There are not a lot of Native American characters. For the sake of this piece, I decided to focus on the characters that were the least offensive.
Oftentimes when encountering Native characters in pop culture they are feathered, headdress-wearing shamans who battle through opponents with tomahawks. Suffice it to say that this does not accurately or completely express the experience of indigenous peoples and oftentimes falls into the realm of actually being incredibly insulting.
For reference, check out many of the fighting games from the 90's that utilize these stereotypes to create nationalistic characters.
These are the top 5 Native American characters in video games:
#5: Vulcan Raven - Metal Gear Solid
I had a bit of a crisis including Vulcan Raven in this list. He possesses several native stereotypes that dominate culture. He has an animal name, but from what I can gather so does everyone in the Metal Gear universe. He communes with nature. He doesn't have a shirt, and is a shaman. All of these things perpetuate negative stereotypes.
But, while he is a villain he is presented as being an equal to the main character. He isn't a punching bag or one of a small army to be slaughtered. You don't scalp him (I'm looking at you Gun). And he has a massive, massive gun. In a universe as bizarre as Metal Gear, it's honestly not too surprising that he's a bit of a caricature.
#4: Protagonists of the Turok Series
Corporal Joseph Turok of the latest Turok game is another in a long line of Native American leads to the Turok franchise. The series, first person shooters about hunting dinosaurs the series gets serious credit for being one of the first, if not the first, games to feature a native protagonist.
Turok has been around since 1997 when it debuted on the N64 and has had it's most recent installment in 2008. The game has some problems with stereotypes (such as the main character wielding a crossbow) but it does some things right, such as identifying the characters tribal lineage (Kiowa).
#3: Tala - Darkwatch
There are a few problems with including Tala on this list. For one thing, she is a headdress wearing shaman who communes with spirits. For another, she's a highly sexualized character, a negative tradition that dates back to such offensive games as Custer's Revenge.
On the other hand, she's on one of the few Native women in games, And she's part of an even smaller group of actually characterized women that are not simply one dimensional beings.
#2: Connor Kenway (Ratohnhake:ton) - Assassin's Creed III
While Connor does fall into some of the stereotypes that plague Native American characters (he has lost his homeland and is fighting to regain it, he carries a tomahawk, he has a ability called Eagle Vision) he is the lead of one of the episodes of a major franchise which is a huge step in the right direction.
Ubisoft found a native actor to play the part of Connor, Noah Watts - descended from the Crow and Blackfeet nations, and he spent the time learning the Mohawk language to convincingly play the part.
"Making sure to correctly portray Mohawk life during the Colonial period was exhausting, but Watts and the Assassin's Creed creators believe it was worth the effort to depict the authentic culture of a specific nation."
#1: Tommy Tawodi - Prey
The voice actor for Tommy, a Plains Cree named Michael Greyeyes said it best when describing playing Tommy;
"Hollywood typically relegates our different indigenous cultures either into a single pan-Indian construct of some type...or, most commonly, as a historical figure, typically from a Plains culture. There are few opportunities for us to appear outside that paradigm, and when we do it is often equally narrow in focus...The writers [at 3D Realms] were always open to my comments -- which I freely offered -- and took my notes seriously, in nearly all instances changing dialogue or thematic content."
Tommy is a Cherokee Indian, and is probably the best example I can find of a well-rounded Indian character, sans war paint and headdress.
Do you have any favorite native characters that didn't make the list? Let me know in the comments below.