Whitewashing a Japanese Game

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts

Is Kingdom Hearts Whitewashed?

“I find it problematic that in the Kingdom Hearts series, Xehanort/Ansem/Xemnas is the main villain and he’s dark-skinned while all the other original Kingdom Hearts characters (good and bad) are light-skinned. I don’t think there’s an original KH character who is dark-skinned and good.” (http://stopwhitewashing.tumblr.com/post/31303774224/i-find-it-problematic-that-in-the-kingdom-hearts)

Ahem… so there’s something else I noticed while playing Kingdom Hearts. It’s something I noticed when I was younger as well, and which must be addressed. Although SquareEnix is a Japanese company, all of the characters have white European features. For example:

Sora, the main character, has blue eyes and brown hair. None of the characters portray Asian features, which might make sense if the companies working together were targeting Western children on purpose. It’s somewhat disappointing, however, that the main character had to fit the stereotype of what young gamers were perceived to look like. That’s really the motive behind this, right? The target audience is young adolescent white boys living- being white is the norm. By the way, this is how the villains look:

This is how the villains look in the Aladdin world:


Back to the main point, as one author points out:

“Racial representation is still a thorny issue. And while there have been a few articles I’ve read that deal with race issues in gaming, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: the writers often suggest that whites and Asians make up much of the workforce in the gaming industry, but then they skip directly to a conversation about the lack of Black, Latino, and Native American characters in games.”

Apparently, this is because so many Asians make up the work environment of the video game industry. Nevertheless, this begs the question: “if there are so many Asians who work in the game industry and play games, why are there so few Asian characters?”

“Asians are perceived as being too foreign to be American.” In issue #245 of Game Informer there is an article about localizing Japanese games for American audiences. One of the producers admitted that the staff was concerned that some of the characters were “too Japanese” and would end up “alienating Western consumers.” In the case of the game, Persona, the two Asian characters were changed into African American characters. (https://thenerdsofcolor.org/2014/02/24/missing-polygons-asians-race-and-video-games/)

In our class we’ve often discussed how the issue of identity is critical to gamers – think Gamergate. We have not, however, discussed solely Asian American identity and portrayal in video games, which would open a lot of new doors. Asian Americans are portrayed in a stereotypical light whether it’s the Oriental princess or the nerdy sidekick. Why can’t there be more Asian characters? Specifically, why can’t there be more Asian characters in a game made by an Asian company?