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Finding cultural meaning within Sleeping Dogs’ identity crisis

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

I've been an African American, Eastern European, Hispanic, and even a lizard man in games.

Finally, in Sleeping Dogs, I'm playing as an Asian character.

As a Vietnamese-American man, I'm asking myself questions about identity in a video game. Is Wei Shen a good Asian character? How are people portrayed in the title? Does it let me conquer the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers? I can't find the answers for sure as I've barely played through two hours of the title. But I like Wei Shen, not just as a representative of Asians in games, but as a character in general.

 

Wei Shen is quickly established as a good-natured guy with a sympathetic background. The storyline clearly indicates that he’s selected for his undercover assignment because of his previous involvement with Asian gangs, making him an ideal candidate for infiltrating their ranks. Deeper reading of Wei’s Hong Kong Police Department profiles reveals that the cop was influenced by diverse backgrounds, set in Hong Kong and San Francisco, which made him culturally malleable. As his profile states, it's possible for Wei to actually integrate into the Triads too deeply, potentially switching allegiances if he becomes too comfortable in his new colors. 

While people might feel a disconnect as an undercover lawman that ends up murdering tons of people, I think it's important to note that the game penalizes your cop experience if you act recklessly. I naturally want to play the straightedge officer, but the game rewards me for trying to gauge Wei's moral compass as a crime-fighter acting the part of a gangster. 

Sleeping Dogs’ web of character relationships is its strongest point. Wei doesn't like his police handlers, and they don't trust him either. Meanwhile, Wei finds acceptance amongst his band of wary criminals. But even as Wei might find himself wavering between the two groups, meeting his old kung fu master reminds him of his place in Hong Kong and his humanity. 

As you can see, the game focuses on Wei’s identity crisis, and I feel engaged as an Asian American. Many Asian cultures put a strong emphasis on family values and loyalty. This sentiment goes back to Confucianism. While many youths eventually learn to be individualistic, it's not uncommon under Confucian family values for them to learn through a very structured and disciplinarian mindset. 

I've always just assumed people like me grew up learning their native tongue. I was surprised in high school when one of my friends told me she didn't know how to speak Vietnamese. My girlfriend has oftentimes asked me if I would bother teaching our kids Vietnamese, and I would, despite thinking of myself as not being in touch enough with my culture to think it was worth teaching them.

When I went to middle school and high school, I often felt I was an American youth, hanging out with other people of varying identities. Some acted like me and were very much American. But when I went home or walked around my neighborhood, I was Vietnamese. Others in school, however, were much more in touch with their cultures and weren't afraid of proclaiming it. I had a friend who would always declare she was Portuguese during appropriate moments. It wasn't as if she said it all day, but whenever we spoke about food, she explained how she would enjoy it in a Portuguese way. 

Do I consider myself Vietnamese American? Or am I an American who is Vietnamese? In Sleeping Dogs, the way the different sides of the law are viewed can be influenced by Wei's identity as a native of Hong Kong. His history of violence might stem from his Cantonese past, but his role as a police officer was cultivated in America while in San Francisco.

Sleeping Dogs 2

Speaking of Asian identity, I find myself second-guessing certain images and stereotypes in Sleeping Dogs when most would lodge complaints. You can gain health upgrades by finding shrines and burning incense. Is this a stereotypical image of Asians? Well, I don't think so because we really do that. Confucianism doesn't just penetrate life philosophies but religious faith as well. And don't try and act like food stands serving random snacks like noodles and tea is weird. In a crowded space like Hong Kong, you will pretty much find everything you need within just a few blocks.

Is Wei Shen and Sleeping Dogs a good attempt at representation of Asians in gaming? I can't say for sure if it accurately depicts the Hong Kong area, but I think the game’s cultural representation is the best we've had so far.


What does Sleeping Dogs mean to you culturally?


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