“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?

18 thoughts on ““Rock Band is racist”?

  1. Right On!

    My first reaction was also, “There aren’t many songs I can sing (without sounding ridiculous)” included in Rock Band. But I did NOT assume that the game makers hated women or thought women were less talented. I figure that Rock band grew out of Guitar Hero and that in my opinion many very cool guitar parts are in the heavy metal genre. (Also don’t many of the most popular games have heavy metal soundtracks? Just goes with the adrenaline pumping stories.)

    Also if Rock Band was first released in a genre further removed from the soundtracks of popular games that preceded it, there would definitely not be enough payback to the creator fast enough to develop and release other editions.

    I can’t imagine the whimper of excitement created if Rock Band were initially released as “Folk Group” with a playlist of best of Peter, Paul and Mary and The Mamas and the Papas.

    Is “Fanta” a racist cola because it follows the taste of a certain area of the globe and markets with hot girls with year-round tans and accents to drive a Papi wild? Don’t think so. Grow a thinker skin dude . . .

  2. Right On!

    My first reaction was also, “There aren’t many songs I can sing (without sounding ridiculous)” included in Rock Band. But I did NOT assume that the game makers hated women or thought women were less talented. I figure that Rock band grew out of Guitar Hero and that in my opinion many very cool guitar parts are in the heavy metal genre. (Also don’t many of the most popular games have heavy metal soundtracks? Just goes with the adrenaline pumping stories.)

    Also if Rock Band was first released in a genre further removed from the soundtracks of popular games that preceded it, there would definitely not be enough payback to the creator fast enough to develop and release other editions.

    I can’t imagine the whimper of excitement created if Rock Band were initially released as “Folk Group” with a playlist of best of Peter, Paul and Mary and The Mamas and the Papas.

    Is “Fanta” a racist cola because it follows the taste of a certain area of the globe and markets with hot girls with year-round tans and accents to drive a Papi wild? Don’t think so. Grow a thinker skin dude . . .

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one that “shakes with anger” when crap like this gets presented. He’s certainly entitled to his (uninformed, illogical, thoughtless) opinion, but that he seems likely to present it to his daughter as fact upsets me, because it’s that sort of vacuous “everything that doesn’t target me or my ethnic group is out to destroy me or my ethnic group” thinking that draws attention (and perceived authenticity) away from genuinely destructive acts of racism. Does racism still exist? Absolutely. Is this an example of it? Good god, of course not.

    That said, whenever I’ve tried to have calm discussions like this with people espousing this sort of intellectual sludge, they almost always respond not with a direct refutation or rebuttal of the points made, but unironic and deeply held (and simultaneously largely unexamined) beliefs like “you don’t understand because you’re white,” at which point I leave the conversation in disgust.

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one that “shakes with anger” when crap like this gets presented. He’s certainly entitled to his (uninformed, illogical, thoughtless) opinion, but that he seems likely to present it to his daughter as fact upsets me, because it’s that sort of vacuous “everything that doesn’t target me or my ethnic group is out to destroy me or my ethnic group” thinking that draws attention (and perceived authenticity) away from genuinely destructive acts of racism. Does racism still exist? Absolutely. Is this an example of it? Good god, of course not.

    That said, whenever I’ve tried to have calm discussions like this with people espousing this sort of intellectual sludge, they almost always respond not with a direct refutation or rebuttal of the points made, but unironic and deeply held (and simultaneously largely unexamined) beliefs like “you don’t understand because you’re white,” at which point I leave the conversation in disgust.

  5. Jenny3K: No, Fanta isn’t racist because it follows the taste of a certain area of the globe and markets with hot girls with year-round tans and accents to drive a Papi wild. It’s racist because it isn’t the same dark color as every other brand of carbonated sugar water.

    Clearly the creators have something against black people.

    (Note to any brain dead nitwits that might be reading this with a literal mind: this is SARCASM.)

  6. Jenny3K: No, Fanta isn’t racist because it follows the taste of a certain area of the globe and markets with hot girls with year-round tans and accents to drive a Papi wild. It’s racist because it isn’t the same dark color as every other brand of carbonated sugar water.

    Clearly the creators have something against black people.

    (Note to any brain dead nitwits that might be reading this with a literal mind: this is SARCASM.)

  7. Well handled Dan. Some people jump to conclusions just because they see the opportunity to do so. There must be something “wrong” if someone assumes that there is something wrong or unjust even if they do not have their facts straight enough to justify the means. In this case, it is wrong of this person to not have thought this through intelligently, and with common sense, before sending his letter off to the folks at OXM.

    Btw, didn’t Donkey Konga seem racist against giraffes? I mean, clearly there was much to do with gorillas/monkeys/chimpanzees/apes and not enough to do with giraffes. I’d bet the zebras are pissed too. Oh, and Dance-Dance Revolution doesn’t represent the polka community enough either. Someone get a senator on the phone -or- they could always write to OXM about it… Lol.

  8. Well handled Dan. Some people jump to conclusions just because they see the opportunity to do so. There must be something “wrong” if someone assumes that there is something wrong or unjust even if they do not have their facts straight enough to justify the means. In this case, it is wrong of this person to not have thought this through intelligently, and with common sense, before sending his letter off to the folks at OXM.

    Btw, didn’t Donkey Konga seem racist against giraffes? I mean, clearly there was much to do with gorillas/monkeys/chimpanzees/apes and not enough to do with giraffes. I’d bet the zebras are pissed too. Oh, and Dance-Dance Revolution doesn’t represent the polka community enough either. Someone get a senator on the phone -or- they could always write to OXM about it… Lol.

  9. I’m sure Wu-Tang and other hip hop would be welcome in Rock Band. Oh yes. I can’t wait to yell racial slurs about black people in to the mic, because that will nullify the current ‘racism’ in the game.

  10. I’m sure Wu-Tang and other hip hop would be welcome in Rock Band. Oh yes. I can’t wait to yell racial slurs about black people in to the mic, because that will nullify the current ‘racism’ in the game.

  11. It’s actually a decent spin on a question I’ve been asking myself since the series started. I know that Harmonix isn’t racist, I’m a big fan of Amplitude (and Frequency)…great assortment of music and different races.

    However, the issue isn’t is the COMPANY racist…it is however following a racist theme that has developed in America. Ppl seem to have forgotten that all races permeate all music. Af.Am. specifically have been at the forefront development of Rock music. Some might even argue that they started it…but that’s besides the point.

    I’ve watched Guitar Hero and Rock Band blossom for a few years, and they’ve had tons of DLC come out for purchase to add to their current music selection…and i’ve never know them to add any black rock musicians…lets think about this, Guitar Hero is 5 deep into their series…maybe more, and Rock Band/Harmonix (who started with Guitar Hero) is just as deep (experience wise)…

    shouldn’t there have been at least something integrated. I mean, can you imagine singing hollering “WOOO HOOO HOOO HOOO!” at the end of Prince’s Purple Rain.

    bottom line, it’s a stigma that neither company seem at odds to extinguish. it’s not their responsiblity, but it’d be nice to see a gaming company show a little concern for peace & HARMONY, lol…undo what years of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ have done to media and other uptight citizens.

  12. It’s actually a decent spin on a question I’ve been asking myself since the series started. I know that Harmonix isn’t racist, I’m a big fan of Amplitude (and Frequency)…great assortment of music and different races.

    However, the issue isn’t is the COMPANY racist…it is however following a racist theme that has developed in America. Ppl seem to have forgotten that all races permeate all music. Af.Am. specifically have been at the forefront development of Rock music. Some might even argue that they started it…but that’s besides the point.

    I’ve watched Guitar Hero and Rock Band blossom for a few years, and they’ve had tons of DLC come out for purchase to add to their current music selection…and i’ve never know them to add any black rock musicians…lets think about this, Guitar Hero is 5 deep into their series…maybe more, and Rock Band/Harmonix (who started with Guitar Hero) is just as deep (experience wise)…

    shouldn’t there have been at least something integrated. I mean, can you imagine singing hollering “WOOO HOOO HOOO HOOO!” at the end of Prince’s Purple Rain.

    bottom line, it’s a stigma that neither company seem at odds to extinguish. it’s not their responsiblity, but it’d be nice to see a gaming company show a little concern for peace & HARMONY, lol…undo what years of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ have done to media and other uptight citizens.

  13. Could it be that there are simply more white rock musicians than black rock musicians? God, yes, it would be fantastic to have some of Prince’s guitar work in there. But if Prince doesn’t want to license his tracks to games…? It just comes down to math and the number of artists willing to have their music used in this way. I feel pretty certain that GH and RB would both like to have Prince in their games. But you can’t force someone to be involved with something like this, you can only invite. And if the music is not a good fit (Chuck Berry’s rootsy rock would be good, but is Little Richard really going to be fun for anyone but the singer?) for the game or the artist is not interested, *that’s not racism.*

    Living Colour has a new album coming out in February or so. Here’s hoping either or both franchises can sieze that DLC opportunity (my bet is on GH, since GHIII featured “Cult of Personality” — which they rerecorded specifically for the game, so it was with the band’s full cooperation).

    But I hope Living Colour gets incorporated because of the quality of the music and not the color of their skin. Because that’s just another form of discrimination, and it’s still not equality.

  14. Could it be that there are simply more white rock musicians than black rock musicians? God, yes, it would be fantastic to have some of Prince’s guitar work in there. But if Prince doesn’t want to license his tracks to games…? It just comes down to math and the number of artists willing to have their music used in this way. I feel pretty certain that GH and RB would both like to have Prince in their games. But you can’t force someone to be involved with something like this, you can only invite. And if the music is not a good fit (Chuck Berry’s rootsy rock would be good, but is Little Richard really going to be fun for anyone but the singer?) for the game or the artist is not interested, *that’s not racism.*

    Living Colour has a new album coming out in February or so. Here’s hoping either or both franchises can sieze that DLC opportunity (my bet is on GH, since GHIII featured “Cult of Personality” — which they rerecorded specifically for the game, so it was with the band’s full cooperation).

    But I hope Living Colour gets incorporated because of the quality of the music and not the color of their skin. Because that’s just another form of discrimination, and it’s still not equality.

Leave a Reply