“Rock Band is racist”?

I’m leaving out the name of the sender, but I had a strongly personal and angry reaction to a reader letter today. If I print it in the magazine, then I’m giving this guy way too much attention. If I post it on OXM’s blog, then it just looks like I’m overreacting. Since my reply was so personal, posting it here seems to be the best way to get it out of my system. And you people already know I overreact.

The letter:

I’m sorry for bringing this up, but I don’t agree with the target audience of Rock Band. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and any other culture that don’t like Heavy Metal, and Rock, are purposely overlooked. Video Gamers come in all races and colors, and Rock Bands’ songs should reflect that. Other video game developers take this diverse audience into consideration when creating games, but not the creaters of Rock Band. And to make it worse, the Downloadable Content is not any better. You left out many of the greatest artist of all time, why? Disco, Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Latin, Rap, and Pop. Where is it? (And yes, there were drums, bass, guitars, and vocals in all of those genres.) This day and age, I can’t believe I still have to address the “Race” issue. You have no idea how old this gets. My daughter asked me if the makers of this game were racist. Maybe you can answer her?

I don’t expect a response, most people run and hide from this issue. But when creating / reviewing games in the future, consider the entire gaming audience, not a select few.

Missing the entire point of the game, jumping to the worst possible conclusion with the most slipshod logic possible, taking personal offense at something that doesn’t exist, then accusing other people of moral wrongdoing…! This stuff makes me literally shake with anger.

My private email reply:

I will gladly answer your daughter’s question. No, the game makers are not racist, and to assume that bias exists where it does not is illogical, irrational, and downright dangerous.

Rock Band is aimed at people who like rock music in the same way that Forza is aimed at people who like sports cars and Mass Effect is aimed at people who like science fiction. It’s illogical to blame a game developer for not meeting your personal tastes, and downright unjust to accuse them of something as diabolical as racism as a result.

I would suggest doing some research into what the company has said about the game’s position before accusing someone of racial injustice. Quoting an interview with Alex Rigopulos:

“That said, Rock Band isn’t the end of what Harmonix has planned for the coming years. I really think that there’s a lot of unexplored territory in other genres of music that we very likely will pursue over the coming years as well. Country is an obvious one, hip-hop is another obvious one. So there are a lot of places that we haven’t even begun to even touch on yet that it’s very likely that we will over the coming years.”

You can read that interview in full here.

Now, how about the fact that there are only about six or seven female-vocalist songs in Rock Band, including the first downloadable content? Are the game creators sexist because women singers are only represented on about a tenth of the tracks? No, it’s just the way it worked out with licensing and what tracks they could get together in time. Rock Band is a huge step, but you can only cover so much ground at once. I’m not going to assume there’s some sort of evil social agenda where none exists. The truth is far more mundane.

On a personal level, I’m really to hoping I will one day see Living Colour in Rock Band – I’m a big fan. And if Rock Band can expand to include, say, funk, I will be thrilled to have the chance to play some Bootsy Collins. I also hope we see some Chuck Berry and Little Richard while we’re at it. Do you know why? They’re all great musicians. Period.

It’s not about race unless you MAKE it about race. I don’t hear music in black and white. This day and age, I can’t believe other people still do.

For the sake of future generations, please explain this to your daughter.

Also — and this was so obvious I didn’t even mention it — it’s called ROCK BAND. Ingredients: Rock.

Surely there is enough racial injustice in the world that we don’t have to create some fresh?

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