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August 27, 2006

just us folks dancing on the head of this pin


From the Virtual China blog, this link to Chinese online gaming giant Shanda. From what I've been able to tell, Shanda's online games (like the one pictured above) have close to 30 million subscribers. Since I'm bent in predictable directions, that figure echoed for me in racial terms, as in: Holy Cow! In China there is a single gaming company servicing almost as many gamers as there are African Americans.

When I worked at BlackPlanet.com we had some or another data that suggested 1 in 11 African Americans were BP members, more in big cities and in the HBCU crescent extending from DC, down the coast and darting west along the Gulf. With that data in mind, I would sit on the subway and count off black folks: 1, 2, 3, 4... 9, 10, member. 1, 2 3, 4..., but thirty million! It's difficult to imagine every black person joining a website in much the same way it's difficult for me, even with my hatred of the talking android, to imagine every black person a Democrat. The great galvanization of black folks behind the Democratic party is, of course, a result of the encounter with racism, but as that encounter becomes modulated, distant, transmitted along new axes and lines of force, the choice of party becomes less a matter of life and death and more a question of taste, affinity. Not quite like joining a website or choosing a gaming platform but still not so far away from it as to make the comparison completely without value (rhetorical value, if nothing else.)

Or put another way: if blackness was a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, how many total players would there be? What would the character classes be? Skill sets? And how would we understand the various forms of profit to be reaped from the reenactment of virtual identity? Is it like playing World of Warcraft or "playing" Second Life?

More on gaming in China.

Posted by ebogjonson in race and other identities, videogames and other cracks, on August 27, 2006 3:55 PM