Making Black Characters Should Not Be This Hard

Being a black gamer has always been an uphill struggle. The community itself is overwhelming white and male. Not only from the games themselves, but the talking heads who discuss the games, the people who make the games and people who consume them. In this community, being ‘other’ can often times pose a lot of challenges. One of those very challenges is representation. Being represented in the media you consume is powerful and transformative. Since this community is overwhelming white and male, finding representation for others is few and far between. Lead characters in most games are everything but Black. Finding games that feature a prominent Black character is not easy. For every one black lead character in a game, there’s at least 5 or 6 “white male protagonists.” In order to make the player feel like they can see themselves in these games, often times developers allow you to create your own character. This character will act as your avatar in this world. For minorities, specifically black people, this is only way we can see ourselves in these games. However, in current year 2022, the year of our Lord Barrett Wallace, we still can’t make characters that look like actual Black people.

A few days ago, I made the error in judgment and downloaded the demo for SquareEnix‘s new Live Service game Babylon’s Fall. I’m not much for creating my own character usually, but I decided to give the game a shot. I, like many other POCs who booted this game up and got to the Create-A-Character portion, found that not only were the hair options limited but the skin tones were misleading. The darkest shade of brown on the palette was not reflected on the character. It was almost like you were only able to character a fair skinned person with a mild Tuscan tan. What was even more bizarre is that your characters in the game had very deep dark skin. Still, the dark skin on that character did look ashy.

That leads us to quite possibly the biggest release of 2022: Elden Ring. The wildly popular Soulsbourne meta series newest installment has a very similar problem as Babylon’s Fall:

As you can see, Elden Ring is lacking greatly in the hair options. Seemingly the sixth entry in the series and we can’t get decent Black hair options. What could be the reason? Is it that Japanese developers don’t know how to render Black hairstyles? That can’t be it. I present exhibit A:

I would like to also add that Team Ninja also did a great job with lighting and texturing Black skin too. It looks luminous. It doesn’t look dry and ashy. Team Ninja has come a long way since Dead or Alive 2 from back in the day. And they are in fact a Japanese development team. We know that it can be done and has been done. What exactly is From Software‘s excuse?

To play 4Chan’s advocate, there’s a small population of Black people in Japan (Less than 1%). You could make a case that they don’t have much contact, interaction or experience with Black hair and features. It would be a very weak argument, but it is available. But what about places like the United States? Surely we here don’t have this issue…right?

One of the most notorious cases of this would be The Sims. A game where customizing your avatar is a huge part of the gameplay. However, the hairstyles and options are abysmal. It was so bad that a black creator by the name of Ebonix started creating her own custom hair content for Sims 4.

At this point there’s no real excuse to be used to justify the lack of options. It’s merely the developers apathetic effort towards being more inclusive in these games. It’s a choice. The technology and the know-how to implement them is available. People have already done the ground work for it. It’s up to the developers to hire more Black people in character design roles. Cosmetics is one of the most lucrative DLC types in gaming. People love to adorn their avatars with fun and inventive cosmetic options. These games would benefit from having more options, not just for Black gamers but gamers in general. But, to be clear, ethnic hairstyles and skin tones shouldn’t be an after thought or a means to syphon more money from the players. The default options need be more inclusive of Black and non-White hair and skin options. This isn’t a big ask at this point. It should be the standard.

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