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The Sandbox: Racial Profiling

The Sandbox: Racial Profiling (photo)

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Video games offer escapist fantasies in which we get to control, even virtually embody, an on-screen avatar. And most of the time, that avatar is a white guy. According to “The Virtual Census: Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games,” a new study published in the journal New Media & Society by UCLA researcher Dmitri Williams, in the top-selling video games from 2005-2006, nearly 85% of primary characters were white, and 90% of them were male.

That’s way beyond the make-up of the U.S. population (which is 49% male and 75% white) and, for that matter, the gaming community (60% male). Women, African-Americans and Hispanics were all under-represented, while Asians — probably due to the immense influence of Japan’s game development industry — appear more frequently in games than in actual American society.

What this means is that if you’re a white male, your on-screen surrogate will likely resemble you in certain basic ways, making it easier for you to “enter” into the game’s fiction. And if you’re not a white male, you’re theoretically going to have to work a bit harder to achieve that same kind of connection. Such a situation isn’t exactly shocking — as Williams’ study notes, there have long been similar discrepancies in the world of television. And it’s not without its exceptions, the most revelatory of which was “Metroid”‘s bombshell that intergalactic explorer Samus Aran was, upon removing her helmet, female. But examples like that are rare, and considering that one of the central aims of video games is to create a bond between player and character, the current white male-dominant paradigm is a little perplexing, especially in light of the industry’s desire to become a mass media juggernaut, as well as the strong, loyal fanbases of games amongst minority groups.

10092009_Halo3.jpgThe gap between what people look like on screen in games, TV shows and (to a lesser extent) movies and how they look in real life has to have consequences on the sense of identity and self-worth of underrepresented demographics. Sure, actors and actresses have always been thinner, better groomed and more beautiful than the average man or woman on the street, but in gaming, where there’s the added freedom of characters being designed creations, the fact that they also tend to end up whiter is troubling.

Why, despite multiple platforms, myriad genres and an ever-expanding number of customers, do so many A-list game titles resort to the same old hero? Niche products like “LittleBigPlanet,” “Braid” and “Scribblenauts” (to name a few idiosyncratic gems) don’t hew to convention. And “Halo,” for all its clichés, wisely keeps Master Chief masked at all times, the better to let gamers of all shapes and sizes imagine that he resembles them. But, these exceptions aside, stock types are dominant: the macho commando (“Gears of War”‘s Marcus Fenix, “Call of Duty”‘s grunts); the rugged superspy or swashbuckler (“Metal Gear Solid”‘s Solid Snake, “Uncharted”‘s Nathan Drake); the thuggish underworld criminal (“Grand Theft Auto”‘s various hoods); and, for girls, the impossibly thin, buxom female badass (“Wet”‘s Rubi).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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