Just as in other forms of media, race has frequently been a controversial topic in video games, attracting criticism for faults ranging from racial stereotyping to casts consisting solely of white characters. However, while there are still plenty of problematic and exploitative examples, there are a few gems of recent years that have featured well-written and well-designed black characters. In honour of Black History month, I thought it would be worth sharing some of my person favourites out of a range of incredible black characters in recent video gaming.
Voiced by the universally cool Keith David, Captain David Anderson is without a doubt one of my favourite characters of the Mass Effect series. Aside from his on-paper achievements marking him as one of humanity’s greatest soldiers – perhaps having achieved more in his years than the protagonist, Shepard – Captain Anderson leads with charisma and a determined ferocity that makes him impossible to dislike.
Telltale Games delivers an emotional experience in the form of Lee Everett, the lead of The Walking Dead: Season One. Flawlessly voice-acted by Dave Fennoy, Lee Everett is easily likeable for his level-headedness and fiercely protective bond with his adoptive daughter, Clementine. He makes the hard choices when they matter, and his struggles throughout the game are extremely relatable, making him place highly in my list of well-written characters.
Now fighting games are hardly renowned for their well-written characters, but Street Fighter 4’s Dudley has a certain charm that I find hard to resist. Combining comically-overdone ‘English politeness’, a boxer’s physique, and a Freddie Mercury-esque look, Dudley is charismatic enough to make him stand out from among the other characters of the line-up, and gives a refreshing take on black characters in fighting games.
There are a multitude of questionable character design choices in the Suda51-directed No More Heroes and its sequel Desperate Struggle, but Scarlet Jacobs – better known as Shinobu – is one of the better ones. As a playable character in Desperate Struggle, she’s not only more complex than the protagonist Travis Touchdown, but is undeniably more kick-ass and stylish, making her a joy to play as, even if only for two levels.
Of course, none of this is to say that black characters are given anywhere near the amount of representation and recognition they deserve: one of the biggest issues in the video game industry continues to be an utter lack of black protagonists. Video games are becoming more representative, yes – but they’re a long way from doing a half-decent job of it. So the characters above stand not just a testament to what has been achieved, but what can and should be achieved in the future. Hopefully, with enough encouragement, game developers will support working towards this achievement.
Featured image from Tumblr.