A Look Into Colorism in East Asia Through the Open-World Game Genshin Impact.

Siena Encarnacion

Staff Writer

     Genshin Impact is currently the highest-grossing game ever. And it’s not without good reason, as this open-world game does a phenomenal job with almost every aspect– music, content, you name it. However, behind the gorgeous worldbuilding and stunning character designs lies a potentially darker hidden agenda. The Chinese company Hoyoverse, the developer of Genshin Impact, has a complicated and problematic portrayal of African, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Native American cultures that reeks of racism. These controversial decisions are likely motivated by embedded racism within Asian culture and the belief that lighter skin would make a character appealing to the public. 

     On August 27, 2022, one of the most anticipated updates of Genshin was finally released. The update 3.0 contained a whole new location open for exploration, a place called Sumeru. Though initially met with fervor and excitement, the update soon elicited mixed cries from South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern communities. The new region takes heavy inspiration from these said cultures. Most regions are based off of from other cultures as well; for example, Inazuma is strictly based on Japan, while Liyue is based on China and parts of Mongolia. Despite the painstaking attention put to portray these countries in a way that could uniquely be attributed to them, Genshin Impact took bits and pieces of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African cultures to the point where the direct inspiration was almost unrecognizable. For example, the characters Dori and Candace, are new Sumerian characters that are classic cases of cultural mixing. Dori’s full name, Dori Sangemah Bay, is of Persian and Turkish origin. However, she wears an Indian Dohti Saree and has a genie lamp, which is a reference to a mythical creature called a Jinn in Arabic culture. Even though many of these countries share similar origins, the over-mixing of these cultures leads to incorrect stereotypes about their unique cultures. Meanwhile, Candace is a character whose namesake is the Latinization of a title used for royal queens in the ancient kingdom of Kush. Despite the cultural origin, Candace has much lighter skin than most modern-day Nubians. Taking the names of significant cultural and historical people yet not properly portraying the culture and skin color is white-washing. 

     This isn’t the first time Hoyoverse has been under fire for including demeaning concepts of other POC in their games. For example, a video from April 8, 2021 surfaced, angering countless fans, and even causing #BoycottGenshin to trend on Twitter. This controversial video showed one of the game developers for Genshin basing an enemy off of Native American dances. These enemies, Hilichurls, are portrayed as uneducated and primitive enemies that must be defeated. It gets worse. In Hoyoverse’s first game, Honkai Impact, the undertones of colorism are made obvious by their characterization of African people, as one of the only African characters in this game outright states that she’s ashamed of her skin color and heritage. Even though fiction isn’t reality, these stereotypical portrayals fuel prejudice against other people. At best, their actions may be a misguided attempt at cultural representation or a microaggression. However, at worst, their “inclusion” of other cultures could be a show of blatant racism. As Marina Delgreco, a writer for Forbes states, “[Hoyoverse] may not have meant to perpetuate the misrepresentation of indigenous cultures within the lore of Genshin Impact, but using the same language that historically racist documents also use had racially charged undertones that can’t be ignored.” 

     Like it or not, skin tones have played a huge part in society, and this prejudice of favoring lighter skin manifests itself through media online. Darker skin tones are even looked down upon in places where having darker skin tones would be the norm. A World Health Organization survey also concluded that “40% of women in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea use skin whitening products regularly.” The belief that lighter skin is superior to other skin colors is clearly embedded in Asian society today, but these standards weren’t always the norm. In fact, a study published by Harvard states that “race is a social construct, not a biological attribute.” The concept of race actually emerged in the mid-17th century in Europe and rapidly spread to the rest of Asia through trade and colonization. Though systemic racism may not be as prominent in Asia, many countries have internalized beliefs from western imperialism. 

     So, go boycott the game. Stop fueling your gambling addiction through Genshin and microtransactions. Email Hoyoverse– tell them that you’re upset. It won’t really help– multi-millionaire companies rarely listen to what their consumers have to say. To truly help SWANA/MENA/other minorities, expand your efforts into the real world. Use that previously saved gambling money to fund Native American businesses. Repost and give publicity to those efforts of the brave Iranian people who are currently fighting to remove the mandatory hijab law. These kinds of stereotypical portrayals fuel prejudice against other people. So, the least you can do is take note of what is happening around the globe instead of relying on video games to shape your perspective on the world. 

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