September 16, 2021

Xbox One X

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The state of blackness in games

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Seeing a black person in a game is still a strange experience more often than not. For the longest time, black characters seemed to fall precisely into two categories, scary and…funky. Both of these stereotypes are still very much alive, and yet I can also finally see some breakthroughs – games in which black people don’t fill a role, and instead get to be just people.

Your average scary black character is at first glance like so many other men in games. He’s buff, and he has a gun. What you need to take into account however, is how this stereotype has affected black men in real life: many people still readily draw the conclusion that a black man who looks a certain way is likely to have a history that includes a council house upbringing and a brush or two with the law. The ‘hood’, the American version of this, is the birthplace of many tragic gaming characters. You have a whole host of guys just trying to do better for themselves and falling in with the wrong sort of people in GTA: San Andreas. Marcus Holloway, the protagonist in Watch Dogs 2, only discovered his love for computers through a community program for members of low-income households. With the number of black men in games overall, telling such stories using black characters is a conscious choice, a way to justify using an established stereotype.

The same is true for black soldiers in games. Of course there are soldiers of several ethnicities and genders in games, because if there’s one power fantasy in games everyone will be able to fulfil, it’s being a soldier. The portrayals of black characters in these situations often lack nuance, however. Take Barrett Wallace from Final Fantasy 7. In stark contrast to every other character in the game, he is the angry, brash Mr. T lookalike. While he later redeems himself, from the way he is set up, it’s no wonder that Barrett is the one whose anger is severe enough to lead to extremism.

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