The Problem with Racist Commentary on Japanese RPGs
Last week, Final Fantasy producer Yoshida Naoki objected to the label ‘JRPG,’ stating that the term felt ‘discriminatory.’ His comments kicked off a round of discussion about whether or not the term was racially problematic. Some couldn’t understand how JRPG could be pejorative, especially given the genre’s popularity.
Those who took issue with the term argued that the word was prominently used during an incredibly racist period of American gaming history. This weekend, a streamer tried to prove that games media was racist towards Japanese games by posting an old G4 review of Baten Kaitos Origins. It contained offensive stereotypes, mockery, and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
G4 was a televised network that aired video game reviews and original programs that focused on nerd culture. So it had a more mainstream audience, and it was accessible to people who didn’t read gaming news online. At some point, G4 reviewed Baten Kaitos Origins, an RPG that features deckbuilding combat and some of the most original worldbuilding in its genre. Unfortunately, the gaming network wasn’t able to talk about it separately from its Japanese origins.
‘And we all know who will replace us. India: Billions strong, pro-vegetarian, tech support call taking behemoth of a nation. Or the Chinese. But certainly not Japan. Because they may be technologically advanced and financially powerful, they’re already in decline,’ Morgan Webb said with grotesque glee. ‘You want proof? Here’s Baten Kaitos Origins.’
Hopefully, I shouldn’t have to explain the fuckery of stereotyping an incredibly diverse nation as tech support. Or openly advocating for the ‘great replacement’ theory, which has been tied to racially motivated hate crimes. The reviewer spends half of the time mocking the protagonist’s name. Which sucks because it isn’t made up. ‘Sagi’ is the Japanese word for ‘heron’ and ‘fraud,’ both of which have thematic significance in Origins. I’d be willing to give some benefit of the doubt if the reviewer hadn’t intersped his pronunciation of the name with an image of Kim Jong-il.
There’s also some criticism about the breast physics on one of the shopkeepers. Which is valid! I just would have preferred to hear a feminist critique without being forced to endure the racism. Kotaku reached out to Webb for a comment, but did not receive one by the time of publication. Rather than apologizing for allowing racist jokes on air, the former editor-in-chief of G4 doubled down on Twitter.
‘Dude is angry I didn’t like his consumer boner stimulator in 2006,’ he wrote. ‘A truer gamer there never was.’ Kotaku reached out for a comment and did not receive one by the time of publication. ‘If you were a white straight content creator in the ‘00s, you likely (with very few exceptions) engaged in casual racism and/or light transphobia because it was indeed a different time,’ wrote content creator Bob Mackey shortly after the clip blew up. ‘The correct response to people finding this stuff isn’t “So the mob has finally come for me…” I’m all for people growing into a better version of themselves. But let’s take a moment and recognize that what’s racist right now was still racist back in 2006. There’s no such thing as ‘it was a different time.’ Jokes about the great replacement theory were always dehumanizing, and they made Asian Americans feel like dogshit.
Anyway, Baten Kaitos Origins is a masterpiece that’s coming to the Nintendo Switch this summer. Hopefully, games media can be less racist about Origins on its second release.