5 Great Black Characters in Gaming

African American characters that made a lasting impact on gaming.

In the media, African-Americans are striving for more time in multiple arenas, video games included. There are very few African-American video game characters that aren’t either a fade to black NPC or side story characters. African-American characters usually aren't built with the kind of complexity that leaves a memorable impression long after finishing a game.  However, in recent years there have been more and more diverse characters introduced into gaming, not only diverse in race, but in back story and implementation. Here are a few that stick out to me:

Rochelle – Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead is well-known for shaping characters not exactly by what they do, but what they say. In one short campaign, we have a rich feel for each character through their interactions and narrative. Rochelle, affectionately called Ro, is no different. A news reporter that got dropped into the middle of a zombie outbreak, her cynical yet sweet attitude makes her a born leader. She acts as the big sister of the group, giving out directions in troubling times. I’d love to have her in my party any day.

Daisy Fitzroy – Bioshock Infinite

In a game as big as Bioshock, with many aspects and elements that are capable of praise, Daisy Fitzroy and her Vox Populi are definitely something to talk about. Daisy is done wrong by the city’s big wigs and rounds up a group of the like-minded, set to destroy the unfair power system that Columbia thrives off; her goals are reminiscent of slavery resistance movements of the 1800’s. A brave voice and unmatched intelligence commands respect and equality at first hearing. While her good intentions turn sour, she projects major themes of the corruption of power.  Fitzroy’s short time with us is potent, leaving a permanent mark on the main characters and us as well.  Here’s hoping that at least one of the DLCs promised to us will be dedicated to fleshing out some of her complex history.

Lee Everett- The Walking Dead 

A 37-year-old man caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse on his way to jail, Lee Everett is having one bad day. Lee is the main character of Tell Tale game’s episodic extension of the Walking Dead universe to multiple platforms; we follow him on his journey to stay alive, and keep others alive. He’s an incredibly sensible, fast thinking and considerate human being, especially given the circumstances. I’m a big believer that compassion breeds compassion. The amount of care that Lee takes for the tender Clementine, a little girl that he finds with no proper care, is a huge reason we cheer him on and want him to succeed. Even in the worst of conditions where things seem absolutely impossible, we have hope for Lee, because in the post-apocalyptic world, where everything is going to pot, compassion is something worth saving, something that saves us from being the literal walking dead.

Not only is Lee a great character in his own right, but this is a perfect example of race influencing characters in the right way. Race affects us, in the way that people respond to us and the way that we respond to the world. There are a couple of scenes in the Walking Dead that take Lee’s race into account subtlety, not overpoweringly so.  Lee is described in so many other ways than by his race; a professor, a history buff, an ex-husband, the list goes on. However, nothing feels anchored by his race.

CJ – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Now comes the main character of Grand Theft Auto’s 2004 installment, San Andreas.  Carl Johnson is a street smart guy with big dreams who gets into encounters of the criminal kind trying fight his way up the financial ladder. Although CJ represents the glorifying of hood life and stereotypes, I make a case for his personality being his saving grace. His voice has an underlining tone of exhaustion from life, holding a glimmer of joy and playfulness. I know a CJ… wait, scratch that; I know someone with the soul of CJ. Rockstar did (and almost always does) a great job of making us have a personable relationship with the character we play so we can really connect.  We meet his sister, know of his mother that passed, and watched him betrayed by his most loved friends. We all are a CJ in fact. We all at some or another strive to want something more than what we have currently, we all get tired sometimes. The way he went about fixing these problems was different, and not recommended.

Commander Shepard – Mass Effect

I know this might be a tad confusing, but in most of my playthroughs of Mass Effect, my characters were African American, male or female, and I think that’s the beauty of customizable characters. We can paint them however we’d like and the story will remain unchanged. This is all the more brilliant from a Sci- Fi point of view, where over 100 years into the future, the only racial problems that still exist are between the human and alien races.  The blank character slate is so much more believable. We see our Shepard the way we make them, and when we talk to fellow gamers about how he or she defeated the evil Saren or saved the collective worlds, at least in my experience, we don’t picture just one. I picture many different shades of Shepard. Anybody can be Shepard, no matter what color, and I think that’s really powerful.

Was there anybody on the list that I missed? Disagree with something? Leave a comment below! 

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Welcome to my profile! I play mostly action/ adventure, survival horror and RPG games as of late! I'm Studying Media Arts and Design in Virginia.

Published Jul. 12th 2013
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Featured Correspondent
    Love that you put Commander Shepard in, I am white, but I think Shep fits better with being black, I played the first two on Xbox as a white Shep, and was thinking, something is off, so when I got the games on PC (for about £3 off Steam for both) I used a black Shep, and it just fitted. Maybe it was the way I was playing, but for me it fitted better. Also, all your other choices are great! Couldn't agree more. Others could have been Sgt. Johnson from Halo, what about Henry and his brother from The Last of Us. Just another 2 I could think off who I think could swap for anyone in your list.

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