I answer the questions dutifully—“Where are your parents from?” “My dad is from Bangladesh, my mom is from Bulgaria”—but growing up in predominantly white Long Island made me embarrassed that anyone ever had to ask. I’m pale. My hair is thin and bleached blonde, and I could never grow it out to lie strong and curled against my waist like all my cousins I’m jealous of.
I wanted to be a true Bengali like half of my family, but my dad always encouraged me to be more American. To me, that meant conforming to my whiteness and my neighborhood’s, and though doing so cut off a part of me I had hoped to nourish, it just seemed easier at the time. When my wavering high school identity wobbled off and I felt more sure of myself as a human, though, I started to more wholeheartedly embrace the two cultures that created me.
So during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which begins every year on May 1, I feel a particular duty to fellow Asians who were taught to separate their culture from themselves. Now, as a video game writer, I often think about how gaming has a somewhat fragile relationship with Asian and Pacific Islander culture. Though China and Japan dominate the global video game market, I worry that the similarly large U.S. market sometimes turns culture into caricature. It seems even after decades of Asian influence on gaming, the U.S. still doesn’t know not every Asian character needs to own a katana.
But the games in this list know that a person’s AAPI identity is worthy of respect and effort to understand. All of them emphasize history and heritage over tiresome, superficial aesthetics. Of course, “AAPI” is a giant umbrella and this list is only a tiny selection of the fantastic games out there that honor AAPI culture. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them, and take this AAPI month as an opportunity to better understand yourself, your friends, and the many gorgeous cultures that make our little world shine.