It Doesn’t Matter: Cultural Misunderstandings Do Not Equate to Racism

While I don’t usually frequent Kotaku, I was directed to an article there called What Not To Name Your Spacefaring Raccoon Video Game. In the article, the author points out that the title of aforementioned game Starcoon, may not be appropriate due to the fact that the word “coon” is considered a racial slur in the United States of America. While I completely agree that game developers need to be extra cautious about game content should they want to appease a global demographic, I was a bit irritated by the content of the article and how irresponsible it was to bring the potential cultural misunderstanding to light in the way in which it did.

Learning the Hard Way

I’m a bit sensitive to this topic because as an American living in Germany, I deal with cultural misunderstandings on a regular basis (as do many people around the world). I struggle with the language and struggle even harder with social norms that I took for granted in my own country. Fortunately for me, I have German friends who coach me on the differences between the United States and Germany, thus preventing me from stumbling all over myself. I’ve also experienced the other side of things, with people getting angry or making fun of me because of my lack of understanding. I think it’s pretty obvious which one I prefer. The fact of the matter is, there are constructive ways to deal with instances of misunderstanding but jumping to conclusions and making someone feel stupid are not them.

Starcoon

Looks like a raccoon shooting for the stars to me.

While the article itself wasn’t necessarily calling the developers of Starcoon racist, I felt the way in which it was written was opportunistic and spoke very poorly of the author’s understanding of language barriers. Based on the fact that the developers of the game immediately contacted the author and apologized for the misunderstanding makes it quite obvious that they didn’t know about the connection between their game and a racial slur, or in the least they didn’t see the connection at all.

This is Not the Place

My biggest issue is not the fact that the developers’ were called out on the issue (which to some, was a non-issue) but that a popular gaming site was the platform in which the “criticism” was brought to light. It would have been one thing if the developers had chosen the name to describe a black astronaut character, but to their knowledge they were merely combining two words in what they thought was a creative way to describe a raccoon that explored the stars, i.e. Starcoon. It was as innocent as innocent could be, yet the assumption was that the developers should have “known better.” Is it naïve of me to think that this issue could have been resolved via a friendly email?

Hey Starcoon team,

My name is [insert name here] and I received the press release in regards to your game Starcoon. Not sure if you knew this (and admittedly, this is a stretch) but the word “coon” is a racial slur here in the states and Starcoon might be taken offensively. I’m sure that you didn’t intend for that, as your game is about an actual raccoon exploring space, but seeing as the world is confronting inequality head on, you might unknowingly get pulled into the debate. Just a heads up, keep on trucking!

Did this developer deserve the possible flood of hate mail that could have come should overly sensitive people not realize that the “offenders” were Dutch and most likely spoke English as a second language thus not having a full understanding of America’s laundry lists of racial epithets ? To me, it was a lazily written article that reached for controversy as a means to draw in viewers. While the author could have taken the time to delve into the larger topic of culture and race issues (perhaps even going as far as to speak with Starcoon’s developers before publishing),  they chose to throw together a couple paragraphs (not counting the quote from the game’s press release) and end with a condescending statement about the developers need to “consult a dictionary”.

The world is full of racism and insensitivity, of both the intentional and unintentional varieties. Lumping these groups together is not only wrong, it’s dangerous and puts a smoke screen up that blocks true instances of inequality. We’ll never get to the bottom of the actual problems if we’re constantly digging through layers that equate to simple mistakes or people jumping to conclusions. As journalists, it is our responsibility to have as much information as possible before throwing together words that might have unintended consequences for ourselves and the people we write about.

It Doesn’t Matter – We bring the gaming industry and media coverage back down to reality when they overanalyze or miss the point of a particular story or game.

Sources

Kotaku
Starcoon

3 Comments It Doesn’t Matter: Cultural Misunderstandings Do Not Equate to Racism

  1. Jordan Wilson (MapCompassKey)

    Well said. I read that article the other day and thought there was something weird about it. Since they never explicitly say in the article they were referring to the fact that “coon” was the offensive word I just assumed that “starcoon” was offensive somewhere in the world that the author was very acquainted with.

    From a very rural area of Indiana, where “coon huntin” is a favorite past time of several of my family members, I’ve always just recognized the term “coon” as being an abbreviation for raccoon. Unless to my horror I find out they haven’t been hunting raccoons….

    Now, as you said, if the raccoon was a clear characture of an african american (in whatever way one would choose to do that) I would suspect that slander was a key underling theme of the game.

  2. Tim

    Welcome to Kotaku. The very definition of what’s wrong with games journalism.

  3. Ethan Moses

    Yeah, I’ve never taken Kotaku seriously but per my “No A**Holes 2013″ rule, I can no longer gloss over scenarios where someone uses predatory tactics to garner attention or make themselves feel better. if I ever write a thoughtless, opportunistic article that throws an innocent person under the bus, I expect to be shown the error of my ways immediately.

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