Author Treaandrea M. Russworm, UMASS professor of English, wrote the chapter “Dystopian Blackness and the Limits of Racial empathy in The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us” in the book Gaming Representation. In this chapter, Russworm calls attention to dystopian games like Last Of Us and The Walking Dead because of their representations of blackness. She spends the first half of the chapter contextualizing the broader cultural interest in dystopian themes and compares games to other media forms . Afterwards, applying her theory: critical racial dystopia: “ a type of dystopian narrative that maintains a dialogic, progressive, and highly reflexive relationship to historical tropes of blackness” (Gaming Representation p. 110). Her theory emphasizes that if games want to function critically around identity they need careful and skillful connections to an “alliance politics,” this includes a self-reflexive and implicit critique of the present system of social and political organization through a construction of a dark future or alternate reality (p.114). To accomplish this she has four criteria. The first, is that the game must include a conversation about race. Secondly, the game must not have obvious engagement in discussions about race. Thirdly, the game must have some implication to changes in race relations in the future. Lastly, a high level of awareness of the presence of black individuals in dystopian environments. In doing so, makes for a game that adds depth to representations of black characters.
That being said, we turn to the the game The Walking Dead Michonne. Is this game an example of Russworm’s critical race dystopia? In this game the player plays as Michonne a black female navigating through a zombie apocalyptic world. Considering that Michonne is a black character in a dystopian environment that covers criteria number 4. As for criteria number 3 there does seem to be a change in race relations. Often Michonne is credited for being smart, brave, and reliable unlike in present reality where black people are depicted in opposition to these traits. Moreover, if we examine gender roles Pete, a black captain on a boat that journeys with Michonne, also treats her with dignity and respect. In contemporary society, men are socialized to make decisions for women, but in this game Pete often relies on Michonne’s advice in sticky situations. Therefore, I believe that we can say that our game satisfies criteria number 3. Moreover, number 2 as well because at no point in the game does any character obviously point out these external forces. Also, given that these forces have an underlying significant conversation on race it also satisfies number 1. Overall, I would say The Walking Dead Michonne is a representation of a critical racial dysphoria game.
However, I am curious what others think…can you say this game is a critical racial dystopia? I am sure others will agree that Michonne’s black female identity is treated differently than black women in our present day reality. However, there are certain choices in the game that can change our perceptions. Let’s take for example the players choice to make Michonne sacrifice herself to save other children. This choice has underpinnings of making Michonne reinforce the stereotype of the “Mammy.” Thus, makes me question if the choices in the game change the representation of blackness and agenda of the critical racial dystopia.
Russworm Treaandrea M. “Dystopian Blackness and the Limits of Racial empathy in The Walking dead and The Last Of Us.” Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games, edited by Treaandrea M. Russworm and Jennifer Malkowski, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 2017, pp. 109–128.