Lessons In Gaming: The Big Black Man And Woman

Lets get with thing straight right here. I am a white, middle class, early 20’s man. Take that, and this, for what it is. A brief look at the representation of people in video games. Don’t go to the comment section saying I have no right or some crap to talk about this because I’m not black. That’s just stupid! Now, on to the actual article. [Wil]

This article came to be from Kennie [Co-Chief Editor Of Torch] telling me that a game recently came out and it had a black female lead protagonist. For those interested, she was talking about “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.” (PSVita, 2012) She said it was the first game to have one. And I have to sort of agree. Yes, there have been black female characters in games but none of them carried a game by themselves. For her benefit, and for those of you who are interested, here is a look at black video game characters.

Typing ‘black video game characters‘ into Google gives a list of characters from many generations of gaming. It’s only 78 points long. Considering the list goes back to old arcade systems that pretty bad. One of the oldest on the list is Mike Tyson [Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!] on Nintendo Entertainment System. “Punch Out!” was a celebrity endorsement game, like “Shaq Fu” [1995] so I’m not really sure if it counts as breaking ground. Before we start batting bad words towards the game industry for lack of black characters we need to look the culture these games were made in.

We can all agree that most games are made in the US, right? The US had the most vocal black rights movements in the world in the mid 50’s to the late 60’s. This influenced many industries including film, television and literature. Video games where not invented at the point so it is safe to say that they where not affected. As a side note, while roaming the internet for research I saw that historians like Mary L. Dudziak (in her book “Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy” (2011)) arguing the point that some Communists at the time where critical of the United States, calling the government hypocritical, by portraying itself as the defacto “leader of the free world,” when so many of its citizens, specifically black people, were subjected to severe racial discrimination and violence at the time. Just thought that was an interesting point. They can sort of claim it now but with accusations that get batted towards Obama, like the ‘you’re not born in the US’ (It’s Hawaii. Even I’ve seen it!) puts it down a peg. Or is that just me being cynical? Before going to far off topic I will head to the time when video games were invented. More specifically to the 80’s.

The 80’s was a video game decade. (I didn’t say THE decade so no shouting at the back there!) It was when video games became a power house of the entertainment industry. (Again, not THE. It still isn’t so be quiet you.) It was the time of the 3rd and 4th generation of home consoles. If you don’t know what that means, the two generations include the Nintendo Entertainment System and it Super successor fighting the likes of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. It was also the decade that gave birth to the Game Boy. Considering that they went from 8-bit to 16-bit graphics it was sometimes had to tell who was a black character to and who wasn’t. Some times it was had to tell what was meant be human. Or if they were involved at all. Although, looking at who was a black character and who wasn’t, there where not many black characters. My opinion is that black culture had, not fallen out of favor, but fallen out of the populist view. The rights movement was two decades before and video games weren’t involved at all when it happened as they weren’t invented.

Compare that to the 90’s. While not must happened in the 90’s (that being that there where no major conflicts, the cold war was over, and the world was mostly content before all hell broke loose in the early 2000’s) one of the big cultural explosions was hip-hop. This being predominantly black, more so at the time then now. Even with this explosion of black culture, the US video game industry were found lacking in black characters. An example from the start, “Shaq Fu“, came out in ’95 but Shaquille O’Neal was an NBA superstar. You can compare that “Space Jam” and Michael Jordan that came out the year after. Not saying they are bad or that industry was being racist, but by this time race was a far smaller issue then it had ever been. There where black celebrities in the US for a reason. Black people had broken out in to world and where becoming more common in all areas of life in the US. For example, a stand out comic book character was Blade. AKA Wesley Snipes. Yes, racism was still there but not to the extent of what it had been. Sort of like now. And the industry wasn’t being racist. They where just making money off celebrity’s then making stand-alone games. Again, sort of like now.

Although, in my opinion, the Japanese beat the Americans to the punch. While the US was making celebrity games of black celebrities, the break out games from Japan had black characters you could play as. Potemkin in “Guilty Gear“[ 1998], Bruce Irvine in “Tekken 2” [1995],  Balrog in “Street Fighter II” [1991] to name a few. Yes Balrog was a rip-off of Mike Tyson but that’s not the point. Japan during the 90’s had a selection of black characters people could play as. All with stories and plots and all you need in a game.

In the 2000’s it all evened out. With the advent of the 6th generation of home consoles. (Playstation 2/Gamecube/XBox/Deamcast) black characters had become common place. Some being sub-lead characters (Alyx/Eli Vance “Half-Life 2“) some sharing the spotlight with others (Demoman “Team Fortress 2“) and some carrying a game by themselves, (Torque “The Suffreing 2“, Marcus Reed “True Crime 2: Streets of LA“). There even where games that can be called ‘black games’ (like ‘black films’ but games. Never heard of the term, look up Spike Lee) like “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” nearly all the cast was black, nearly because of a stand out James Woods, and the game was about 1980’s/90’s black gang culture in the US.

But let us refer back to the start of this long string of words.

This article came to be from Kennie [Co-Chief Editor Of Torch] telling me that a game recently came out and it had a black female lead protagonist.

So let us move to the female of the sexes. It follows what I have written to the letter but misses on a point. Until Aveline de Grandpré in “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation” there was never a leading, stand alone, black, female character. Black female characters are common, one of my earlier examples was Alyx Vance from “Half-Life 2” and there have been black female fighters in Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Dead or Alive [Although the last series can be swept under the carpet for other reasons.]

While the game industry has been using black characters more often and is using female characters more to, both as leads, they have never been combined. With the combination of black and female in Aveline de Grandpré the industry might be breaking new ground. Ground that was due to be broken but it is new ground none the less.

Do you like what you've just read? Please share us with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.