Tiny Tina and The Bigger Problem
By Soha E. on February 9th, 2013 (38 comments)
This week Mike Sacco ignited a Twitter debate about a racist trope found in Borderlands 2 character Tiny Tina, which ultimately led him to quit his position as a creative developer at Cryptozoic Entertainment. After encountering Tiny Tina in his second playthrough Sacco wrote, “This character really bugs me. It's problematic at best and racist at worst. I should give the writer some feedback.” Unfortunately this didn’t end well for him.
He sent the game’s lead writer Anthony Burch this tweet:
Hey. I really like BL2's writing, but Tiny Tina's trope of "white girl talkin' like them urban folk!!" has got to go.
Responses to Sacco varied between supporting his criticism and to calling his anti-racist stance racist itself. Burch inevitably got involved in the debate and initially responded, “Well, it's not going to.” Since the news went viral however he has considered changing his mind if Tiny Tina was involved in future content:
The last thing I want to be is exclusionary or prejudiced, so if Tina truly is problematic I'll change her.
When he thought news would be dying down, Sacco instead received a notice from Cryptozoic Entertainment stating that he needed to disassociate from them on all social media and “cease discussion of the controversy,” which to their surprise resulted in his resignation.
How is standing up for a problematic trope in media causing this much rage instead of opening a dialogue to see how we view race? Although Tiny Tina is white, she does act as the comedic relief that would be racist if she was black. Does switching skin colour make this problem go away, or is it just easier to get away with it? Just to set up a disclaimer – I am a huge fan of Borderlands 2, especially the writing, and by no means am I suggesting that Anthony Burch is racist. If anyone was to say that I would vehemently disagree. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t overused racial tropes so deeply tied into media that affect narrative structures.
Gearbox President Randy Pitcford tweeted to Burch, “Tina is not racist because you are not racist. You're a pillar of tolerance and inclusion.” That’s not how the majority of racism (or sexism, on that note) works, and this is why we call these problems “tropes.” No one purposely sits behind a desk like a Bond villain wondering how to make the white race superior in a plot. More likely the situation will be a mindslip because we are likely to imitate what we see in the media and take it for face value (i.e. comedic relief) without reading into it (i.e. using Ebonics to equate a character with comedy). Bringing attention to that is what we should be doing instead of feeling like we have to walk out of our jobs for speaking against a real problem.
Where do you stand on this Twitter debate gone wrong?
A Canadian graduate student who spends more time playing video games than working on her thesis. Soha often relates gender studies, race and other important topics in visual culture to the gaming world while making you pull your hair out in Internet rage. When we broadcast live you can find her in chat under her PSN handle, “InTheWolf.” For more thoughts about games and the industry, follow her on Twitter.
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