Barret is not &#^$ing racist

#1
*I was at a loss as to where to post this thread, feel free to move it to wherever feels appropriate.

Kotaku posted this article today about how to "get more black people in video games."

The article's fine and all, it raises some good points and shortcomings of gaming as a medium. But I can't focus on any of that when one of his points is one of my biggest gaming pet peeves. This concept that Barret is this flimsy racial stereotype and an example of what's wrong with video games.

Final Fantasy VII was one of the first non-sports games I played with a playable black character, and I remember being bugged that he was written the way he was. Where'd he even pick that dialogue up, considering that he's living in a fantasy land? Anyway, it's been a fair few years since then, and I can't say as I've seen a lot of improvement.
Okay, either you never actually played FF7, or you're just a shallow asshole. First of all, A) Barret is not the only person who talks like that in FF7, B) Many of the other characters who talk like that are white, and C) There are other black characters in FF7 that DON'T talk like that.

A lot of you here know how much I like Barret. I've liked him ever since I first played FF7, and still maintain that he is a criminally-underrated character. His progression might just be the most dramatic besides Cloud's. He goes from an eco-terrorist fueled almost entirely by revenge, goes on a quest preaching about saving the world before finally admitting that everything he does he does for Marlene's sake, as well as regretting the terribly things he did in Midgar.
His confused answer to Elmyra about how he can leave Marlene to fight is touching. I love his tough love approach to Cloud and Tifa: trying to coax the fighter in Tifa out when she's depressed about Cloud missing; asking the very practical question about whether Cloud can truly be trusted; motivating the team to keep going even without their leader - in addition to admitting he's not as good a leader as he thought he was (which automatically makes him a better leader), all of it.
Then there's his whole arc through North Corel, his racking guilt over what happened there, his desire to see Dyne once more, seeing himself in Dyne, but making the important distinction of fighting to make things better. And, if I can steal a quote of someone that agreed with me on kotaku:
the emotion conveyed in the text about wondering if his cold metal and blood stained hands would be capable of holding on to something like the love of a little girl was above and beyond.
^Precisely. I get goosebumps just READING that.
But nope, none of that counts because someone thinks he looks like Mr. T, so he's just a another lifeless, racially insensitive construct. That's some bullshit.

Barret's not a good black character, he's just a good character. And if you want more diversity in video games, THAT'S how you do it.

I understand that I'm picking a rather small piece of this article to shred, and I say again it is worth reading if you're interested. It raises plenty of very valid issues. But it's pretty damn discouraging when a supposed proponent of diversity in video games cites one of the premier examples of how to do it correctly (16 YEARS AGO, no less) as part of the problem.

Few things in the realm of video games get under my skin more than this.
 

jazzflower92

Pro Adventurer
AKA
The Girl With A Strong Opinion
#2
I agree someone defiantly hasn't really played Final Fantasy 7 if they write off Barret as a shallow stereotype.On the outside he might seem to fit it but as you play longer and longer there are a lot of hidden depths to him.
 
#3
Just gonna copy/paste my earlier email response to Force:

"Where'd he even pick that dialogue up, considering that he's living in a fantasy land?" - um, where did Cid pick up his incredibly redneck/offensive speech patterns? What does dialogue have anything to do with it? There are SO MANY white people who talk like Barret does, and it's not like the game is voice acted, so writers have to make each character's dialogue unique and stick out even more to give each character a personality anyway, so...again, what? I definitely don't understand the argument he's trying to make there. And I agree with you very much, the writer is generalizing the way black people talk by just saying that. I just...I don't even know what it is exactly about Barret that makes him a "stereotypical" or "racially insensitive" black man. ...Because he has anger issues? :huh: The fact that his town was destroyed by a decision he made, the fact that his best friend/Marlene's parents were killed by his willingness to go along with Shinra, the burden of guilt he carries around because of how many people his actions in blowing up the reactor in Midgar - would none of that make him mad if he were white?

One of the writers of that article uses Sazh as an example of a black character who is played as "some type of weird joke". Really, dude? Did you actually play XIII? Did you get to the ridiculously heavy part where he almost kills Vanille, almost kills himself? What about that was funny in any way, shape, or form? Is it because the guy has an afro? What. The. Hell. Turns out, black people's hair kinda grows like that naturally.

What do these people want? They complain about the way that black characters are written - do they want them to leave out all of the things that comprise African American/African-whatever culture and write them to be just like white people? That's not making progress, that's stuffing black people into your idea of a respectable character, which obviously has no ties whatsoever to actual black people. And that statement might sound racist or whatever, but seriously - white people have a different culture than black people do. I'm not saying one is better than the other. Good grief, no. I'm saying that they're different, and that each should and deserves to be represented within our gaming industry. I'm also not saying that all of the article's examples of black portrayals in video games are in the wrong, there are some obvious problems that should be avoided, but there are obvious examples of every race or "type" of character represented in video games that probably could have been written better than the way they were. "Being the sidekick and comic relief (and sex object, let's not forget) is never going to be enough." - every race as far as I know has had characters represented in these ways.
 

looneymoon

hedgehog pandacat
AKA
Rishi
#4
ehhh

I'm not gonna deny that there are some really obvious racist characteristics that get intentionally played up with Barret's character. And I can see why that would piss a good deal of people off. But he's still a good character imo.
 

Octo

KULT OF KERMITU
AKA
Octo, Octorawk, Clarky Cat, Kissmammal2000
#5
What I don't get is when people say stuff along the lines of 'Barret is racist because lol Mr T'

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong here. But the only other person on the planet who looks and acts like Mr T....is Mr T.

And as far as I am aware, the only thing they have in common really is that they are a) burly b) shouty c) black.

..Because he has anger issues? :huh: The fact that his town was destroyed by a decision he made, the fact that his best friend/Marlene's parents were killed by his willingness to go along with Shinra, the burden of guilt he carries around because of how many people his actions in blowing up the reactor in Midgar - would none of that make him mad if he were white?
If he were white, he'd just have written a strongly worded letter to Shinra.Inc. :monster:
 
#6
This whole issue is just way too complicated for me. It seems that I'm a racist if I see Barret's characterisation as problematic, and a racist if I don't see his characterisation as problematic. No matter how I react, I'm a racist. Which is sad, because I just want to love him. I mean obviously I love Turks more, but I think Barret is my favourite member of the party, because he's such a great character with so much depth, and like you said, his character development is huge. FFVII would be a very different game without him.

I wish people would remember that the world is full of black people who are not African-Americans. Africans are as different from African-Americans as the English are from white Americans, if not more so.
 
#7
I'm not gonna deny that there are some really obvious racist characteristics that get intentionally played up with Barret's character. And I can see why that would piss a good deal of people off.
And what are those exactly? That he speaks with an urban dialect? Is there anything else? How would you have portrayed Barret so as not to piss off these supposedly-justified people?
 

The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#8
I agree with looney that it comes off like these characteristics are rather deliberately played up. The Mr. T thing being an example -- Barret even calls Cloud "foo," for God's sake.

Of course, being that he is a deep character and that "things are not as they seem" is one of FFVII's motifs, that may be all part of the plan: Make you think he's just a stereotype, then turn things on their head. That's sort of the game's shtick.
 
#9
When does Barret call him that in FF7? That only happened in AC.

If no one else in FF7's world talked like Barret, you might have a point. Or even if only black NPCs in FF7 talked like Barret you would. But neither of those things are true. Just thinking off the top of my head, Mr. Coates and Mukki's friend don't talk like Barret, while several of the white characters in Corel do (particularly the three that meet him when you arrive).
 

Zee

wangxian married
AKA
Zee
#10
I want to see a game of DmC's caliber and quality with a black protagonist and multicultural cast.
p FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTTT

how to lose credibility within 5 seconds, nice one kotaku.

look, barret and sazh have great character development. but sazh, even being the most likeable character in the game, still fell into the trap nearly all black characters coming out of japan fall into -- his mannerisms and habits were played for laughs. he bumbles around a lot (moreso in the beginning) and runs like a moron. and he's got a chocobo in his goddamn afro. i mean, i get that it's supposed to be cute, but it's just something else to make him slightly ridiculous.

let's face it, throughout japan's media there's this problem where they

1) can't seem to draw a black person without giant pink lips (i've noticed only a few exceptions)
2) needs to go out of their way to make them seem harmless to the audience (because black people are scary???)

but i give japan a bit of leeway considering how xenophobic that country is and it's not like they aren't trying to do better now.

but let's face it, the gaming industry is clinging to every last dollar like it's their life. they're gonna keep selling to a white, male, 18-30 CoD audience and try to not take any risks.

so if tomb raider and remember me turn out really good, throw money at those developers and let them know having a female or a minority on the front cover isn't financial suicide.
 

The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#14
Barret calls Cloud "foo" in the OC. On his GS date. "Hey foo. What you wanna see fireworks with me for?"
Yeah, he does it twice during the date. The second time is a few lines later. Not sure if it happens anywhere else in the game, but it's not that players made this connection to Mr. T completely on their own. And it's not like the staff didn't knowingly include those similarities.

I do need to review the Japanese text of that portion, but it was Sony of Japan who did the localization. So, yeah.
 

jazzflower92

Pro Adventurer
AKA
The Girl With A Strong Opinion
#15
Most depictions of African Americans in Japan comes from mostly what they get from the American media.So,I can say it wouldn't much of a surpise that Square were fans of Mr.T and based a character on him.
 
#16
I've never seen the Barret date, so I obviously had no recollection of those lines of dialogue. I still don't think that using lines such as "foo" and whatever else people would gripe about means he's being portrayed in a negative or racist manner. So he maybe resembles Mr. T in some ways (although I honestly don't think it's that deep, geez, I mean, come on, Barret's character depth and personality to me does not = Mr. T, or at least what I know of him). Would portaying a character in a manner which has some similarities to Hulk Hogan be considered racist? I think not.
 
#17
All right, you got me on the foo thing, but I will say the Barret date is something 98% of the FF7-playing population never saw. And I guarantee whoever's talking in this article never saw it. (EDIT: Also, what Avec said)

Zee said:
look, barret and sazh have great character development. but sazh, even being the most likeable character in the game, still fell into the trap nearly all black characters coming out of japan fall into -- his mannerisms and habits were played for laughs. he bumbles around a lot (moreso in the beginning) and runs like a moron. and he's got a chocobo in his goddamn afro. i mean, i get that it's supposed to be cute, but it's just something else to make him slightly ridiculous.

let's face it, throughout japan's media there's this problem where they

1) can't seem to draw a black person without giant pink lips (i've noticed only a few exceptions)
2) needs to go out of their way to make them seem harmless to the audience (because black people are scary???)
I don't really disagree with any of this. But not one thing in there applies to Barret. He doesn't bumble, he runs normally (and Sazh doesn't run strangely at all next to freakin Vanille), the only thing cute about him is his adoration for Marlene, he seems to be the opposite of being protrayed as "harmless," and he doesn't have fat lips - like, not even a little bit.
 
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Zee

wangxian married
AKA
Zee
#18
I don't really disagree with any of this. But not one thing in there applies to Barret.
i was really making a commentary on the subject of minorities overall though, not barret himself. :monster:

i'm curious about what gets lost (or added) with speech patterns in translation, though. did the american team add stuff like "foo" cause they wanted to have more fun with his mr. t inspired design?

questions

EDIT: I TOOK TOO LONG TO FINISH MY THOUGHTS
 
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Flintlock

Pro Adventurer
#19
Barret clearly isn't Mr. T, but there is a resemblance, there's no denying that. If I had been writing the script for the game, or translating it, I would have probably slipped in a "foo" line as well. Just like I would have done if one of the white characters clearly resembled someone famous. It's a little joke, a cultural reference. Honestly, no harm done.

Barret is my favourite character from VII, for what it's worth. Force already mentioned most of the reasons why in his opening post.
 

Pixel

The Pixie King
#21
I thought this was really interesting. I think Black Lagoon did a great job of characterization and localization of the character Dutch. Though he's alot more mellow than Barret.



I think Mr T is a ridiculous caricature... but not of a black man. He's just a ridiculous caricature. And black characters get compared to him unfairly.

Abou the whole "foo" thing. Im actually guilty of that. I added a "foo" into Barret's lines for Case of Tifa, because it felt right for his character. But also because the characterization of Barret in OTWTAS is done well, and the voice actor could pull it off without him seeming like a caricature.
 
#22
I'm two minds about this. On one hand I understand the issue with casual racism, a bad track record with racism in Japan, and perpetuating negative stereotypes. I get the problems.

On the other hand it seriously freaking annoys me that Cloud Strife farts and we get ten essays on the nature of it (and half of it how it proves Cloti/Clerith) but no one takes the friggin ten minutes to appreciate just how wonderful Barret's character is.

Long story short: If you played FFVII and all you got was "Barret is an angry black guy" then you are doing it wrong.

Barret is a stereotype, but he's developed beyond just that small box. Not only that, if you don't get Barret, you probably miss out on a lot of things VII has to offer. Think about it this way: Barret is the only main character in the OG that really references the economic shit Shinra puts people through.

Two two locations that are directly tied to him is the slums of Midgar and North Corel, two locations that emphasize poverty. He stresses about money for Marlene's schooling. One of his early conversations about Cloud is about why people chose to stay in places like the slums. The reason why Barret chooses to go with Shinra in the first place is because his town was struggling and he wanted a better life for his family. And in the end his town is exploited and destroyed by Shinra.

Yeah, he's angry, but he has every right to be angry, his entire life was razed to the ground, and the people who did it are swimming in money and power, living right above his and all the other poor bastards caught in the slums' heads.

Look at what happened to the people that went through the same things he did and how they reacted

1. Dyne, his foil, same injury on a different hand, lives as the head of his own little group in Corel prison. He's so pissed off at the world that he hurts and hates everything, he randomly kills for no reason, he even wants to kill his own daughter.

2. The people of Corel, also frustrated and poor, but ultimately directionless and full of self loathing. They do nothing for themselves but wallow in the quagmire of their own poverty, unable to do little else but blame Barret. I was, what, 11/12 when I first played, and one of my most vivid memories was going to one of the NPCs and them talking about tatoos and the guy went something "Maybe I should get a "0" tatoo, because I'm a 0 hahaha"

Seriously, Shinra's action just didn't destroy buildings, it crushed and entire town's spirit to the point that they have no self esteem and no way to crawl up from their destitution.

Compare that to Barret, who not only focused his angry at those who deserved it, but also apparently did some soul searching to make sense of his own actions. He had to go searching in Cosmo Canyon to get his environmental beliefs, and even if this really just was justification, it shows that Barret Wallace is an introspective character.

He might run in guns blazing when it's a firefight, but when it comes times for a talk, he reflects on his own issues and issues of the people around him. And even with his guns blazing attitude, he does take time to comment on that, about how his violence and his love for his daughter clash (my hands are too bloody/etc), the real reason behind his actions, and about his capability as a leader. Some people might have called him out on some of these problems, but he's the one that drew these conclusions.

Also keep in mind, Barret Wallace made Avalanche which reunited Cloud and Tifa, and helped them to meet Aerith. Barret Wallace is the person who, after Tifa left, who appointed Cid as a leader when no one else knew what to do. And yeah, this is in the novels- but its Barret who gives Tifa the idea to start a bar again, and then goes to Cid in hopes of doing something better for the world. In short: Barret Wallace gets shit done. He's consistently proactive, he gets bogged down in his hate but he also attempts to look at the bigger picture.

TLDR: Yeah, Barrets character is muddled with unfortunate implications, but it's not just aboutthis super angry black guy who does violence, it's about how a consistent system of poverty and economic exploitation destroys people. It's about how he chooses his love of his daughter over his own anger. It's about how he reflects on his own violence and comes to terms with his issues.

This post is already probably too long so I'm not going to get into why I love Sazh, I'll just say that the reason why Sazh is so remembered by XIII fans isn't because he's a comedic character, it's because he's an entirely empathetic father who has some of the best scenes in the entire game.
 
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#23
A few commentators in Barret's wikipedia article state he speaks in ebonics. I do not recall this, but that doesn't mean anything (my memory is shit :awesome:). If that is the case, then that certainly is troubling. Beyond that, if he is supposed to be the "angry black man" stereotype, I think the argument is very weak. I find his mannerisms similar to FFIX's Steiner. From what I can find, Nomura did not intend on the Mr T similarity when designing him, so this connection may simply be down to the english translators? Unless "Foo" was also used in the japanese as well =p.
 
#24
I've said this many times before, Splintered, and I doubt this will be the last, but: I love you.

I still contend that Barret is not a stereotype and does not have unfortunate implications because of every single other word you typed.

@Ghost - I don't know the exact definition of 'ebonics'. He says stuff like "Awright," "Ain't no gettin' offa this train we on," and "go upside [Cloud's] spiky white head." Is that ebonics? I think I remember hearing that ebonics has to do with the verb "to be" and not conjugating it. I don't recall him doing that.
 
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