The Asian-American Experience Through Sleeping Dogs
2012's Sleeping Dogs is one of my favorite games that came out on the last generation of consoles. Most of the cast is made up of Asian-American actors and most of the characters are Asian as well. In terms of representation, I loved being able to play a game with a character who is the same race as I am.
And even though the game is undeniably violent, one of the things it does right (whether it meant to or not) is outlining the Asian-American experience. For a second, let's try and avoid the brutal gameplay (fist-fights, car chases, shoot-outs) and just focus on the narrative of the game itself and how it mirrors my experience.
You play as Wei Shen (pictured above) who is a cop who is going undercover in order to infiltrate the Triads. In order for him to do this though, he needs to reunite with the people he had grown up with before he moved to America. As far as the story, this is all you need to know (if you haven't played the game, anyway) to understand this analysis.
Wei is constantly torn between two sides. There's the HKPD and the Triads -- as we would expect from a crime thriller -- but to me, they represent something much deeper than that. The same way Wei feels torn between two sides, I found that experience a lot like the one I had growing up.
I wasn't risking my life or anything. But I was constantly thinking about "which side" to pick. And in my case, the sides were America and the Philippines. I'd spend hours in school, speaking and being spoken to in English, eating American food (hot dogs, hamburgers) and I'd get home and hear Tagalog and eat Filipino foods (Sinagang, my favorite, I can't remember the names of the other foods I'd have, I kind of know them by sight and taste).
And for Wei, he'd spend his time listening to his native tongue when he was hanging out with the Triads and spoke mostly English when he was with the HKPD. The way language is used throughout Sleeping Dogs is something that the game gets 100% percent (full-success) right about growing up Asian-American
The older characters speak exclusively in Chinese (I'm unsure if they are speaking Mandarin or Cantonese) while Wei Shen, someone who had grown up mostly in America only responds in English. There isn't any explanation given to the player, which is fine, anyone else can accept that as a part of the narrative structure. But it reminded me the way I talk to my parents/grandparents.
Even now they'll speak to me in Tagalog, I'll take a second or two, and respond to them in English. I remember the last conversation I had with my grandmother before she passed away, 85% of that conversation was in Tagalog -- as in that's what she was speaking -- and I responded in English.
Language and the way immigrant families pass it down is intrinsic to the -- in my opinion -- Asian-American experience (or any other experience one my have if their parents are from a different country). I think the focus on the Asian-American-ness of it all, for me, comes from the fact that I spent playing this game as an Asian-American.
Even though the game's narrative surrounds itself around existing within a criminal world and a law-enforcement world, it also lends itself to being read from the perspective of being a first-generation American.
At home, you have your culture, your family, and these things tend to clash with what is outside of your home. American culture, American customs and social norms often tend to leave out those who already have their own customs and norms.
By no means do you have to choose which side you want to "be" for the rest of your life. But Sleeping Dogs does a great job of exhibiting the navigation between two worlds that exist with in one person. It shows how confusing, frustrating, and intense it can be to feel "torn" between two different sides. And, that, that's the first-generation American experience in a nutshell.