Black Characters in Video Games
Merry Black History Month! Black people from Africa or otherwise (not everyone fits the description of African American) are getting some of the respect that they deserve in February here in America. The only question is: Are they getting the respect they deserve in the video game industry?
I don’t think it will come as a surprise when I say, no.
African Americans are starting to appear much more commonly in video games than they previously did, and that’s awesome and shows signs of progress. However, black characters are rarely ever the main character of a game. Check out this article claiming that by of 2006 only 11 video games had a black protagonist that you played as.
I think the list may be a little negligent, but it does raise an important point: black characters are not who you play as. Black characters are generally your headstrong, violent, lower than average intelligence, oftentimes criminal companions.
Let’s just look at a few popular black video game characters.
Barrett Wallace – Final Fantasy VII (1997)
- The first Black playable character in a Final Fantasy game.
- Appears in one of my favorite video games.
- A terrorist
- Speaks in broken slang
- Violent (He has a gun arm. I have to assume it’s for shaking hands.)
- Parody of Mr. T
Augustus “Cole Train” Cole – Gears of War (2006)
- A nice guy liked by all
- Never been a criminal
- Too be fair, no one in this series has a personality
- Brash, curses, speaks in Ebonics
- Stereotypical black athlete
- Only character in series that raps
- Little personality beyond being a violent sports star
Balrog – Street Fighter II (1991)
- Sweet name
- Doesn’t look or act very intelligent
- A parody of Mike Tyson
Challenge – I challenge you to find a black character in a puzzle game or any game without much violence. Now I challenge you to find a recent fighting game that doesn’t have a black character. I think that stereotypes are a little at play here.
Luckily, there are some positive examples of black characters in video games that ALMOST make up for the awful representations in most games.
Admiral David Anderson – Mass Effect (2007)
A decorated war hero that now spends his time as an eloquent politician. Anderson is a tough character but he is slow to anger. The admiral is wise, selfless, and serves as the mentor of the hero of the series. He is also voiced superbly by the awesome Keith David.
Alex Vance – Half-Life 2 (2004)
Technically Alex is half Asian, her mother was an Asian woman, but she is a great example of a strong female minority character. Alex is actually one of my favorite video game characters ever because she manages to be hot through being charming and smart while wearing clothes that aren’t revealing at all. Alex is the very intelligent computer hacker and programmer daughter of a black scientist. She can kick some serious alien butt with her mind and built a giant robot dog. I think I’m in love.
Redguards – The Elder Scrolls Series (1994-2011)
Redguards are the depiction of black people in the Elder Scrolls series. Sure, black people are a different race than white people, but so are blonde and brown haired people. I will also concede that Redguards are generally more athletic than some other races. These things could be seen as racist; they are the defining features of a race in a video game, after all.
But what impresses me most about the depiction of black characters is that they never have speak in slang, they aren’t less intelligent than other races, they hold their own kingdom that is equally powerful as any other races kingdom.
What is best about this depiction of black characters is that they have never been the victims of widespread racism in the game series. The elder scrolls always tackles racism, but it is almost never turned towards the Redguards. To force gamers to face racism, but not marginalize one of the races that are so often marginalized in video games is brilliant.
Conclusion – It’s no coincidence that my examples of positive examples of black characters in video games are from more recent years. Gaming will hopefully become less and less stereotypical and racist in their presentation of black people. We can only hope for more Admiral Andersons and less Sazh Katzroy from Final Fantasy 13 (2010). (Sazh is the only other black playable character from a Final Fantasy game. He is unfortunately shown below.)