Last night I finally broke my silence on this situation going at the moment. Of course, as a blogger that talks about video games, I originally wanted to do a post about some of my favourite black protagonists. Recalling some from memory, the only ones I seem to remember are C.J. (GTA: San Andreas), and Aveline de Grandpre (Assassin’s Creed: Liberations). Even doing research, I found that most black characters are relegated to support roles, playable characters in fighting and FPS games, depicted as criminals or the colour of their skin is changed to become an alien. I can’t begin to imagine how much that sucks. But I do recall, getting frustrated when I couldn’t have anything hair that resembles my own but that is minor in comparison. Growing up in a mixed-race family, I’ve been brought up pretty colourblind. Always told to never see colour in any situation, so the problem of representation has never really affected me, I just simply play the game. In recent years though as I’ve educated myself and gained more knowledge of my lack of understanding, I’ve started to see the issues. So my question is, do we need to see more black characters, specifically protagonists? Do we need to see more diversity throughout video game?
We are seeing an increase in games that support character creation. So you can be whoever you want, right? But the NPCs in these games don’t react to you based on the colour of your skin. Events in the past show it’s that we are treated differently because of the colour of our skin. We are not truly getting the same experience a person of that colour will receive during any situation. If I was to play Fallout 3, for example, entering the Brotherhood’s citadel, I would be treated the exact same whether I was Black, White, Hispanic or Asian. Unless I actively chose to act differently. There is a metaphor in how John Edan wants to commit genocide to all those inflicted by the radiation. This is right at the end of the game. It’s not prevalent throughout the game and therefore lack the experience. One that does a brilliant job of this, though, is Skyrim. Here race does matter. The way other races speak to you is different dependent on this, and this is throughout the game. This can be relayed to the real world, but does it have the same impact as experiencing life as a black person? Could devs do what Skyrim has done and put into a more relevant situation?
Narrative driven games could excel at this, further educating people who don’t experience discrimination. In video games, the player has control of the character at the tip of their fingers. Imagine a game that treats you harsher, doesn’t offer the same opportunities based on the colour of your skin. It would take a brave game dev to do this. But it’s uncomfortable. I’ve recently read Why I’m No Longer Talk To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Even being mixed race, it was uncomfortable to read. But it opened my eyes to so many problems that excited in the modern-day. While films like 12 Years a Slave and Django almost had me in tears as I witnessed the complete injustice to these people simply based on this notion of skin colour. There is a delicate balance here, though, we shouldn’t punish people for picking another skin colour by making the game harder. I believe that would cause resentment. But carefully selected parts of the game and interactions with other characters that show the injustices that black people suffer every day.
But it’s not just the experiences that need to be shown, but also the depiction of these characters needs to change. I’m not saying that all black or other characters now need to be saints, but there needs to be more variety. White characters can range from hero to villain, bank robbers to a paramedic, so why can’t black people. There are a few, Grace Walker from Wolfenstein 2, Captain Anderson from Mass Effect all ranging from political activist to captain in the navy but these are far and few between. We need more. We need more variety. Through this variety, we can see prejudices towards groups of people diminish. As we see through video games and other media that black people aren’t just merely criminals or side characters to the narrative of the world.
We are seeing improvement, a lot of the great characters representing black or other people have been introduced in the last five to ten years. Many of which are side and playable characters with a host of games featuring them including Star Wars: Fallen Jedi, Wolfenstein 1 & 2, Apex Legends and Overwatch. However, it’s not enough. It’s cool having more diverse characters in games. Still, we need their stories to matter and to be relevant to really show the differences in the world. We need these characters to matter, not just becoming a side note in someone else’s story. Most of all, we need them to become playable. Video games do such a great job of allowing you to experience someone else’s life through their eyes. I believe that could impact the world on another level, it could help people even slightly understanding even if they’ll fully not. It’s also another platform to project the voices of black people.
How do we get about making these changes? We need people that can portray their experiences onto these games, which means more diversity in the workplace. This is something that is going to take a while to change, but it’ll be great to see a greater variety of stories in the future. Listening to other people stories and experiences as well is a great way to gain insight. In terms of telling a fully fleshed out story. Still, you may be able to pick out enough to make some exciting side characters of different ethnicity, sexuality and such. But it’ll help enhance the world or narrative you are creating. While educating and learning about the world around is another way to help you strengthen your worlds, while simultaneously gaining a better understanding of real-life issues.