Video Games: Let’s See Some Black People I’m Not Embarrassed By

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Video Games: Let’s See Some Black People I’m Not Embarrassed By


I’ve never played as a black video game character who’s made me feel like he was cool. Worse yet, I’ve never played a black video game character who made me feel like I was cool. Instead, I’ve groaned and rolled my eyes at a parade of experiences that continue to tell me video games just don’t get black people.

The faces that look like mine that I’ve encountered in video games have been, at best, too inconsequential to be memorable and offensively tone-deaf at worst. What about Barrett from Final Fantasy VII or Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII, you might ask? Or Cole Train from the Gears of War games? Wait, there’s Sheva from Resident Evil 5, right? No, no and no. Too many elements of caricature in each, I’d say, and they’re all sidekicks. Their stories aren’t the focus of the adventure players go on.

But, hey, it’s a given that video games tend to present exaggerated characters. Marcus Fenix isn’t like any white guy I’ve ever met, after all. But he doesn’t have to be. For every Marcus Fenix-type grunt hero, you can also get a witty Nathan Drake, a charming Ezio or a regretful John Marston. Enough white characters exist in video games for a variability of approach. That’s simply not true of black characters.

In creating Half-Life 2‘s Alyx Vance, Valve gave players a woman who was feisty and fragile at the same time. Alyx ranks amongst the best black game characters of all time, but she’s another sidekick. C.J. from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas comes closest to this pie-in-the-sky ideal I’m dreaming of. C.J. managed to hold a core contradiction inside of himself — an intense love of family balanced against the violence of thug life — that added depth to his characterization. And while he was the lead of the game he starred in, he was still a gang member. Rockstar found interesting things to do with him but C.J. still comes into being by virtue of another overused stereotype.

Does this stuff matter in video games? Yes. The thing to remember is that beneath all the comforting platitudes about a character’s colour not mattering lies a sticky web of stereotypes and cheap myths that can still insult and anger people playing a game. Even if I wanted to like Sam B from Dead Island, for example, I’m still running up against the fact that he’s a hot-tempered thug rapper.

Stop leaning on this stereotype. Stop creating loud black soldiers who only know how to yell. Stop putting spear-carrying primitives in games.

What I want, basically, is Black Cool. It’s a kind of cool that improvises around all the random stereotypes and facile understandings of black people that have accrued over centuries and subverts them. Black Cool says “I know what you might think about me, but I’m going to flip it.” Dave Chappelle’s comedy is Black Cool. Donald Glover is Black Cool. Aisha Tyler is Black Cool. Marvel Comics’s Black Panther character is Black Cool. Their creativity is the energy I want video games to tap into.


Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness

“I played Dead Island when it came out last year and there’s a point when you get the Natives Camp area. I was like, ‘Oh, OK, we’re going to have an African-style primitive out here,'” he told me. “The bizarre thing is that the stereotypes you encounter in the games don’t even match up timewise with our current culture. That’s what’s so odd about it. The mainstream culture at large has moved beyond the trope of the black primitive. You can’t get away with that kind of thing in a movie.”

Johnson’s written prose along with graphic novels and when he compares video games’ racial awareness to comic and he says “comics had a much more concerted effort to change images of minorities in the work. And part of that was a market-driven concern.” There’s a difference of scale, too, he continues. “If comics can access another 5,000 or 10,000 in their possible audience, it has a huge impact. Whereas video games have become a mass market phenomenon that have an even bigger scope than movies. So they’re not as worried about minority concerns as comics are.”

The importance of seeing a face that looks like yours when stepping into a fictional universe can’t be overstated. I’m a big Superman fan, but it was DC Comics’ Black Lightning that piqued my interest when I was growing up. Every black superhero face I saw growing up was another signpost that said “Hey, you’re welcome here. You can be larger-than-life, too.” The absence of such characters doesn’t make fictional constructs hostile; it makes them indifferent, which can be far worse.


Resident Evil 5Dead Island

“There have been exceptions in games like Left 4 Dead,” Johnson observes, “where you have an actual black nerd character in the game.” “I honestly think the move away from this going to be generational, when it’s so easy to produce a 3D video game that it’s the equivalent of shooting a movie today with a digital camera. But, until then, when I see a game that clearly walks right into a racial dead-end, I know I’m seeing a room of developers talking out a story with not one black person, not one Latino person of power in that room. So I think the single biggest thing that many of these companies could do to make sure that they are being representative of the larger culture’s ethos, would be to hire in a diverse way.”

“It’s not a question of [developers and publishers] pushing culture forward,” Johnson said. “It’s a question of them catching up to mainstream culture. Part of it, I think again, is market success. They haven’t had to worry about that at this point, because they’re still going to sell a ton of games if the basic gameplay is good. But being better about black characters and characters of other races would make the overall quality better, too.”

In other mediums and creative pursuits, there’ve been the black people who pivoted the conversations, expanded the possibilities and deepened the portrayals about what black people are. In jazz, it was Charlie Parker. In literature, it was Ralph Ellison. In comics, I’d argue that it was Christopher Priest, followed by Dwayne McDuffie. For me, the work of the deceased McDuffie managed to create characters that communicated an easily approachable vein of black cool.

Video games need this kind of paradigm-shifting figure. Not an exec, mind you — sorry, Reggie — but a creative face who steers the ethos of a game. For example, you know what kind of game a Warren Spector or a Jenova Chen is going to deliver. With Spector, it’s a game that’ll spawn consequences from player action. With Chen, you’ll get experiences that try to expand the emotional palette of the video game medium. I want someone to carry that flag for blackness, to tap into it as a well of ideas.

Blackness can be a sort of performance, a lifetime role informed by the ideas of how people see you and how you want to be seen. One thing I’ve heard over the years is some variation of the colorblind testimonial: “I don’t see a black guy when I look at you. I just see you.” Well, if you’re not seeing a black guy, then you’re not seeing all of me. And if you’re seeing just a black guy, you’re not seeing all of me in that instance either.

I’m not naïve: no one’s going to buy a video game because it’s less wince-worthy on matters of race or diversity. But, maybe if Black Cool found its way into video games, I wouldn’t have to hear the word “nigger” during online multiplayer sessions so much. Or maybe I wouldn’t have to listen to characters that sound like 18th-Century minstrels in cyberpunk games.

While I’m sick of video games stumbling around the same ol’ stereotypes and being afraid of black lead characters — “they won’t sell!,” cries the panicked logic — I’m not going to love Starhawk or Prototype 2 more because they have black lead characters. But if Emmett Graves and Joseph Heller tap into some kind of deeper, more surprising portrayal than Standard Gruff Black Guy #29 and feel more human as a result, I’d feel better about the creative possibilities of video games.

Any mode of creativity that wants to be called mature needs to grapple with the sociopolitical issues of its time and place, especially if it wants to hold onto future generations. If it doesn’t, then said medium just remains stuck in its own adolescence. When it comes to the examining the realities of how race can be lived in the world, movies, books and TV all do it. I’m not saying video games won’t or can’t, but damn if it’s not a long time coming. Getting black characters who don’t make me grit my teeth would be a great sign that video games are growing up.

Comments

  • Blackness can be a performance. Dear god Wtf??!! Equating blackness with black cool is not subscribing to stereotypes?

    • I can’t recall the last Indian videogame character, but I can sure as hell pick out a borderline-racist black guy. I think Binary Domain just recently took the prize there with “Big Bo”

      That was SWEEEETT!!~~~

  • Here in Australia I have never met a black games developer. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen one in all the lectures, interviews or any of the other various game development videos that I’ve watched.

    I’m sure they exist, I’ve just never met one. Based solely on my experience I would have to conclude that they’re in the extreme monority. Probably even moreso than women.

    Without that input into the game design process you’re not likely to find a strong, truly believable black character showing up in games. When it comes to crafting an heroic icon people are usually going to base it on attributes that are either from them or that they wish they possessed (unless they’re explicitly targetting a particular audience or trying to make a particular point).

    It’s not that we’re particularly exclusive or elitist, we just need your voice to become part of the game making process.

    • Not surprised. Count how many Africa-Australians there are, they’re an almost negligible minority population here. Compare this to the US where they have a larger presence. Hell, count the number of black Silicon Valley Employees. Look at the roster for Afterhours Gaming, with employees from Google, Microsoft, ARM, Facebook, Dropbox etc… it’s evenly split between white/asian and I recall seeing one black person.

  • Sorry, but what about Louis from Left for Dead?
    He’s an uptight accountant. He wears a goddamn tie during the zombie apocalypse. Yet he also talks smack to a biker dude when he feels like it.

    How is he not subverting stereotypes?

  • Also, I find the very idea of this article kind of offensive. Especially the “Blackness can be a performance” thing.

      • Why is that an acceptable response to his concern, but if we were to say it to the author of this post, it would be considered racist and the white man crushing the ideas of minorities that oppose him?

        There’s no such thing as Black Cool, there’s just cool or not cool. And even that is a grey area dependent on audience. My concern is people who long so greatly to project themselves fully onto the character they play, it’s childish and strange.

        Yes, on some level every story you love is about yourself, and characters are just playing the role of somebody else (often in the minds of the viewer, themselves), but if that person has to meet every exact aspect of your physical appearance and behavioral traits then your imagination is in a severe need of a workout.

        And frankly, if you can’t find a point of relation with a white character on screen because your skin colour is different to his, maybe the issue lies with YOUR perception of other races, not the media’s.

        This is that women in games argument all over again, and my response to them would be exactly the same.

        Make the art you want to see, write the book you want to read, and create the game you want to play. Everything else will just fall short.

  • Louis from L4D jumps to mind as a different major protagonist but you’re right.
    It’s a heavily leaning in the direction of stereotypes.

  • He’s asking a lot. Nathan Drake is a stereotype as well: the Indiana Jones intrepid hero. You’re not likely to find him in an average office.

    I guess “the average white guy” has Alan Wake, but then Alan could’ve been black and the story would have been no different. So maybe I’m just not sure what Evan is going on about. Maybe it’s because I’m Australian and don’t have the experience an American does about this issue. Then again, I was born Irish and we get stereotyped a lot.

    The only game company I can think of that is going to do what he’s asking is probably Rockstar. Interesting that they’re the ones he cites as coming closest.

    • Nathan Drake is an adventure character trope, it’s not a stereotype because while white characters have a whole plethora of roles to play in games, whether it be the brave hero, coward, cold villain, supporting role, strongman, nerd, etc. The black characters always get shafted as the jive-talking tough guy.

      • You’re spot on, and I really don’t know why American’s can’t seem to see this. It’s like when any culture brings up this issue, people get this arrogant indignation, and the sudden inability to not understand the issue, or get hyper literal about everything the person says so as to make the initial comment/question seem insignificant or in fact racist in it’s own right.
        If the majority of games presented white characters that weren’t cool, first off, the games wouldn’t sell, but also, you’d hear just as much griping from mainstream gamers. The fact that you can easily find a multitude of games with cool white characters makes it a non-issue for most.
        Also, there are exceptions to every rule. People think because they can name one or two titles that came out 5 years ago they’ve disproved the original issue. Not so, in fact that’s desperation logic. You see this in similar film discussions all the time.
        “I’d like to see more P.o.c. sci fi heroes.”
        “What about Lando Calrissian? Besides race don’t matter.”
        Oh well, why would one expect gamer culture to be any different than the general mainstream thought anyway?

  • Aaron Griffin in Gears of War 3 made me cry. Gold plated bling, a pimp cane, and every second word was “mutha fucka”. The black people in ME3 were well written, but i guess not “black cool”….

  • I understand how you would like to see a main character who resembles you … or an ideal version of you. I guess this sort of revolution happened gradually in Hollywood starting with Sydney Poitier and perhaps culminating with Halle Berry’s tearful Oscar win.

    But where is the move or support for other ethnicities in leading roles games? When are Chinese people anything other than profiteering triads or restaurant workers in games? Eastern Europeans are criminals or illegal immigrants, anyone Arabic is either a terrorist or an oil tycoon.

    I think Black people are fairly well represented in games in comparison. And anyway, some black people are gansters and loud-mouthed soldiers. Just like some Eastern Europeans are Criminals.

    All games developers do is try to make a game that agrees with their target audiences perceptions. Rockstar breaks the mould sometimes by making a Jewish guy a biker-gang leader for example. Johnny Klebowitz.

    AC3 will have a half-Mohawk protaganist milling thousands of english dudes. Whoop.

    • Chinese people are heroes in Chinese games. Japanese people are the heroes in Japanese games. Europeans are the heroes of games made in the various European countries.

      There’s no massive secret agenda, there’s just people making stories that conform to their own personal world view. Unfortunately the diversity of the western audience far exceeds the diversity of western game developers and you end up seeing the same (often stereotypical) world view again and again.

  • I’d say 95% of all RPG’s and Mmo’s have the options there for a magnitude of different skin colours.

    As said previously, this article comes across as more offensive than the issue it’s trying to raise.

  • The funny part about all this is that in my experience, White, Asian, Middle Eastern and Islander youth embody more aspects about the Black American ‘thug life’ stereotype than anyone. Stereotypical Black culture seems to appeal to outsiders more than actual Blacks. Not to say there arent plenty of Black ‘gangstaz’ out there, but I guarantee they are heavily outnumbered by the swarm of people imitating them.

      • No need to be so PC. ‘Black’ isn’t a racially-charged term, and it’s perfectly fine for us to use it, just like ‘white’ for caucasian.

      • I thought the term “african-american” wasn’t “used” anymore and “black” was the preferred identifier. I mean I would prefer to be called white than “European-Australian”. Shrug. I dunno!

    • Al Simmons was black. I believe the current Spawn (haven’t been reading in quite a while so I don’t know his name) is white.

      • Just to show how much of a Spawn fan I’m not, up until you clarified that I was thinking of course he’s black (the spawn “suit” or outfit or whatever) just like Venom is black, but it’s not the same

    • Again the “one game from the past” refrain. So I guess if I want to play a cool black character I have to dust off GTA: San Andreas again. whereas I can play a cool white character every year all through out the year. If you can’t name a game that has come out within at least two years (and that’s being generous) you should realize that you are really reaching to try and make some point.

  • Ddear Evan does the term “blackness’ have the same cultural, ideological and economical connatations for both African Americans educated at NYC university (such as yourself) and the Australian Aboriginal? You position ‘blackness’ as the other – yet constantly reinforce such notions subtextually and explicitly.

  • I know what your saying in your article, but having an “black” character in game as the main character just for the sake of it, is really just pushing the token black character cliche in its own right. Also, I think you are looking to far into the subject, as it comes of as if you are heavily comparing your own skin colour too directly to in game characters, and somehow making yourself feel alienated by not having a dark skinned character as a lead. It sort of seems that you feel that a character is somehow “lesser” because he/shes’ not black. A push for more realistic and lifelike characters yes – but that goes for all nationalities! Just dont put too much into it and ruin your own gameplay experiences is what Im sayin, I think.

    • This is the argument that comes from not having to worry about the issue. If race didn’t matter in the mind of game developers (or players for that matter) we could just put all races on a wheel and just spin it whenever a new game came out to decide what the MC is going to be. That is is characterization is all that matters, but fact is it doesn’t work that way. When you see black NPC’s or characters in games they tend to not be “realistic” but rather stereotypical, and that has begun to ruin my gameplay experience somewhat, because when you do that, you are making a statement about race.
      It is what it is, trying to make it seem like the blogger has some psychological issues doesn’t change that what he’s talking about does have merit.

    • While I realise it’s the complete opposite to what the article is talking about; Can you imagine a ghetto black femshep?

      It would be amazing.

  • The coolest black character is the Mage from diablo. Best voice acting, funniest character to play. Your article is moot

  • Did you forget Lewis from L4D1 and Coach from L4D2? They were both ‘cool black’ characters and they were both ‘main characters’. They were also not your average ‘black stereotype’ (especially Lewis). I wish people would stop complaining about this kind of stuff without checking their facts…

  • Part of the problem is that outside of athletes and entertainers, there aren’t too many good sources for inspiration when it comes to creating compelling black characters. With white characters, you have hundreds or thousands of years of literature and history to draw your character types from. For African characters, unless your game is about Zulu warriors or slavery, you realistically only have a period of about 50 years to draw your inspirations from.

    During those 50 years, the most obvious themes for black characters are racial issues, sports, crime, and entertainment. It’s no surprise that most black characters in games rely heavily on one or more of those themes as a base for their characterization.

    It also must be hard for a writer to create a non-stereotypical black character, without also being accused of making the character act “white”.

    • Normally I’d disagree. There’s plenty of great black characters out there who aren’t Dolemite or Wayne Brady and they’re not terribly hard to write. However when it comes to video games there’s another layer of problems. You’ve got to make the character fit rather limited roles in the story and game stories don’t really have no more room for a average people of any background.
      You can’t have Micheal (Damon Wayans, My Wife and Kids) in a game anymore than you can have Raymond (Ray Romano, Everyone Loves Raymond). Those sorts of average guy characters which (debatably) best represent actual minority characters just don’t have much of a place in the majorty of games.

    • It could be possible that writers just aren’t writing black main characters into stories. IS that racism? No. That’s just what is happening. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be great to see a unique and interesting black main character in a game though.

    • :L I frankly feel we need more games based on africn mythology, None of that over used vodou junk though, I mean man eating bulls, demonic shape shifting hippos, ogres with eyes on their feet. Theres plenty of it, and its really new fresh material for fantasy games, blacks are just going have to get over the findng spears and bows offensive though.

  • I think the biggest problem with the article is simply that the author, however “Black Cool”, wants to stop poor stereotyping of black people. Obviously this is a good idea to see everyone as equal, but it’s important to recognise that the developers are writing what they know, which is their own “culture”. As a caucasian (screw it I’m going to write black/white) person I have no idea on the “trials” that a black person faces each day. I think, in all honesty, if a white person made a video game with a black main character (ignoring all others) would likely receive backlash no matter how it was handled. If it is handled as “everyone is equal” there will be outcry amongst those who believe the game is belittling the racism issue and if the main character faces racism in the game there would be outcry that the devs are racist. There would be differing levels of outcry for each level on that “scale” but there would outcry nonetheless. There is outcry on every game, but due to the sensitivity of the topic it would be much more highly publicised and could, ultimately, end the devs. This is, of course, an extreme example but I think the point stands that games and gaming culture is a very vocal environment and if a dev does anything that a user doesn’t like, there will be outcry. I understand that request of the author, to stop purporting the “gangsta” stereotype, and L4D is outlined as a good start, but it doesn’t seem to have had any impact.
    As to the level of the issue, I don’t notice it as much (hell I wouldn’t even remember what colour any NPC is unless someone points it out, because I ultimately don’t care pink, blue, black, white, green, anything is fine as long as you’re a decent person or have something memorable about you) because it doesn’t matter to me, I can see the point with “traditional” media (comics/TV/movies) that you would see a character you can connect with and feel that is more inviting, but in all honesty, I think the author (and the rest of the world) need to get over racism, or perceived racism. Would Mario be different if he was Black? Would Louis be different if he was White? Would Marcus Fenix be different if he was Grey? Not really, there might be a change in the voice actor, but the game would be much the same.
    I also take issue with the “The bizarre thing is that the stereotypes you encounter in the games don’t even match up timewise with our current culture” part. Most games that I play are set in either timeless periods (Batman) or a period different from our own like Assassin’s Creed or Halo so this comment actually builds against the point of this article, the periods these games are set in are NOT our own and so the social culture is not going to be the same. If we go back to 1812 we would likely see black people as slaves working as white people dictate, so if I play a game set in 1812 I don’t expect to see a black president, I expect to see a black slave and a white master, is this racist? No, it’s accurate.
    That being said, I’m all for equality and it would be good to see more ethnicities as main characters in games where you can’t customise, it might be a step forward for equality, it might not, only time would tell

  • As a prospective producer myself, my feelings on the whole black-sploitation and stereotype characters is this:

    Stereotypes are there because they are a way in which people can bring order to an un-ordered world. People like the idea of being able to either belong to a group themselves or group others so they can better understand them.

    Unfortunately stereotypes, whether positive or negative, foster an unfair representation of a group simply because they do not allow for individual expression.

    Stereotypes in any medium can convey a very specific character role, such as the “black street thug” stereotype or the “ditzy blond” stereotype – if that is the primary role you want the character to portray, then that’s your choice as a developer, and as a gamer you can either accept it for what it is or you can rally against it.

    The biggest issue with gaming is that characters, of ANY type, very rarely have anything beyond a superficial stereotype facade; purely working with face value attitudes and beliefs. DEPTH is what is required, for ALL CHARACTERS, to make an experience both more memorable and more believable.

    You can have your black characters if you want them as a designer but if you give them an interesting backstory and characters quirks and flaws and inconsistencies in judgement – in other words, making them HUMAN, then the stereotype won’t hold.

    NO ONE likes to be stereotyped. We are all individuals who want to be recognized for the many faceted, multi-layered beings that we are; full of personal experience, sadness and triumph.

    To make a believable black character – you just need to make a believable HUMAN character.

    There is no compromise for this. There never has been, there never will be.

    Designers, Writers, Producers. Developers: Wake up, and get it done.

    – Argus

  • What does it even matter what the prospective skin colour of a character is?

    I think Commander Shepard is a good example of this – Shepard can be any multitude of races, but the game makes compromises for none of them. Shepard is simply Shepard, regardless of what his selective race may entail.

    Your argument about black main characters being in a side-kick paradigm is also an exercise in senseless semiotics – you can argue that any character ever made is subservient to some form of order or authority in some fashion, extrapolating this by pushing CJ from San Andreas into the role of “gang member” is a stretch that few will readily believe.

    This is a storm in a teacup, something I have come to expect from Kotaku whenever racial-oriented articles are involved. When will we get some writers that can ascribe some meaningful depth and insight into an issue that is actually pertinent to anyone beyond the authors themselves?

  • Well I think this article is all nothing more than reverse racism and in fact the games industry is one of the most enlightened areas of cultural expression. And I am not just saying this as a fat white guy with very little social experience and a massive helping of disdain for those stupid enough to be born with a different skin colour.

    Oh what’s that?

    My points have all been made already?

    DON’T COLOUR ME BLACK, COLOUR ME SURPRISED BROHOMBRE

  • WHAHHHH WHY DOES IT MATTER WHAT SKIN COLOUR YOUR CHARACTER HAS THIS ISN’T AN ISSUE??…STORM IN A TEACUP!!!….POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!1!…BUT THIS GAME HAS A BLACK PROTAGONIST THEREFORE THERE IS ENOUGH DIVERSITY IN GAMES AND ALL YOU PEOPLE NEED TO STOP WHINGING!11!.

    All we need now is a “This isn’t gaming news I only come here to read about games this site is a waste of time I hate you all” comment.

    • Actually, I made one mistake, we also haven’t had the guy who goes: “Well if you want to see more racially diverse characters set up your own studio and employ your own staff and develop your own games!!!”

      Just being thorough.

        • Yeah, that’s what I was referring to.
          There needs to be an article where they go through all the typical comments on any post about racial or gender issues. ‘Cause that shit is comedy gold.
          Ahh the plaintive bleating voices of the privileged, how predictable yet amusing the song of your people is…

  • Why are we making distinctions on how a character should act based on his or her skin colour? Can’t a white or black dude just act normally without any stereotypes tacked in?

  • EVERYONE, THE PERFECT BLACK GUY IS THE BLACK BARON FROM MAD WORLD, IN NO WAY WAS HE STEREOTYPED AT ALL

  • I have never seen this as an issue. You have a native american hero in the upcoming AC3, one of the biggest games of the year, as there was in Prey. The main character in the AC2 saga was an Italian (as is Mario, who is beloved by all), while in the original AC it was a middle eastern man. Main characters of major games have plumb the depths of all types and stereotypes. And as you stated, one of the biggest games in the previous generation had the main character as a black guy. Heck, Rockstar went one better in their next GTA and had us playing a Yugoslav. And one of the biggest game series around has many people believe we’re playing a black guy (Halo). If you open your eyes you’ll find all types cover all games, regardlessof whether they are the main character or on the sidelines. Im not stating that white guys aren’t under-represented in videogames, but that this isn’t the big deal that it is being deemed to be. A good developer won’t let race be a defining character in their videogame. And a good developer will also cater to all types. I know for instance that I play a black Commander Shepherd, and Im a very white guy.

    • Wow, so you’re a white guy telling the author (a black guy) that it’s a non-issue? You amuse me. Thank god we have have people like you and some of the other white commenters what POCs should and shouldn’t be concerned about, what would we ever do without you??!

  • Drop the hurr Ima gangster I rape and steal and f the police hurr crap and societies image of your race will change. Speak out against the current ‘culture’ and how its derogatory to your entire damn race, you only have yourselves, not whites, to blame for that.

  • Given that this entire article seems to be premised on the – typically Americo-centric – idea that Black = African-American, I think it’s worth pointing out that African-American’s make up about 12% of the American total population (against white’s 72%), which is at best 4% of the total black population of the planet, or about 0.5% of the total world population (white is around 20%).

    This article’s argument is about as valid as asking for more “Australian Cool” (or going by comparable population size, “Polish Cool”) representation in gaming. Except these “Cools” have at least some understanding of their relevance and marketability in a global gaming perspective (or global anything perspective, I guess). And the likelihood of getting any appearances other than stereotypical sidekick roles.

    • Isn’t it how maths = pseudo racism! Well going by your awesome argument, there should be an exactly 5:1 ratio of black/white leading characters (assuming your very broad categorisation of white).

      Oh wait.

      Ok, let’s go to your next awesome argument! Let’s see, race = nationality? Check. Irrelevant comparison of not seeing one of the basic racial types presented as opposed to one of the many cultural types presented? Check.

      We got another one here.

      It’s so white in here, you crackers need to go outside and get some grape juice down you or something.

  • Know what roles you rarely see black characters play? Not just in games, but in movies too.

    If you said lead character, you’re close, but the correct answer is the VILLAIN.

    apparently, the big bad is always white. always.

  • I disagree with the HL2 reference.

    Gordon freeman isn’t really a character. He doesn’t speak, and aside from pictures you never actually see him in game from a 3rd person POV. He is you! Alyx really is the main character in HL2. And lets not forget the end of ep2, nothing bad happened directly to you, but you feel for her and her ‘situation’. I find it hard to call her a sidekick.

  • v.v
    as a black man in the video game industry ( Director of CM ) it warms my heart to hear someone express opinions that I not only agree with but openly support.

    “Black Cool” is a great term to use for harnessing unique abilities.
    And as great as all the points were, things wont change anytime soon.
    Its a process and I personally am trying to make a difference for blacks in the gaming world.
    There are no main characters that are black…well at least in AAA franchises. I dont think it’s going to happen unless its developed from the ground up by our own kind.

    I dont expect anyone to be able to make a game ft. blacks when they aren’t black themselves.
    being ignorant of a races culture doesnt make you a racist in my book. there are plenty of races I know nothing about therefore I cant be expected to have a good opinion of what they want in a game.

    What Im saying is this, the writers in the industry ( the non-black ones ) don’t think about having a black lead character. Nothings wrong with that, because in the big scheme of things you’ve got to apply to the target audience, and the rest of the world is satisfied (at the moment) with leading white/asian characters in a good 85% of their games.

    It will just be a matter of time before a developer produces games for the “black gamer”
    unfortunately having dark skin gets you labeled as “African or African-American” even if thats not where you hail from. A dark skinned person born in Japan is Japanese in my book, not calling his ancestors or whatever into the picture. but hey…..alot of people “call’em like I see’em”

    Ok….thats quite a long comment, but i had to put my thoughts on here….at least a little bit.
    hopefully in the future I’ll be helping develop the games that blacks worldwide call out for

    Sincerely,
    J

    PS. Great Article ^_^

    • Well said, I am making moves to pave that road for a near future. I’m a independent animator who’s determined to show that we are diverse in character and very much so capable of AAA work. We are all Americans but we have a long way to go to close the gaps in competences! Hope we cross paths in that future.

  • DAMMMM… Why do we insist on force whites to represent up when we won’t step up and do it our self!!! No one will represent you the way you will lets take some initiative people!

  • Personally I think this is the strongest positive of games like Mass Effect. I played as a black guy, and Asian guy and a woman, and the character remained “cool” regardless. I have the feeling that this would not have been the case if the designers had opted to “spotlight” (and that’s what it amounts to) any one race or gender. Instead they wrote a character (true they probably thought of him as white while writing), but by leaving it up to the gamer to decide the appearance, the instinct to try and make it Black/Native/Asian whatever never came into the picture and we get a true universal hero.

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