Latest Genshin Impact Leaks Spark Whitewashing Controversy

Latest Genshin Impact Leaks Spark Whitewashing Controversy
Screenshot: HoYoverse / YouTube / Kotaku

Genshin Impact fans have been eagerly anticipating the new region of Sumeru since it was first mentioned in a launch trailer way back in 2020. But ever since the new Sumeru characters leaked online yesterday, fans have been expressing concern that the developers have been whitewashing the characters.

The community broadly agrees that Sumeru is primarily based on the cultures of Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA). The launch trailer’s Sumeru character had an Egyptian-like jackal head, and many of the NPCs from the region have Arabic or Sanskrit names. Before the new characters leaked to the internet, Genshin fans were nervous about how the Shanghai-based studio would handle having SWANA characters in the game. Genshin’s cast is notably light skinned with only two exceptions, and all of the Sumeru NPCs in the game are similarly light. So even though the leaks aren’t necessarily the final designs, fans don’t feel optimistic about the odds of getting darker-skinned characters that would help the character roster feel more representative of Southwest Asia and North Africa.

This isn’t the first time that the studio has faced criticism over representation. The last major instance occurred in April last year, when fans discovered a video of Genshin developers referencing indigenous dances for the animalistic Hilichurl enemies. Fans were also upset that the playable knight character Kaeya was described as “exotic,” a term that many people of colour find to be dehumanising (this was later patched out of the English localisation). What makes the recent leaks upsetting for people is that Genshin will be getting an entire year’s worth of content based on HoYoverse’s interpretation of SWANA people. If the developers don’t accommodate the critical feedback, then a whole year’s worth of Genshin content will potentially be marred by the misstep, an unpleasant prospect for players of SWANA heritage.

As a result of these leaks, fans who want darker-skinned characters are already starting to be alienated by the fandom. Some have been subjected to racist comments, and others have had to justify why a character named “Kusanali” shouldn’t look like a fairy from Mondstadt. It’s an ugly situation that will likely continue as Sumeru receives live updates in the next major patch series. The Genshin community can be racist toward even accurate Chinese representation. Any significant mistakes in how SWANA characters are represented will be amplified by racist sentiments that already exist within the fandom.

Some fans wanted representation from the SWANA region, but have had misgivings about how Sumeru mashed multiple cultural influences into one composite city-state. That creative decision was especially alienating because previous regions were based on single countries: Germany, China, and Japan.

Community lore enthusiasts have speculated that Sumeru is not based on any modern nation, but potentially the ancient Zoroastrian civilizations of the First Persian Empire, which did encompass the territories of multiple modern-day countries. And it’s likely that Sumeru itself is named after the Mesopotamian civilisation of Sumer. So it’s entirely possible that Sumeru could be well-researched and respectful in terms of its lore. But fans are still expressing alienation over HoYoverse’s apparent reluctance to include darker-skinned people as playable characters. Especially when the company will be monetarily profiting from gacha pulls on SWANA characters.

Genshin Impact is a fictional work, but it made significant effort to connect the fictional world of Teyvat to real-life history and culture. If HoYoverse cared as much about the historical accuracy of Sumeru as it clearly did for Inazuma, then it should release playable characters who are darker than white or beige. And as some gacha fans have pointed out, the recently released action-RPG Dislyte has more darker-skinned characters in its cast despite also being produced by a Chinese company.

And frankly, I’m not moved by the argument that developers from China don’t know about racism, or that they don’t understand the importance of accurate and respectful representation. The developers clearly knew that their global audience might react badly to Yun Jin’s reveal when they made a video defending her traditional Chinese opera design. I had a beautiful, affirming experience when I played Yun Jin’s quest. I just want my SWANA friends to be able to experience the same thing that I did.

Comments

  • Why is anyone shocked by this? China is the most xenophobic country on the planet. They literally edit/reduce black characters on movie posters.

    • Gotta call it out.
      China doesn’t even rate on the worst countries for racism and xenophobia (though it also doesn’t rate on the most tolerant either)

      Granted, the statistics were pre-Covid but the rise in racism, xenophobia and nationalism has been observed the world so the changes to ratings haven’t shifted all that much.

      • You mean the country that immediately tried to blame African immigrants for the COVID outbreak when it had already been linked to their shitty practices? China’s right up there with some of the most racist countries on the planet and their behaviour during COVID only proved it. So no, there is nothing to call out here. They are what they are – racists.

        • Thanks for that delightful and irrelevant contribution to the point.

          Completely my fault, I forgot we’re supposed to launch in to an unhinged rage at the mere mention of China and didn’t factor in or mention Covid at all in my comment.
          I’ll try harder with my tar brush in the future.

          • You mean youll try harder to miss the point, Act like china ISNT one of the worst countrys on the planet for this and go to mock indignation rather than see the truth about China?
            Cool!

          • Didn’t say it wasn’t a bad place buddy, and you know that….

            Scarecrow said it was the most xenophobic place in the world.
            I pointed out the fact that it isn’t, didn’t say it wasn’t at all, just that it’s not the worst.
            Lou missed the point and took a responsible response as a defence of China.

            You don’t need to create bogeyman when talking about China, that’s the difference between fair criticism and blind hatred.

          • I’m sorry, namiwakiru, was reality too harsh for you? The reality that China’s been known to systemically abuse black people for years on their skin tone alone, to the point where John Boyega gotten written out of his own movie series to appeal to their racist views? Maybe you can open a gateway to a parallel dimension where the CCP doesn’t encourage their citizens to be racist, other nationality (especially those of African descent) hating pieces of shit and go live there instead, because what you’re trying to claim doesn’t exist on this planet.

          • Why do you keep trying to make it about something it’s not?

            Look I’m genuinely sorry for being facetious but I can’t and won’t be placed on an extreme spectrum, no matter how much you want or need me to be.

          • The mental gymnastics you’re engaged in right now aren’t helping you. It’s entirely relevant when it demonstrates the contemporary and extremely present high levels of racism and xenophobia in China – where Genshin Impact is developed for both a local and overseas market. To pretend that this has no impact on the developers and their attitudes the portrayal of their characters is delusional. You trying to block out reality doesn’t change reality. It’s a racist shithole and so long as you are unable to acknowledge that, you’ll be mocked for it.

          • What ever you say, even though it’s all there clear as day, you’re obviously going to project and continue this bizarre narrative that if I don’t agree with you completely, then I’m against you wholly.

            Feel free to mock as you please, you’ll find no vacancy here.

          • Yeah nah, China would easily be in the top 3 if not first on the xenophobic front. No other country has their level, their media portray a certain ideal as well as concentration camps for people that dont fit into their desired mould, so for you to say “China doesn’t even rate on the worst countries for racism and xenophobia” You are either ‘will have drop bears’ fall on you level naive, or maybe spend too much time on Twitter and have a broken outlook on reality.

          • It doesn’t even make the top 20 worst my dude and that’s not opinion, that’s based on reports, studies and statistics.
            Alternatively though, when you look at the most tolerant countries it doesn’t even make the top 50 and falls just shy of the bottom 10.”, it’s interesting stuff.
            I even stated much of this was pre-Covid, that could very well mean the rankings might be different but as I also pointed out a rise in driving factors like nationalism have been observed all over the world, so the shift has been nominal at this stage.
            If you really wanted to argue against it I’d go for the fact that they are notoriously hard to measure as it relies on perception for the most part but it also reveals the crazy fact that so many people in the worst places are happy to admit that they don’t like other races and truely believe that some people are genuinely superior to others.

            I can’t believe that I have to point this out but this is in no way an indication of how good China is, only an indication of just how bad some other places are on the scales.

            I don’t have a Twitter…..fuck, I haven’t had a Facebook account for over a decade.
            Honestly, it’s kind of weird that all this talk of reality and who I am falls so far from fact and relies heavily on so many fallacies.
            I wish I could say I enjoy or hate disappointing folks but like the mockery I’m supposed to fear, meh, I know what I’m about.

          • The fact that you think China has anything resembling legitimate statistics coming out of it when it’s a totalitarian dictatorship hinging on censorship and engaged in ethnic cleansing/genocide prior to COVID (and now), suggests more than anything that your problem is that you have shit for brains. I have no other words to describe the shear degree of wilful stupidity you’re currently engaged in for… what exactly? To not be like all the other girls who are rightfully calling out China for the numerous atrocities it’s currently carrying out? What exactly are you gaining from ignoring their numerous human rights breaches? It can’t be the moral high ground, since you’re engaged in a fervent defence of racist mass murderers.

          • Look at you both, seething in impotent rage, desperate denial and absurdity.
            I don’t think you even know what you’re arguing for or against anymore, I sure as hell lost track a while back.

            As fun as it’s been and despite the rent free accomodation, I won’t be renewing the lease.
            Not all the lights work and the possum in the crawl space might have rabies.

            Cheers!

          • You know that’s not a defence, right? “HURRR DURRRR YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY” while you ignore the United Nations itself reporting on China’s human rights breaches and ethnic cleansing? Nothing you say on this website on moral issues will ever have a shred of credibility after you’ve outed yourself as a Winnie the Mass Murder/genocide supporter. It’s amazing that all it takes is a Kotaku article to out people like you. Please don’t ever comment on anything involving morals ever again, you sick fuck.

  • Thankfully this is the worst thing China has ever done.
    Sorry, I’m just getting a note.
    Oh.
    Ooooooh.

  • How can anyone be surprised with this? Not only is this in keeping with China’s common problem of diminishing the roles of characters like this, the game is largely anime inspired which itself rarely sees any real form of colour grading.

  • Incredibly based of Mihoyo. The PRC domination of Australia cannot come soon enough. “Muh whitewashing” is bad, but when you’re blackwashing Ancient Greek pantheons it’s a-okay for some reason.

    “Buddhist cosmology”
    Nobody tell Sisi that the Buddha was whiter than Hitler or any other gweilou.

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