10 Ways Video Game Developers Can Better Represent Black People
They gave us representation, but we can freak it.
I’ve been playing video games since 1999 and there’s many of my friends and Black people in general who have the same exposure to video games and have seen a lot of change in our 20 something years of living. We’re doing well so far in terms of visibility, but we can afford to make larger leaps. The following is a list of ways developers, writers, and the like can build upon Black representation.
1. Different kinds of Black people.
I’ve seen a Black Japanese person in Yakuza and it made me wonder where the French Black people are or the Hispanic Black people, and all of that. Then it made me also wonder, where are the LGBTQ+ Black people? We have such a diverse community, but a large part of Black representation only focuses on people being solely Black. I wish that identities included more. We learn so much from video games that it could help people better understand those different from them or even cultural exchange between different Black people.
2. Varying archetypes.
Hood folk exist. Sassy Black women exist. Even if it’s our cliché in media, I don’t feel like there should be less of these presentations. Alternatively, I think it’d be more beneficial to show more Black people being softer, gentler, shy, insecure, etc. We have more to our personalities than just outer toughness.
3. More than one Black person.
In my honest opinion, it’s a stretch that fantasy worlds or even fictional versions of our real world always have a token Black person living in areas with not one other Black person. Sounds bitter, but due to the more realistic and cynical settings of life, I find it hard to believe that a Black person wouldn’t venture out to find another so that they can feel safe in unknown territories or areas where they’re 1% of the population. Solidarity has been a method of inadvertent survival, so I think this is important even if such worlds never portray racism or discrimination.
4. Different types of hair.
There are different types of afros than spherical 4C hair. If “4C” threw you for a loop, that’s also evidence enough that there need to be more Black hair types in video games. I have an afro myself. It’s not a perfect circle. I don’t have fro sideburns. I do afro puffs, a unicorn puff, part my afro to the side, Bantu knot my hair, and do hairstyles that probably don’t have a name. People put their dreads in buns. Some people have Sephiroth length dreads. Where’s the edge-ups? Where’s the flat tops? Box braids? It’s suffering seeing the same damn shapeless fro, short dreads, cornrows, or short haircut. It keeps me up at night. Sims 4 mods for Black people do everything I wish developers had.
5. More dialects.
I’d love to see a Black person with a Southern accent or sound like they don’t have their customer service voice on the whole game, but that code-switch voice lock setting is probably because we need Number 3 to happen first. Proper is great, but characters, as well as Black people in general, shouldn’t have to perform all the time just to be accepted.
6. A better understanding of skin coloration.
It’s bothersome when video games like Monster Hunter World have such diverse skin color options, accompanied with different test lighting in the character creator, just for the skin color to somehow be off when you’re actually walking around in the game. It’s happened to me more than once in more than just that game where I try to make my character a medium brown with a neutral undertone and they come out lighter or darker than what I anticipated. It’s even worse when changing those settings on the characters isn’t free. It’d also help immensely if lip color was our typical same-color-as-face or darker to pink.
7. Variety of names.
Laquisha. Keshawn. Marquis. Aaliyah. Where are they?
8. More body types.
Another cliché is having Black people be tall, muscular, and/or curvy. It’s great, I’m here for it always and whenever, but more representation means having some variety. Not everybody has the six-pack or a donk, and that’s okay.
9. More interactions between Black people.
Again, this could be done if Number 3 is achieved. I keep drawing blanks and having to fall back on GTA for games that satisfy this condition and so we could obviously do more. And I’d love for it to extend past just having a Black family in a game; that’s the easiest way to do it. I want to see strangers dap each other or say, “What’s up, Big Dawg,” or a “Hey, gorgeous!” I love seeing that kind of interaction and I’m sure other Black people like to see that as well.
10. Include Black writers, voice actors, etcetera.
I didn’t number these by any criteria of importance, but I do believe that one of the best ways to achieve everything on this list is to employ more Black people. Have more Black voice actors and writers to work together to create better, more believable characters. Including Black people also ensures that whatever attempts at inclusion don’t accidentally roll over into some offensive territory. And don’t stop at one or two; this ensures that there’s a lot more discourse going into the decision making and Black people from different backgrounds can collaborate to make sure accents are on point, situations are realistic, and that there’s diversity within the diversity of including Black people in the cast of characters.
There’s been so many video game characters in the past five years that have made my heart so happy. In 2018, Black people have so much more representation than we’ve ever had. We have Twintelle from ARMS (I know people don’t play it, but hell, it’s still something)! We have Marina from Splatoon 2! We are thriving! Even so, I don’t want that kind of progress to stop because the world is changing: the media should also reflect that change. When one community receives, so do others. It makes the world more beautiful, and it makes our experiences richer. We should always strive for that.