What a time to be a blerd! A black nerd, that is. Movies, TV shows, and comics have made huge leaps forward when it comes to diversity and representation, with the mammoth successes of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Ironheart getting her own comic series. But, video games? Well, that's a very different story...
The games industry is still standing right at the back of the queue when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. As it currently stands, black characters in video games are mainly relegated to the 'minor supporting character' tier and are over-reliant on outdated, one-dimensional stereotypes.
Just take a look at the opening scene of the first episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead, in which series protagonist Lee Everett, a black man, sits in the back of a police car with a white police officer driving. Yep, that should tell you a lot. At least his humility made me warm to him as the story-driven series progressed, though. Then there's Jax Briggs in the Mortal Kombat franchise, whose huge bulging biceps and loud demeanour are his primary defining traits.
What I really want to see is black female characters being promoted from supporting characters to leading ladies. There are heaps of potential for an original IP centring on a black female protagonist, one who is far beyond a walking, talking, pixelated stereotype.
With regards to black female characters in video games, we've had Jacqui Briggs in Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11, Marlene in Naughty Dog's masterpiece The Last of Us, and Nadine Ross in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. The latter two are both hardened characters who proved to be compelling, nuanced protagonists for the most part. But they were also both in dire need of more screen time. I think that in order to make a captivating black female character, she needs to have depth and vulnerability rather than just the very lazily written 'strong black woman' trait. We've got the upcoming Deathloop from Arkane Studios, the masterminds behind Dishonored 2, which shows a glimpse of promise with a black female protagonist, though she too appears to be another stone-cold killer.
Change from within
A character being representative of more diversity is a good thing. The people we play as need far more than just representation as a reason to exist, otherwise, it becomes tokenism. Fans like myself will not only pay close attention to characters, but also the people creating them. I have a hard time thinking of many black developers who are prominent and highly regarded within the industry today.
The industry needs to recognise the value of bringing on more black developers to bring that insight not only into the games and characters but the industry as a whole. These are people who've lived and breathed the experience and understand the complexities in order to tell these much-needed stories and portray black characters in a faithful and enthralling way. I just really hope that there's more implementation of black characters in video games who feel earnest and authentic. Hopefully, the doors will be flung open for developers to make their stories more inclusive and amplify black voices to the highest volume.