Annotation: Jeffrey A. Ow’s “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference on my paper: “The Haunting Realities of Cyberspace in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” See my prospectus here.

Ow, Jeffrey A. “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator: The Rape of Digital Geishas and the Colonization of Cyber-Coolies in 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior.” Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 249-266. Print.

Ow begins his essay with a reference to Dona Haraway’s seminal essay, “Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” where she describes the “female” cyborg as a revolutionary figure that challenges oppressive patriarchal structures and heteronormative codes of behavior. Ow asserts that the “male” cyborg is, in contrast, represented in various cultural productions as a destructive “terminator” that perpetuates racist and imperialistic projects (251).

In his essay, Ow describes the “Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator” as capitalizing on its hybrid human-machine state to “assert common narratives of racial domination, sexual abuse, and capitalist consumption” (251). Ow specifically examines the video game, Shadow Warrior, produced by 3D Realms, which has been largely criticized for furthering racist stereotypes about Asian culture and people. While company programmers insist that they are only producing a funny parody that should not be taken so seriously, Ow asserts that the game encourages users to take delight in assuming the role of “a tourist/colonizer/rapist Terminator cyborg…in yellowface of course” (254). He suggests that because users play the game from a first-person perspective they do not see any graphical representation of their body on screen and come to assume “yellowface,” as the character of Lo Wang. I argue that this notion of “yellowface” is highly problematic because it perpetuates a disavowal of historical acts of white imperialism in Asia as an Asian character is responsible for the raping, pillaging and colonizing in the game.

Ow discusses how video games like Shadow Warrior allows white middle-class suburbanites to enter “exotic Asian worlds” as a kind of imperialist-tourist (255). Lisa Nakamura touches on similar issues in her book Digitizing Race, which she describes as “identity tourism.” Ow emphasizes that this link between imperialism and tourism is extremely troubling because through video games individuals are essentially encouraged to view the subjugation and destruction of other peoples and culture as entertainment. He also discusses the disturbing military origins of video game technology and the implications of these games as they are currently being used for simulation training of US troops.

Ow concludes his essay, however, with an analysis of the Shadow Warrior’s performance on the market. He asserts that the game’s failure to sell, demonstrates how companies must reevaluate the cost of creating products that perpetuate offensive, racist stereotypes, especially with regards to Japan, which continues to dominate the video game industry. Ow emphasizes that in this new globalized world, we must not assume that cultural imperialism only happens from West to East and begin to analyze the ways in which this historical trend may be reversing or splintering.

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