Prime, in honor of Black History Month, gives a rundown of black characters in video games and highlights how he thinks the gaming industry can do better.
Now, as a black gamer, I don’t want to single myself out in saying that creative black characters should entirely cater to representing me in whatever fashion. Nor do I exclusively desire to experience the personage of the black-American. What’s even more imperative is the element of portrayal, seen through the eyes and respective thought processes of all gamers. This unfortunately, is most commonly based on worldwide mainstream media and/or simple unfamiliarity. It’s no secret that the game industry–in the Western hemisphere–is mostly populated by white males, be they designers, artists, programmers, public relations executives, etc. Fairly and honestly, those in creative positions will more than not, imagine and implement characters in their likeness. The same can be said in the Eastern world of development, though what they are more successful at in doing is designing the white male character, and they do it often.
Ok, one point. Being a software developer and sometime gamedev, I think I can safely assert that we are generally very careful to make characters that aren’t like us, because the general public would find that pretty boring. We want characters that are stronger, faster, better looking, braver and sexier than us. (I’m speaking in general here, most gamedevs don’t have my fabulous sexy red hair.)
But there are lots of black people in America on the street and in the movies. So maybe folks could look around a bit more. Consider Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies. Prime mentions Will Smith in I am Legend. Queen Latifah is one of my favorites for black women, in Chicago and Taxi, they both used stereotypes and went beyond them. Any part that Samuel L. Jackson plays is both authentically black and way off the “black rails”.
Lets look at EQ2. Skin tone can be chosen for many of the races, so you can play a black human or dwarf. The only black that elves seem to come in is the blue-black of a Tier’dal. I can’t specifically recall if you can be a black barbarian (it doesn’t seem very nordic, does it?) or a black gnome. Hmm, the gnome thing should be fixed, because gnomishness is really a state of mind now, isn’t it?
There aren’t any black hobbits. There weren’t any in Tolkien either. Genetically speaking, there’s no real reason for there not to be, but you’d have to find hobbits that had lived in a very warm climate for a long period of time. Erudite, at least in EQ1, were ALL black. There was this whole city of them, devoted to intellectual and scholarly pursuits. Not bad. Though Erudite culture is kind of weakly portrayed in the game as it stands today. If you never go into their ghettovillage, you might not know they exist. As opposed to Frogloks. Gnomes apparently suck up all the geek cred, leaving little room for the Erudite, who seem paler than they were in EQ1.
When I stop to think about memorable NPC’s in-game, I realized that beyond Lucan D’Lere and Antonia Bayle, the most memorable NPC’s are dragons. The whole black/white thing works in a very different way with dragons. Most of the other memorable NPC’s are the evil boss of some dungeon. Varsoon, for example, or Mayong Mistmoore, I remember them, but mostly I remember that they wanted to kill me. I’m afraid I can’t remember what species they were beyond humanoid. Varsoon is a lich, was he human once? Probably.
The other kind of NPC is the quest giver. None of them spring to mind as being black, but that could just be my memory. I find it actually kind of odd how I can not notice certain that certain people are black. The other day I bought some books at Borders, and got most of the way through the transaction when I realized the man checking me out was, in fact, black. He was a “Bill Cosby” kind of black man, though not as funny. By that I mean he wasn’t shaved or threatening. He was middle-aged, and wore glasses. Really, just an ordinary American. AND he was black. The not-noticing thing bothers middle-class blacks, it makes them feel invisible. So I’m making an effort to notice.
Have you noticed any black quest-givers in game?