Stray Falls Into The Usual Orientalism Pitfalls Of The Cyberpunk Genre


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Conical rice hats have a troubled history within the Asian diaspora community. They’re used as a racial shorthand to indicate Asian origins, regardless of the actual context. Clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch, for example, once used images of Chinese men in rice paddy hats in its product line. While the existence of farmer hats is not offensive by itself, it becomes astoundingly racist when used in unrelated imagery, such as a racist parody of a laundry business. Protests and angry letters forced Abercrombie and Fitch to pull the offensive t-shirts from their stores.

Thankfully, Stray meets the bare minimum of not racist language to describe the robots (even if its gratuitous use of the Japanese language in fictional Hong Kong is a bit eyebrow-raising). But the game’s rampant appropriation of Asian history and culture needs to be supported by care in design and implementation. Singapore-based Alexis Ong wrote an excellent Polygon article about Stray’s accuracy to Hong Kong, while others like Lam are less impressed by how the game portrayed the Walled City.

“The graffiti and signage is a huge question mark. Anything in English is clearly player facing but [in-game], who would those tags be for?” Lam told Kotaku. “It’s one thing if it’s robots passing messages to each other but some overlap each other instead of being written around each other. Which calls into question if said developers also understand graffiti culture and the etiquette. But also...Why deliberately make some robots wear rice hats? When there’s clearly no way to go outside or anywhere in game to farm?” Headwear such as baseball hats have become ubiquitous to urban fashion, which could explain the companions copying this style, but rice hats have not. These conical hats have been used to denote Asianness in western media, and Stray cannot separate itself from this history.

Since this comes up every time I write a blog about Asian representation: No, I don’t believe that BlueTwelve Studios is intentionally racist. Nor do I think that the resulting game is the worst offender when it comes to cultural appropriation. Its foibles are typical of the cyberpunk genre as a whole. Cyberpunk originates from America’s anxieties about Japan’s economic dominance, but cyberpunk media is often reluctant to populate their cities with Asian characters. I felt the same sense of alienation while I played Stray.

[WT Actual F ... ]

I thought Oriental was :nono:
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One of the commenters ;

HydorusSisi Jiang
7/25/22 6:43pm
I’ll start this by saying that anyone is free to feel insulted by whatever they feel insulted by. But I - an Asian-American living in a third world country - really think this criticism is stretching a bit.

The article itself outlines what could be the in-game explanation to why kasa hats (I’m a Japanese descendant) could be commonplace outside rice paddies, which is the same reason a lot of people that never touched a baseball bat use baseball caps: fashion. Kasa are not fashionable in modern day Earth, but this is a fictional setting. Also, these hats are a common trope in the cyberpunk genre, but it’s not used to punch down on Eastern culture. If anything, it’s a way to denote Eastern culture creeping into Western societies in fictional worlds in which Japanese (and in later works, Chinese) culture became dominant worldwide. Kinda like how everyone uses baseball caps everywhere, but with farming instead of sports.

And saying that a game visually inspired by the Kowloon walled city has an obligation to engage with the misery inside those walls is akin to saying that Lord of The Rings failed to tackle the abuse of serfs in European feudalism. Or that Indiana Jones would’ve been better if it engaged with the Holocaust. One should strive to not make light of other people’s suffering and avoid engaging in reductionism, but not all depictions of non-white people have to automatically be political.

I have never seen or heard of the Kasa in any cyberpunk novel or game I played