Latest Genshin Impact Leaks Spark Whitewash Controversy
Genshin Impact fans have been eagerly awaiting the new Sumeru region ever since it was first mentioned in a 2020 launch trailer. But ever since the new Sumerian characters online leak yesterdayfans have expressed concern that the developers have been whiten characters.
The community largely agrees that Sumeru is primarily based on Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) cultures. The Sumeru character from the launch trailer had an Egyptian-like jackal head, and many NPCs in the area have Arabic or Sanskrit names. Before the new characters are leaked on the internet, Genshin fans were worried about how the Shanghai-based studio would handle the presence of SWANA characters in the game. GenshinCasting is particularly light with two exceptions, and all Sumeru NPCs in the game are also light. So while the leaks aren’t necessarily the final designs, fans aren’t optimistic about the chances of getting darker-skinned characters that would help the character roster feel more representative of South Asia. -West and North Africa.
This isn’t the first time the studio has come under fire for its portrayal. The last major case happened in April last year, when fans discovered a video of Genshin developers referencing native dances for animal enemies of Hilichurl. Fans were also upset that playable knight character Kaeya was described as “exotic”, a term that many people of color find dehumanizing (this was later corrected from the English localization). What makes the recent leaks upsetting for people is that Genshin will get an entire year of content based on SWANA folks’ interpretation of HoYovers. If the developers disregard critical feedback, then a whole year of Genshin content will potentially be marred by the misstep, an unpleasant prospect for SWANA Legacy players.
As a result of these leaks, fans who want darker-skinned characters are already starting to become alienated from the fandom. Some have been subject to racist commentsand others had to justify why a character named “Kusanali” shouldn’t look like a Mondstadt fairy. It’s an ugly situation that will likely continue as Sumeru will receive live updates in the next round of major patches. The Genshin community can be racist towards even an accurate Chinese representation. Any significant errors in the portrayal of SWANA characters will be amplified by the racist sentiments that already exist within the fandom.
Some fans wanted representation from the SWANA region, but had apprehensions about how Sumeru blended multiple cultural influences into one composite city-state. This creative decision was particularly alienating because the 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 on the ancient Zoroastrian civilizations of the First Persian Empire, which encompassed the territories of several modern countries. And it is likely that Sumeru itself is named after the Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer. It is therefore quite possible that Sumeru is well documented and respectful of its traditions. But fans are still expressing their alienation at HoYoverse’s apparent reluctance to include darker-skinned people as playable characters. Especially when the company will make monetary benefits from gacha jumpers on SWANA characters.
Genshin Impact is a work of fiction, but it has gone to great lengths to connect the fictional world of Teyvat with real history and culture. If HoYoverse cares about the historical accuracy of Sumeru as much as it does Inazuma, then it should release playable characters that are darker than white or beige. And like some gacha fans pointed outthe 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 Chinese developers don’t know 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 make a video to defend its conception of traditional Chinese opera. I had a wonderful and positive experience when playing Yun Jin’s Quest. I just want my SWANA friends to experience the same as me.