It all started with "Carnival Games," which I played last August. When I went to create my character, it gave me a variety of choices for pants, shirts, shoes, accessories, hairstyles... you name it. But when it came to skin color, it only offered different faces in one pale hue. In other words, as a minority (I'm a Chinese woman), I could not replicate my skin color for my avatar within "Carnival Games" (much less if I were African-American or Hispanic). I found that a bit offensive.
A more recent example that reminded me of this topic was the (hotly debated) ocean exploration sim "Endless Ocean," where my diver had the choice to have either brown or black hair (sorry blondes, redheads and everyone in-between). As for skin tone, it asked me what kind of "tan" I wanted (clearly, African-Americans just have deeper "tans" than I do). The darkest "tan" I could get matched the skin color of someone from "Laguna Beach."
Then there are games that don't let you choose gender despite the fact that your character's sex doesn't affect the story. Like in "Crackdown," for instance (one of my favorite games of '07). Totilo reported that the "GTA"-style game backtracked on having women characters as cybernetically-enhanced police officers because of having to create "a whole new set of animations for a female bulking up." And then there's "The Club," which I saw a demo of last year, a score-based, arcade-style shooter that has eight characters, all with different attributes, and all men. Would it have hurt to throw a female in there? Couldn't she have a special attribute?
"Her special attribute could be cooking and cleaning," a co-worker joked. See what I have to deal with?
I'm not saying that all games have to have playable female characters (as well as the option for race) in them, and I'm totally fine with being a (white) dude in games (I love being Mario, Gordon Freeman, Max Payne, etc. of course). But based on my tendency as a gamer, when given the choice, I will choose to be a female, maybe Asian-looking. Why? Probably because I don't often get to be a female in games, save for the more "casual" titles that I tend not to play.
All I'm saying is that I would love to see more games (like "Rainbow Six Vegas 2") have the option to be a female character -- when appropriate and when the story permits. The same could be said of different races. There's absolutely no reason for a game like "Carnival Games" to not have any choice for skin tone. What do you think?