intelligent or cool that looked like her.
So fix that image in your mind the next time you go to tell us that we don’t have a right to be upset. To this day I’m still not sure that beautiful little girl recognizes her beauty and self worth.
Last but not least, Sazh Katzroy of FFXIII was brought up in that same post. I’m trying not to call anyone names here, but without bringing the “I” word out I’m like “No, Sazh wasn’t okay because everyone else was asian or white, Sazh was okay because he wasn’t written like a bloody jigaboo!” That’s it, that’s the bottom line. Sazh is an intelligent, if somewhat cowardly, protagonist, and I can get behind his pragmatic view of “Look, I don’t need to be involved in this crap. My son is missing, and I’m not about to get myself killed before I save him.” Sound logical to me. The chocobo in his afro was weird, but not racist. Just…weird.
So no, we aren’t “white knighting” (and what does that even mean?) and no, we aren’t coming down on you unnecessarily. Sometimes crap is just plain wrong. But, Tiny Tina? Eh, she’s still more morbidly adorable than offensive at the end of the day.