A Video Game Showed Me How Prejudice Can Be Inadvertent – But Still Invidious

Angry Birds is a video game that’s been around since 2009, which I know makes it practically SO 20th century.

The premise of the game, as described by a disinterested third party (Wikipedia), does not sound promising:

“A game where a bird is flung at pigs using a slingshot.”

I’m not going to suggest that “Oh, no, Angry Birds is much more nuanced than that!”

The birds are angry because the “Bad Piggies” stole their eggs, and the game’s creators decided retaliation would take the format of different kinds of birds being flung – via a slingshot – at the Bad Piggies.  The goal is to blow up all the Bad Piggies and as much of their surroundings as possible for the highest number of points.

No nuances here.

But – I enjoy it, and I’ve been playing it for years.

The version I play has a theme that changes weekly.  The theme may be topical – like Halloween or Christmas – or something the game creators devise.  For instance, last week’s theme was The Good, Bad & The Piggies, a takeoff on the 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

Of course, the birds are the “good,” and the piggies the “bad” and the “ugly.”

I jumped right in and opened Round 1, ready for my Angry Birds fix.

Then I noticed something that gave me pause.


Here’s a closeup of what caught my eye:

See that big piggie at the top?  The one with the black hat?

Clearly, he’s the baddest and ugliest of the Bad Piggies. 

Let’s go back and look at all the Round 1 piggies again:

You’ll notice that none of the other piggies is wearing a black hat. Brown hats and white hats, but no black hats.

They’re also not sporting a black mustache, and a bandolier full of bullets.

The other piggies have round eyes, while the big pig has menacing, tip-tilted eyes:

It struck me that that one image with the menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandolier was – perhaps – stereotyping.

And that the pig looks like a stereotypical Mexican bandit.

In other words, a stereotype:

“A stereotype is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a thing or group that is based upon how they look on the outside, which may be untrue or only partly true.  Stereotyping people is a type of prejudice because what is on the outside is a small part of who a person is.”

Was I overreacting?  Seeing something that wasn’t there?

I went online and googled “Mexican bandits,” and here’s just some of what I found:

An ad for an “authentic Mexican sombrero,” complete with menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandoliers:

A film actor, complete with menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandoliers:

A Homer Simpson greeting card.  His eyes aren’t particularly menacing, but once again – black mustache and bandolier:

An image from a website called “Deviant Art” – menacing eyes, black mustache and bandolier:

And remember that rock band The Monkees?  Apparently they were in a movie playing Mexican bandits, with black mustaches and bandoliers all around:

It seems to me that our Bad Piggie with the black hat, etc. is at least something of a stereotype.

I suspect it was inadvertent, a word I used in this post’s title.  I don’t think the game creators intended to use, or perpetuate, a stereotype. 

But what this suggests to me is that this Mexican-bandit-bad-guy stereotype is so pervasive, it was in the minds of the game creators.

The game creators who work at Rovio, a company based in Finland.

Prejudice against Mexicans is rampant here in the U.S., but in Finland – I suspect not so much.

Hence my use of the word “invidious,” also in this post’s title:

Let’s go back to The Good, Bad & The Piggies, this time to Round 2:

There’s the black-hat Piggie, front and center, as he was for every round in every game and the whole week.

That’s 18 games, possibly perpetuating a stereotype.

Now, some might suggest that I am the one doing the stereotyping.

That I’m the one who’s prejudiced.

That I’m projecting my prejudice onto a video game.

And that Mustache Bad Piggie is just…another Bad Piggie.

To that I’ll say…

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