174: What if the Player is Black?

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Fable 2 has a very introspective african-american named Garth that is one example against the over-violent stereotype. He's neutral and thoughtful and a breath of fresh air in the game.

Personally, as long as the character in the game suits the game, I don't care what colour they are.
I mean if at the end of Half Life if there was a mirror and you found out Gordon Freeman was white would it have changed the game.

And I'm pretty sure TJ Combo pulled a gun and shot the loser because he's badass not because he's black.

I do think it's sad that her son couldn't make a character like his Dad. Ouch.

Alyx and Eli Vance (her dad) from HL2 are good characters, though I cannot tell if they are "good black characters". At least Alyx was voiced by a black Woman. Dunno about Eli.

Eli Vance is voiced by Robert Guillame, a black actor who has been around for years and years. Voice for the baboon shaman in Lion King and lead actor in the TV show Benson. He has fantastic range; a great actor.

I think Half Life 2 is one of the only times where I have seen black people portrayed not so much positively but normally. Something which is overlooked sometimes is that in games pretty much everyone is a stereotype. But becasue of the lack of opportunity available to people of color the list of archetypal or stereotypical roles are much more limited and often negative.

Just my point of view as a "black" gamer.

While I myself am the epitome of the typical American (white, male, middle-classed, mildly obese, and from Canada), I can certainly relate to the feeling of not being able to relate to characters. If a character is young, he is angsty and rebellious. If he's intelligent, he's socially-inept. It he's a she, she's wearing less clothing than a supermodel on the beach.

Myself? I'm a nerd. Well, in the sense that I have two university degrees and am currently employed as a programmer. I'm not socially-inept, nor do I have acne, wear glasses, and have a nasally voice. Can I relate to the nerd in any game, movie, or book? Generally not.

In contrast, I'm also fat, like over 50% of the American population. Even for stereotypes that are typically heavy, I've seen very few obese characters. Even worse than the token black man, there's the token fat man -- his entire purpose for being is to be laughed at for his obesity.

Of all the places I expected to be able to make a fat character, Rock Band really disappointed. I could adjust the slider between twig and bodybuilder, but nowhere in there was the big drummer. The only character harder to make than Tupac Shakur is Notorious B.I.G. And trying to recreate The Blues Brothers? Forget it.

The truth is that our media -- and video games in particular -- rely heavily on stereotypes for all of their characters. Maybe it's to make them familiar and recognizable, or maybe it's a lack of creativity. The excuse is often that it's supposed to be fantasy, but I fantasize about myself being a drummer, not something that looks like Steven Tyler.

In their defense, could you imagine making character customization that allowed for every type of facial structure, hair style, and accent in existance? It's not going to happen. The fact that we have black people and British accents is a already a large step towards customization -- integrating every nuance of facial structure, accent, and vocabulary would be a game in and of itself. If a game takes itself so seriously on character customization, how much time did they spend on the rest of it?

The problem with thinking like this is that the same applies for every single minority, as she herself even mentions on the first page, offhandedly "what if the player is female". So every character in every game is a racial stereotype, who cares? I don't pick up an avatar game expecting to find a character looking like me, that's selfish. The sheer costs alone to trying to create a system that would all-encompass every person on earth would be somewhere near the budget of a motion picture no doubt. And when you start playing less popular games, developers have even less money to spend; being politically correct should be their last concern. Just make a good game so I get my money's worth, that's all I ask. Not "what if the player is a troglodite".

And how come nobody is mentioning Cole?!?!?! It's the Cole train, baby!

Great article. I heard Russel Peters, Canadian comedian, do a similar joke. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sshAhLPuV_I this makes me laugh every time I see it, and its so true!!

Just on the note of character creation.. it's nothing to do with being black, brown, whatever - it's more that these character creation utilities are useless.

I'm about 6 feet tall, white, short brown hair, brown eyes with fairly large shoulders and a solid build. Perfect! You might say, every hero in every game must look exactly like you!

I have never, *never*, been able to get an in game character to look like me. Oh sure, I can pick ones that have the same basic features... but they never look anything like me. The closest I ever got was in fight night round 3, as the boxers all seemed to share my build. But still.. noone was going to look at it and go "Oh hey thats Spar!"

Now.. a friend of mine. Smaller build, darker skin (he's not black/brown, I'm just very white) with otherwise similar features. He can get damn near any custom character to look like him easily. In fact, *I* can get them to look like him.

So yeah... nothing really to do with being black/white/brown/whatever. You're certainly not alone in being unable to bring yourself out in a character.

Now stereotypes... thats another issue I don't have the time to talk on so much, though in general they annoy me, particularly female characters who can't keep thier clothes on.

In contrast, I'm also fat, like over 50% of the American population. Even for stereotypes that are typically heavy, I've seen very few obese characters. Even worse than the token black man, there's the token fat man -- his entire purpose for being is to be laughed at for his obesity.

Another quick note - I the reason for this is pretty simple. In general, people want to make a character that looks like them.. but cooler. And lets face it: there are few people who want to be fat. Some people might be ok with it, not be that bothered, but if you had a chance to drop all excess weight tomorrow, no strings attached, would you do it?

I personally used to weigh in at 107kgs. In the last 18 months I've dropped down to about 80kgs, so I know what I'm talking about in this regard - even if you're OK with your weight, you still don't WANT it. I guess there are those out there who don't agree with me, but remember things like character customisation have to be aimed at the majority of the target audience.

That said, the option should be there, but I can see why it would be pushed to the back of the developers lists of things to do.

Srtangely enough, I'm a white overweight guy, and the one game that allowed me to look like me, and yet, somehow still kinda cool...was...

Def Jam - Fight for New York.

Weird how a game which is mainly black people, and hanging off of rap culture,if the one to make a fat white guy feel like a hero.

I find a lot of sports games allow you to go black and make it irrelevant however, also another vote for HL2 for having black characters who could have been white, its not part of the story, there's no need for them to do anything 'black', they just are.

Same goes for the Unreal games, white, black, asian, Skaarj, robot, doesn't matter, still gonna take a rocket to the head!

Also, no-one mentioned TF2!

How about this , a black Demoman, and the stereotype is that he's a scottish alcoholic!

Brenda Brathwaite:
What if the Player is Black?

Have you ever felt game worlds might be just a little ... whitewashed? Brenda Brathwaite asks the question that all game developers should be asking themselves.

Read Full Article

True dat, true dat. I always feel that the games are extrremely dumb, because I know that no black person on God's green earth would ever do the things the tinted main characters do. Nor do they ever sound like black guys.

It was good excpet for the whole "black guy with white hair, blarblarblar white people are the leaders etc"

I've not seen one video game character properly represent me in a video game, and I'm as white as they come.

Stereotypes come about for a reason, so giving a black protaginist corn rows is because they are a part of black culture, and henceforth have become stereotypes.

But really, who cares? I don't mind when someone calls a hypothetical "she" instead of "he", I don't care if a main character is black or white (I don't feel left out if their black), so why should anyone.

By constantly pointing out the problems of being underrepesented in media and pop culture, your just perpetuating the problem. Move on, chill out and get over it. Same for women. Just relax, not every action is pro/anti feminist or minority, sometimes it's just a video game character.

As opposed to every asain being a ninja ala Ninja Gaiden, every white guy being a super criminal ala GTA 3, Vice City, Saints Row, every white guy being super human ala Oblivion, or every bear being a antropmorphic adventurer with a samrt bird side kick ala Banjo Kazooie

Really, think about it...

Director Nwabudike Morgan of Morgan Industries.

From the game Alpha Centauri by Firaxis Games. It is basicly Civilication in space.


What I want to know is where are the South Asians and real Persians?

I always thought that Barret in FFVII was trying to be Mr T, but there you go :)
It's a bit daft to criticise characters like Cole, TJ Combo or Eddie Gordo for being 'quick to use violence' considering the games they're in. All the fighters in a fighting game tend to, er, fight a lot, that's sort of the point.
Interesting that RE5 didn't come up here, plenty of black folk there even if most of them are killer zombies, but Shiva is a playable character. Yes, she's a badass black woman, but again that's sort of necessary if you don't fancy being Zombie Chow (hey, even cute little Rebecca went Rambo as soon as she got her own game).
As always, if you want to see prejudice, you'll find it. Avatar customisation is still coming on in leaps and bounds, and there's also face-capturing (eg Facebreaker) coming in which should help. Likewise, digital voice manipulation/generation should have an impact within the next few years.

Even though he has cornrows, I'd have to say Garth from Fable II somewhat breaks the stereotype. He is very calm, wise, and powerful yet responsible. Next to Theresa, I'd say he's the most intelligent and knowledgeable character in Fable II. Though Fable II can shove it on character creation, as you're forced to be white. It sorta makes sense I guess what with the whole Old-England thing going, but still.

Brenda, why aren't there any black characters in games?

Um, Alyx Vance? The main character (not counting the silent protagonist) of Half-Life 2? Half-black, half-Asian? In a game where the bad guys are all white (or robots, or alien monsters) and the good guys are multi-ethnic? Game of the Year in 2004? No, you must have missed that one.

Want a game with strong black characters? Go with the Elder Scrolls series, particularly the spin-off TES Adventures: Redguard (which happens to feature a black arch-mage, to answer "where are the great and powerful black wizards?" question), whose protagonist, besides helping to force the continent-spanning empire into an armistice with his home nation, manages to trick a god that pretty much specialises in mind-screwingly complex lies and tricks. However, the only thing black about them is skin colour, since the culture is more like a mix of age-of-sail Spain, ancient Carthage, and some general Arabic influence. On the plus side, it's one of only two races (the other being the Dunmer/Dark Elves) that was actually able to join the Empire on their own terms, rather than surrendering/being conquered. Their predecessors, the Yokudans, also managed some impressive feats, such as discovering a sword move that can split the atom.

In the Halflife 2 Mod Insurgency, you can customize your marine to be white black tan or anything in between. Does that count?

Oh, and what about Thunder or Whisper from Fable 2?

It is true though, there's no black hero's. Always white or asian.

PS: OH! Alyx Vance. Everyones darling.

Err, what about Captain Anderson from Mass Effect? He's black and also a good, strong man who fights for what's right. Cornrow and afro-free, too. He's got a military-style buzzcut.

Or Jolee Bindo from KotOR. He's an irritable old man but also one of the wisest characters with lots of insight, and has a good heart. He does what he believes is right, without bias towards good or evil. He's never really portrayed in a negative light just because of his skin color and has a touching and well-fleshed out backstory. Also, no cornrows or afro. He's bald.

Perhaps that's just BioWare and their fantastic characters, but good black characters do exist. There just aren't that many.

Even though he has cornrows, I'd have to say Garth from Fable II somewhat breaks the stereotype. He is very calm, wise, and powerful yet responsible. Next to Theresa, I'd say he's the most intelligent and knowledgeable character in Fable II. Though Fable II can shove it on character creation, as you're forced to be white. It sorta makes sense I guess what with the whole Old-England thing going, but still.

I'd also like to second Garth. He's a cool character that isn't stereotypical at all. And, Stringytank, he's from Samarkand(or however you spell it) in the east. They're reclusive or something so it makes sense that there aren't many fantasy-blacks in Albion. Admittedly, though, it would be pretty cool if you got to pick where you're from.

I sympathize with black gamers somewhat. Being female, it's difficult to find a character that isn't terribly stereotypical: buxom babes wearing juuuuust enough to clothe a baseball. Despite that, it honestly doesn't bother me that much. I can still appreciate a game and its characters if they are interesting and entertaining. While it isn't a bad thing to hope that, some day, there will be more black characters like the examples I mentioned, don't let it stop you from enjoying games. Enjoy the characters for what they are, regardless of sex or race.

Is it possible at all ,going from the above comments, that black people in America have a more diverse "culture" than just aspiring to abject materialism?

For a game developer she doesn't seem to play an awful lot of games.

Technically you need to ignore all of the games that are not of American/African origin because all developers have for reference of blacks is from stereotypes in movies

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my American cousins, on having voted in a "black" President for the first time.

I have to admit to wondering about this whenever I get access to a character editor (Oblivion, Saints Row 1/2, Fallout 3). Although I'd like to point out in fairness I've never managed to recreate myself in my avatar.

However, I have felt 'the Guilt'. An irrational fear of creating a black/latino/etc avatar uncase it potrays me as racist for having said character (especially for Saint's Row given the possibly of 'You've got a ghetto character shooting stuff'). This, when I normally play single player only, and hence am never judged by it, heh.

I have noticed that the numbers of non-white characters has increased significantly in the last few years (for example, their are quite a few NPCs who are black, including the generics.

As said in the article, I suspect its mostly because most game developers are white and hence don't even think about skin tone and racial features.

EDIT: As for black/non-white character, Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx from Half Life 2 spring to mind for me. Smart guy, alittle world wery (he's an old man in HL2 in a post apocalypse-type world) and his daughter seems to be of mixed race.

Neither have corn rows - Eli goes with a sensable short cut, Alyx with ...well, shortish hair. Neither are 'from da hood'

Funny, I never felt that guilt at all, it's fiction, so anything goes...

Plus Saints Row makes you "choose your own ethnicity" and lets you customise it up to the degree ot caricature (it's easy to make a black character who looks like a Stormfront caricature, I spent half an hour tinkering with the options before deciding for an 'average joe' latino character who'll probably get a faceswitch as soon as I'm rich enough).


You forgot Sean from SFIII, who's clearly black, while Brazilian as well.

Yeah, there's a lot of doubt about actual ethnicities of many characters, especially Urien, he's been under debate on this since forever.

Potemkin is from a fictional country in an unsepcified location, so all bets are off in his case.

How the hell could I forget Sean though?
Lucky was from before I started playing KoF. I played Fatal Fury for way too long.

I'm still waiting for a Dutch character... As in anywhere. We've been taking top honours in various martial arts the last couple of decades, but it's reflected absolutely nowhere.

The Dutch stages in the various KoF's and CvS are hilarious though. Kinderdijk!

Isn't Barret more than a hotheaded muscular black guy? From what I recall he showed a lot of emotion and care for his family as well, even though he wasn't maybe the most politically correct character he was not the least either.

It's a bit iffy here. But the fact he has huge lips, is the burly character type and fights with a cannon for an arm is more telling than his family side, which even then is entrenched in the 'looking out for you and yours' motif that's also often associated with black characters.

Why do i feel like the oldest person on this forum but isnt the wizard from daiblo black.

The all powerful deamon crushing do-gooder wizard.

I mean sure all he says in the game is "your death will be avenge" to the dead villager when you get the butcher quest but even that dosent sound stereotypical.

Also thinking about blizzard isnt Duran?? in starcraft broodwars black to. And he seems pretty smart and manipulative.

Also fallout 3 rocks because of the awesome character custermisation (cough*spelling*cough) and totally equallity of cast members.

I'm quite astonished that no-one has yet mentioned Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, but then again it's a testament on how few actually played it.

I didn't see Jade as black in fact, more of Arabic descend...

The better question is why do people play Roleplaying games and try to ROLEPLAY AS THEMSELVES.

Maybe you don't want to be the black bimbo in Gauntlet Legends but man that character had the sweetest special attacks. People trying to Roleplay themselves do not understand RPG games to begin with. Come on, get some imagination. Sorry there isn't the proper color of your skin in every single video game when your skin tone comes in 64 different shades. Guess what? Neither is my hair color or style but I just grab some brown hair in Tiger Woods PGA Tour and I'm good then again, I don't design characters to look at myself, I make big fat characters in shorts that way I and giggle and laugh as the game tries to render the swings of my clubs.

The funny thing is this article has got it backwards to begin with. Black characters have afro and corn rows in games not because white developers think that's what black people look like but because that's what WHITE PEOPLE want to play when they play black characters. Why the hell would I be a Black Guy in a business suit with a nice modest hair cut when I can have a giant gold necklace and a an afro to swam dunk thoses baskets?

This article doesn't work for me due to the fact it depends on the game. Last time I checked, nobody has ever made a game called "AFRICA THE RPG", most RPG games play off on some mystery fantasy world with dragons and knights and white people. It's there fantasy game, if they don't want to put black people in it that's not racist, it's their game. How come there are no handicap people in games huh? Why can't the main hero in Typically RPG 4 be some guy with some crutches? Why can't I be blind and look at a black screen and play the game using just sound? You want games with 64 tones of black characters in them, make a game where it applies but don't cry about "Mystical Fantasy World" not having every shade of color so you can make a character look like YOURSELF.

The only reason white people can make game characters look like themselves is because if you make ONE white character and give him brow/black/blonde and red hair colors you capture the look of 99% of white people. It's nobodies fault that white people are easy to incorporate into games.

What about Raven from Tekken-series? He is an exception I think. A black ninja. Say what yuou will about Namco and Tekken-series, but they at least think out of the box in this perspective. Usually ninjas have been from Japan (which is completely logical, I won't argue) or some caucasian male who has been studying the arts (which I do not argue either). Not that I know anything about Raven, but he doesn't seem like a typical hip-hop guy. But yes, he does look like a blonde blade. Never mind that, he is not a stero typical kick boxer.

I don't see why blacks/african americans always have got to be portrayed as hiphoppers, alwyas getting to be the "witty, cool people" though. I think Ben Croshaw had a point when he talked about "Call of duty 4" and "Silent hill - Homecoming" when the black people were just as annoying as one would expect them, judging from his (Croshaw's) comments, that is.

Other than that, I can agree to the article and it was great.

Garth is indeed a good example of a black wisened wizard. Ultimately though he's an exception to the rule that most black character's are portrayed as stereotypical thugs and/or unintelligent.
Also it's a bit ridiculous they always have a token black guy sidekick to give a game an illusion of diversity.

Developers might not consciously cater to a specific race, but subconsciously when the society they live in is predominately their own race they will cater to people of their own race. Maybe it's a telltale sign that there isn't enough diversity in development teams when they resort to stereotypes.

Imagine if all Irish-American people were portrayed as drunken, fighting fools throwing up into their pot of gold. That's pretty much what we're dealing with here

But in videogames they are... Case in point: GTA IV

But lets go beyond black - my good friend is Russian, and the ONLY game where he's considered himself a hero is GTA IV. In most games (and movies, and comics and books) the Russian is someone to be shot at, if not the guy who will turn on you.

Not to mention the way French people are portrayed in ALL Western Media. And what about the Japanese? Chinese? Indians?

I could go on and on.

I'm quite astonished that no-one has yet mentioned Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, but then again it's a testament on how few actually played it.

Firstly, Jade is not black. Secondly, she's not exactly human either... So unless you're talking about racism against aliens, I don't know what you're talking about.

However, if you're talking about stereotypes, Jade most definitely does NOT conform. For this reason (and several others) BG&E is one of my favourite games *ever*.

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