Hey Zynga, Cut It Out With This “Far East” Crap

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This morning Zynga announced that it’s expanding its FarmVille franchise into an exciting new territory: Orientalism!

Yes, there’s a new FarmVille add-on called — wait for it — Jade Falls. Now, fantasy stories set in exaggerated “Asian” locales are a familiar part of popular culture. But at least Disney (Mulan), DreamWorks (Kung Fu Panda), and BioWare (Jade Empire) offered some creativity, humor, and nuance. Jade Falls is … something else.

If you read the company’s announcement, it’s like Zynga literally wrote it based on a checklist of tired Asian stereotypes. Dragons? Check. Pandas? Yup. Rice paddies? Naturally. And how about “exotic“?  Let’s go ahead and use it twice!

Yes, friends: Well-intentioned or not, this is racist.

For starters, the “Far East” is an antiquated European term from the 19th century. Last we checked, it’s 2012.

More broadly, Zynga is drumming up stereotypes that simply don’t apply in this day and age. As Asian Americans who grew up in or near white suburbia, this is the exact type of mass media that made us feel like we didn’t belong. (On the bright side, at least there weren’t any math jokes!)

For its part, Zynga says the game “underscores the team’s focus on listening to players and delivering new and meaningful experiences to the FarmVille franchise.” Because, of course, FarmVille players have been begging to farm on rice paddies — which “NEVER wither”, just like in real life.

We started to highlight all the “ZOMG, are you serious?” parts, but then realized we’d italicized the whole thing, so just read the rest:

“Travel from your home farm to the mystical falls with an invitation from May – a local dweller who helps players uncover the secrets of the area. This exotic locale has new quests, rules and characters where players can earn ‘ZP’ by planting, plowing and harvesting new plants including wasabi, rice and green tea. Players can decorate a new game board with amazing, new Asian-inspired buildings including palaces and floating castles. There are also a host of new animals to play with.

Ever wrestle a dragon or frolic with a panda bear? Yes? Wait.”

Next time, just go ahead and call it FarmVille: General Tso’s Chicken.