The tradition of stay out of politics was thrown out of the window last week, when so many professionally sidelined people ended their silence and spoke about the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The same is true for me, although game journalists would normally do well to stay out of politics.
It is wrong to remain silent during this extraordinary period and to continue to speak as if nothing else was happening. I cannot help but speak of the shame and anger of living in a country where racist murder and racist demagoguery are tolerated and sometimes even openly celebrated. It forced me to walk the streets of my suburban California town and listen to black people talking about what it was like to live in a community where only a handful of black students attend the same high school.
Yes, even in laid-back Silicon Valley, speakers shared their horror stories of calling the word N in stores or classrooms, being followed for being black in stores, being denied service and that nothing happened after expressing complaints to the school and government officials. It was like a little thing to do a demonstration with hundreds of others, but I felt like my friend James Zhang, CEO of Concept Art House, which makes the art you see in video games popular. Like Zhang, I felt pushed overboard. So I joined a walk with my wife and daughter and I carried a sign saying #BlackLivesMatter.
Zhang is an artist and not really a blacksmith of words. But he created this haunting image of Trump sitting on the neck of the Statue of Liberty, an echo of the burning image of policeman Derek Chauvin resting his knee on Floyd’s neck. It torments me. And it came from a game artist far from the stage. Zhang found a way to contribute to a cause that seemed far apart. I therefore consider that his voice deserves to be amplified.
For Zhang, creating this image was a complicated matter. As an American Asian, he did not want to take over the Black Lives Matter cause and seems to draw attention to him. He never felt like a political activist, and he never even voted in a presidential election before he voted against Donald Trump. He didn’t know if speaking would cost him business. However, it had accumulated inside Zhang, and he saw others taking risks, such as when Ted Prize, CEO of Insomniac Games, spoke out against Trump’s immigration ban in January 2017.
Zhang also lost his brother to suicide. He started sharing this sad story on Facebook and joined the boards of suicide prevention services such as Asian Health Services. He wanted people to get help for their mental illnesses. Part of what Asian health services are doing is advocating against xenophobia, and Zhang was very offended at the way Trump played a racist card in blaming China for the coronavirus.
“When all this George Floyd stuff happened, it just took him to a whole new level,” Zhang told me. “Trump has thus enabled marginalized and disadvantaged whites in America to be overtly racist.”
During the troubles, Zhang’s mother’s apartment building was attacked and ransacked. When he saw the aftereffects and the graffiti on the wall, he got angry, not only against those who destroyed the place but also those who incited it. To express himself, Zhang returned to art, not to say that he knew what it was like to be black and oppressed in America, but to express his own form of anger and frustration, which was bubbling .
“Somewhere along the way there is fatigue, you know,” said Zhang, and that inspired him to create an image he called,We can’t breathe. “
As people of color, we do not pretend to understand the experience of black. But it is human to show empathy and say that we see your pain, and that makes us all suffer.
I happen to be playing a revision copy of The Last of Us, Part II, a video game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with zombies. In the real world, I also feel like I’m in the apocalypse, where zombies are the people who don’t care. I really care about our world and the world we will leave for our children.
In recent days, it was heartbreaking to see broken windows and burning buildings. It is exasperating to see journalists arrested – and to see the CNN headquarters attacked. It is exasperating to see blacks mistreated and murdered, and to see emboldened racists doing worse under our injured president.
It was unforgivable to see an old man with a cane shot dead by a SWAT team. It was so sad to see stores looted. The communities that have been burned have already been hit hard by the pandemic, and they will suffer more.