Black Athena: How Hades Gets Its Gods Right

Black Athena: How Hades Gets Its Gods Right

I love Hades It’s a great roguelike, has a cleverly-crafted story, and is stuffed with beautiful art and design. But what I like most about it is its commitment to diversity among its characters.

Hades’ pantheon of Greek gods is diverse. Athena is a dark-skinned Black woman. Dionysus is south Asian. Hermes is east Asian. Eurydice, my favourite, is a Black woman crowned with a beautiful afro made from the branches and canopy of a tree.

Yet when I highlighted this wealth of people of colour in my gushing over Hades, I was told by a commenter that “Greek mythological heroes and POC does [sic] not fit together.” Though completely ahistorical, a lot of video games featuring these myths seem to believe the same, at least in terms of their design.

When I think about other games featuring gods and heroes — God of War for example — those worlds are overwhelmingly white-passing. I’m not really looking for a diverse cast in that series (even though I personally think of Kratos as Black — no doubt assisted by the talented voice work of both Terrence C. Carson and Christopher Judge.) I’ve been Black all of my life and a gamer for most of it, and I’ve seen for myself that few games are made with diverse representation in mind. That sucks, but I accept it. Likewise, though it is a bitter and disappointing pill, I accept when games that don’t have to feature an all white cast of characters do. I’m also pretty excited when they break that trend.

THAT. AFRO.  (Image: Supergiant Games)
THAT. AFRO. (Image: Supergiant Games)

Greg Kasavin, the creative director of Supergiant Games, told me that Hades’ diversity was the result of an epiphany during the game’s development.

“We knew going into Hades that we wanted this to be the story of a big dysfunctional family set in the Underworld of Greek myth, told from the Underworld’s point of view,” he wrote in an email. “As we discussed and researched the Olympians from canon sources, something stood out that in retrospect was obvious: They’re called the Greek gods because they were worshiped in ancient Greece, not because they themselves are ethnically Greek.” In other words, they didn’t all have to be Greek, or even white-passing for that matter.

Greece sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Through trade and war, ancient Greeks came into contact with all sorts of ethnically diverse people, with Africa to the south and Asia to the east. Cultures blended, as did religions and families. What made you Greek depended on where you came from, not your colour. Besides, we are talking about literal gods.

“Zeus rules all the heavens, not just the airspace over Greece,” Kasavin wrote. “Poseidon rules all the sea and land. They sprang from the Titans, who sprang from primordial Chaos, the source of all creation. So it stands to reason that the gods represent all the people of the world, at least indirectly.”

The god Hermes. (Image: Supergiant Games)
The god Hermes. (Image: Supergiant Games)

To say this statement shocked me with it’s simplicity, is an understatement. More like it smote my heart like a thunderbolt hurled from Zeus’ own hand. Gods, if that’s where you choose to invest your belief, are for everyone. It reminds me of the slogan I’ve seen Norse Pagans adopting to combat the homophobia and white supremacy that have sprung up around their religion. “It’s the All-Father, not the some-Father.”

While I don’t know that I wouldn’t have played Hades if it had a monochromatic cast, I do know my enthusiasm for it would be much less. Hades’ design represents imagination not bound to the flawed concept of ‘historical accuracy’ and it is the most fervent wish of my heart that more game makers understand this. Supergiant rightly understood that this game is based in fantasy — there are no rules stating how they should represent their characters. Plus, what sense does it make to bind a game about gods to rules anyway? In a game where it would have been perfectly acceptable, if not expected, for everyone to pass as white, Hades decided not to limit how limitless gods could be portrayed.

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