I recently took a class called “Gender and Sexuality in Gaming.” Towards the end every student had to present a topic. Our teacher didn’t really care what it was about as long as it somehow connected to gender, sexuality, or video games. One girl discussed a topic that had honestly never even crossed my mind. She told the class that she liked to play RPGs. She would customize her character’s hair, eyes, sex, height, weight, class, abilities, and weapons, but she couldn’t change something as simple as skin color. As a result, I began to think about just how many racial minorities are present in video games and how accurate of a representation they actually are.
My mind first jumped to Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Lee Everett was a great male lead and African American. He was strong, wise, and caring, even taking Clementine under his wing.
However at the beginning of the game, he starts off in a police car, arrested for murder. I’m not going to argue the morality of his actions, but starting off in police custody probably isn’t the best representation of a character outside of the white norm, especially when considering male African American stereotypes.
So I continued thinking and came up with very few additional examples. There’s Franklin Clinton from Grand Theft Auto V, but those games tend to make everyone out to be a criminal and the game itself probably isn’t the best judge of character. I have the same issue with Sean Johnson from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Pokémon X and Y allowed a change in skin color, thus making the character African American, but didn’t allow for facial reconstruction to allow the character to possess typical African American facial features. Not to mention, a lot of players considered the skin tone to be tan rather than black. There are a couple of African American characters scattered throughout other games, but either as side characters who don’t have much importance, one of many fighters to choose from in a fighting game, or a game that just didn’t do well or gained little publicity. There are very few African American characters playing a lead role in a cinematic, mainstream video game.
I decided to move on to other racial minorities, hoping to find something a little more promising. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. There are quite a few Asian characters ranging from Faith in the Mirror’s Edge series to Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs. There are other characters like Chell from the Portal series and Chun Li from Street Fighter. Surprisingly enough, most are portrayed quite well too. These characters aren’t every Asian stereotype thrown together into one person. The characters have personalities, talents, and traits beyond just stereotypes. However, their lack of portrayal in games still fall shorts in comparison to the exorbitant amount of white characters.
There are barely any Native American characters in video games and most are presented poorly. Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3 was Native American, but only half Native American. Many who played the game also thought his character was boring, making him a rather unappealing character and not the best representation for Native Americans. There are other Native American characters, but most of them are just laughable in my opinion. Chief Thunder from Killer Instinct, pictured above, is so stereotypical it’s a little painful (he doesn’t need two tomahawks). Tala from Darkwatch is completely over sexualized and honestly just looks ridiculous. Though, on the other hand, there are more realistic Native American characters like Delsin Rowe from Infamous: Second Son and Tommy from Prey. Neither one are stereotypical Native Americans, both being more modern characters. Both accept their heritage and, best of all, they have real personalities; they’re not just there for aesthetic value. However, those listed above are almost all of the Native American characters in video games. There are some supporting characters here and there, but it’s still not nearly enough to come close to the number of white characters portrayed in video games.
The only Hispanic character I could think of was Rico Rodriguez from Just Cause. I had to turn to Google entirely for this one. I recognized characters like Dominic Santiago, Gears of War, and Isabela Keyes, Dead Rising, but most others I had never heard of and didn’t look familiar. I know I haven’t played every game in the world, and never will, but with the amount of games I do play, I think I would have a familiarity with more than three Hispanic characters.
Now think of all the white characters in video games. I can name at least fifteen off the top of my head. I could definitely name over one hundred if you gave me a couple of minutes. There’s a lot. Though quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. There are some great white leads. Joel and Ellie from The Last Us were a dynamic duo. They were strong, smart, and well-rounded. Not to mention, they brought emotion to their characters. It was so easy to connect with them because of how diverse they were and how you could see at least one part of yourself in their characters; you felt their pain and happiness as they experienced it. Like the other races though, there are white characters that miss the mark. A good majority of white heroes are brown-haired males somewhere in their thirties. While there are noticeable differences between most of them, you can’t just ignore how similar they are. Not everyone white person is a brown-haired male somewhere in their thirties. If we can’t add diversity to the numerous number of white characters, how can we expect to do so for other races?
What’s the problem with this?
Well, games are supposed to be evolving. People call for more accurate representations of women and the inclusion of LGBT characters and forget something as simple as including more racially diverse and accurate characters. I’m not saying adding more LGBT characters and accurately portrayed women should be pushed aside, but we can’t just strive for those two varieties. Many different types of people play video games. Contrary to the old stereotype, it’s not just white male teenagers with nothing better to do. Racial minorities need to be represented too. Every gamer wants a character they can connect with, that they see themselves in. This is the 21st century after all and the video game industry makes more money each year than Hollywood. We are in the forefront of the entertainment industry and should show that we know inclusion off all types and backgrounds.
What are other people saying?
The issue has become so big I’m not even close to the only one talking about it. People on Twitter have expressed their negativity at the lack of diversity:
Gaming industry really needs more diversity.
— G (@_SimplyG) August 4, 2015
— The Squat (@Da_Squat) August 1, 2015
That’s not all either. Dr. Samantha Blackmon, a professor at Purdue University, has started a Kickstarter project entitled, “Invisibility Blues: Exploring Race in Video Games.” She plans to create five episodes covering various topics ranging fifteen to twenty-five minutes in length. To check out the Kickstarter page, click here.
We need a change in the game industry, and it needs to be a big one. Game developers need to bite the bullet and not worry about a possible hit their games could take fiscally for doing something out of the ordinary. In the long run, the change will be worth it- more diverse games, bringing in more customers and allowing more creativity. We can’t keep living in the past.
What do you guys think? Leave your comments below.