The Walking Dead developer TellTale Games recently discussed the issue of race in its adventure series during a GDC panel. Co-creative leads Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman shed light on the design process for characters like Lee and the consideration surrounding his race, as well as the race of other characters.
Transcribed by PCGamesN (thank you chaps!) they said, “The Walking Dead is a game that is not about race, but it would be very minute to say that race does not play a role in the politics of the game. When you make choices about who your characters are, yes, you are defining the context of your game. But you’re not defining the thematic thrust of it, and that’s very different.
“Games that feature women or minorities, members of lower socio-economic status as protagonists—any non-typical, non-male, non-white protagonist—they don’t have to automatically be about those things.”
They added, “The Walking Dead features a black man in the leading role. But while it’s not about race, it has to feature the politics of race in the game context to be honest. The same goes for if your lead character is a woman. It doesn’t have to be—and maybe it shouldn’t always be—a game about femininity, but it has to consider and has to be empathetic to the politics of gender to be meaningful content.”
The pair stressed that while creating the character, Lee’s race was not on a checklist about who he was as a person, and that it stemmed largely from the game’s Georgian setting. It wasn’t a primary concern and it certainly didn’t have any socio-political undertones or attempted to prove a point. However, they conceded that Lee’s ethnic background certainly had to be handled with great care and respect.
“The things Lee would say in response to a sticky situation or even a subtly racist barb are defined, not just by the color of his skin, but also by the life experiences he’s had that we’re asking you to share with him.
“And then you’re going to go on and share more experiences with him, thus creating even broader context for the decisions he can make in those situations. The game is asking you to carry Lee’s personal experience along with the experience that you’re going to go on in-game.”
What’s your take? Does Lee’s race mark a big step for the industry in a broader context? Can race be used in a game too intrusively to make a point, or should studio’s make more a deal out of it? Would that cheapen the sentiment? Let us know below.