Post-Woke Perspective on StarCraft

I recently found my old StarCraft: Battle Chest and replayed it on one of my old PCs. I loved playing StarCraft as a kid. For me, it was a gateway to other real-time strategy (RTS) games like Star Trek: Armada and the Command & Conquer franchise. However, the game may be cringeworthy to some modern gamers.

Reader Discretion is Advised[1]

In addition to the above advisory, I should note that the perspective of this article does mention console games, but may lean heavily toward PC gaming… PC Master Race!

Oh yeah. There may be spoilers.

A Product of the Late 1900s

StarCraft is a RTS game released in 1998. It was the late 1900s, just before the new millennium dawned. Developers (and gamers) at the time didn’t know Black Americans played videogames, so pretty much every game was made for an audience composed of white males.  

Hell, female gamers wouldn’t be discovered until the 2010s. And that discovery happened because Facebook groups finally let women intermingle with other gamers to shatter that gaming “glass screen[2].

With that in mind, let’s summarize how most games looked:

  • White protagonists were everywhere.
  • Most protagonists were male, and the rare female protagonist was overly sexualized.
  • There were stereotypically black servants and worker units.
  • Black characters tended to be villains (bad guys).
  • Most characters were white, or the nondescript units tended to have white voice-actors.
  • Most black characters had accented English and were portrayed as unintelligent.
  • If a game had a black protagonist, they held a supporting role in the story.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. StarCraft players command armies for a homogenous race of mostly white humans, loosely affiliated with the Terran Confederacy. Yes, you heard that right… “Confederacy.” Complete with honky-tonk accents and the Confederate Battle Flag as the national flag.

Playing the Game

The player finds himself in command of land and space units in a different part of the galaxy. These units belonged to a civilization of humans, descended from prisoners, who chose the Confederacy as their form of government.

The player expects the typical 1-sided gameplay and thinks they’ll be fighting for supremacy between two other races, the Zerg and Protoss. However, the campaign focuses on holding off the Zerg while completing missions in the background of a civil war with the Terran Confederacy, which ends with a battle at New Gettysburg and resolves with the creation of the Terran Dominion.

The Terran campaign ends here, but the story continues from the perspective of the other races.

Skirmishes

Like most RTS games, StarCraft has skirmish battles, which allows gamers to play as any race and use all parts of the tech-trees. The game also lets players build their own maps, some of which were perfectly tailored for certain play-styles. Some custom maps let players create an impenetrable wall of AA towers to stop any incursion into his base. Other maps required different strategies, like networking ground bunkers and AA defenses to thwart or slow concentrated attacks.

It took creative thinking or (most often) brute force to break through the enemy’s line.

Unit Quotes

The best part of the game is probably the phrases units say when they’re selected. StarCraft is the first game I played with units that say different things when selected (clicked on) multiple times. When I first noticed it as a kid, I must have spent an hour fending off the enemy while repeatedly clicking on all my units to hear the different things they’d say.

I had my favorites and noticed catchphrases from popular science fiction shows and movies from the time. I also noticed that some units had racist overtones.

My Favorites

  • The Terran Science Vessel was one of my favorite units. The scientist sounded like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, and if you clicked on him enough times, you could hear monkeys screeching in the background.
  • I really liked the battlecruisers because they were great units, and the captain looks and sounds just like Captain Henry Global from Robotech.
  • It was funny how some units seemed to get agitated when I clicked on them multiple times. I noticed it happened with the Marine, Vulture, and Ghost units.
  • As an immature and horny teen, I used to imagine the marine say, “Are you gonna give me orders [or give me head].”

From Star Trek and other Science Fiction

  • Medic: “He’s Dead, Jim.”
  • Science Vessel: “The ship… out of danger?”
  • Battlecruiser: “Hailing Frequencies open.” and “I really have to go, Number One[3].”
  • One of the most memorable Protoss units was the Corsair. It had the funniest quotes of the game and mentioned Star Trek’s Zefram Cochrane (inventor of warp drive), by poking fun at the difference between the characters from the original series and Star Trek: First Contact.
  • The Marine and Dropship had a few quotes from the movie, Aliens (which was probably the best movie in the Alien saga).

Sexist and Racist?

  • The female medic had a flirty voice, which probably appealed to some of the straight gamers of the time.
  • I always thought there was a racial overtone when the Siege Tank would say “… dispense some indiscriminate justice!”
  • The female Valkyrie pilot spoke German phrases when selected, which always made me think of Germans from World War II. That’s probably because, in the late 90s, the Second World War was pretty much the only thing showing on The History Channel (jokingly, the Hitler Channel).
  • Don’t forget the “black” SCV worker unit. The first thing you notice is the character’s stereotypically large nose and his voice sounds like a small-town black man from the deep south. A player could learn to hate this “dumb” unit every time he says “can’t build there” or “sumtin’s in the way.”
  • The way units and main characters spoke put an emphasis on the word “boy” to show disapproval and use it as a derogatory word. The honky-tonk or southern-drawl helped to emphasize this perspective.

Other Embarrassing Differences from Past Decades

StarCraft and other games from the 1990s and early 2000s had more embarrassing details we don’t see nowadays. Racist overtones can be seen in StarCraft, but what else is different with games past and present?

Heteronormativity

Games at the time over-sexualized female characters and marginalized homosexual characters (if they were in the game at all). It almost seemed like videogame developers were afraid to acknowledge the fact that most of their audience was male and well over a quarter of them were homosexual.

The first game I played that allowed the player to have (censored) “sex” with another male was Fable: The Lost Chapters (2005). Games have definitely improved when it comes to the inclusion of homosexual characters and gay interactions. However, I notice that most NPC characters nowadays are either bisexual or lesbian. I suspect there’s still some squeamishness when it comes to creating strictly gay characters.

Sexism

Many games oversexualized female characters, and unlike heteronormativity, this problem only worsened with time. The cover art and advertisements for games tended to feature scantily-clad characters to appeal to the almost all-male gamer audience.

Tomb Raider (PS1) is a good example. Laura Croft’s breasts looked fine on the cover of the box/case, but the gameplay didn’t come close to the cover art. They were TRIANGULAR SHAPED[4], yet gamers raved at how nice looking her boobs were.

I can’t see how guys thought her breast were nice. Maybe it’s because I’m gay or maybe because I’ve been spoiled by modern graphics. Speaking of which, we’ve made vast improvements in videogame graphics and game designers can now show the voluptuous curves of women in almost lifelike detail.

Graphic detail may take centerstage when it comes to sexualized female characters, but the actual gameplay isn’t exempt from the problem either. Female armor has become even skimpier over the decades, and it provides ridiculous advantages to the character.

  • How does an extremely ornate bra and thong setup make a female character impervious to swords or bullets?
  • Why can’t sexy male characters have similar equipment with the same buffs?
  • Why are players penalized if they want to play with their sexy male character in all his glory, and not hidden under armor fit for a tank?

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first game I’ve seen that lets us play as we like. Players can equip good armor, but with the option to make it invisible so we can see our sexy male Eivor fight and travel shirtless.

***

Finding my old StarCraft game and replaying it brought back fond childhood memories, but it’s definitely a product of the 90s. My recent playthrough gave me a better appreciation of how the gaming industry improved over the decades.

Obviously, the graphics are better, but the content is more inclusive too.


[1] Reader Discretion Advised: I don’t practice “Presentism” by applying our modern values to condemn concepts or actions that were completely normal and acceptable at the time. I’m more of a “Ethical Relativist” because I understand that certain things can be appropriate according to the social norms of the culture or time period. I can have fun playing a game that has racist overtones, while recognizing it shouldn’t be condemned solely because those parts are abhorrent to the norms of today’s society. Doing so is a form of bigotry and can only lead to hatred toward broad-minded thinkers.

Therefore, reader discretion is advised. Your triggers and how you react to content is YOUR responsibility. The rest of the world IS NOT obligated to tiptoe around your triggers and sensitivities.

[2] End of a Gaymer Golden Age? When Facebook groups introduced female gamers to the community, it not only shattered a “glass screen,” it was the end of a golden age for gay gamer geeks (Gaymers). They no longer had a monopoly on horny, supposedly straight, “joysticks” at game clubs and conventions.

While Facebook helped women shatter the glass screen, the same thing happened for gay gamers. Facebook groups let them come out of the closet and intermingle with other gays in the community. They no longer had to be a dirty little secret to whatever str8-acting guy they can attract. They now have the ability to organize their own events within their own community or across the globe.

[3]I really have to go, Number One.” When I was a kid, I thought he meant he needed to go pee. But now that I’ve watched the Star Trek pilot episode and Star Trek: The Next Generation, I see it was a reference to the First Officer of a starship.

[4] Bad Boobies: Laura Croft’s titties were basically a triangular prism, but I also noticed the Great Fairy had pyramidal boobs in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s