Welcome to Black History Month 2023. We have come a long way in the video game industry when it comes to representation for Black and African-American characters. I’ve written several articles about this very topic in JRPGs. The article that’s gotten the most attention that I’ve written was about this particular subject: the portrayal and representation of Black characters in Squaresoft and SquareEnix games. I’ve even done a follow-up to that very article about how Barrett Wallace was redefined in the remake of Final Fantasy 7. That was over 5 years ago. Since then, there’s definitely been a push for better quality representation of Black and African American characters in video games. This is not specific to one region of the world. And if video games want to become more of a global commodity, there needs to be a higher standard for these characters.
Diversity isn’t a trend
Most recently notable Japanese game developer Yoshi P made some very clumsy and haphazard comments about diversity in his upcoming video game Final Fantasy XVI. This much anticipated title will be devoid of any diversity (Black people to be precise). Yoshi P was asked this question by IGN in a recent interview. His answer was very alarming and ignorant to say the least. I’ll spare you the long drawn out answer that he gave. It was a complete word salad to say that diversity was not on his priority list for this game. Needless to say, it got a lot of people talking about this topic. While Yoshi P is a beloved developer amongst his fans of Final Fantasy XIV, he isn’t above reproach when it comes to this topic. SquareEnix has made a conscious effort to make their games more palatable for a global audience. And it goes without saying that within that global audience, Black people exist. It would behoove him to be conscious of this when creating video games. This isn’t to say he needs to shoehorn in Black people at every chance for every project. But, some consideration would definitely go a long way. Yoshi P represents a small fraction of a bigger issue within Japanese gaming and video games as a whole. What’s more frustrating is that SquareEnix was developing a game with a black female lead around the same time as his upcoming entry into this Final Fantasy series. It was a missed opportunity to cross promote another project under the same company.
Though, Japan has some major issues when it comes to anti-blackness, America isn’t doing much better. There’s still a huge gap in representation for Black characters in video games. That’s both in the actual characters created and the people making the games. While Japan can use their population as a scapegoat for this critique, America has a huge population of Black people that live here. That excuse isn’t as viable here as it would be other places of the world. (It’s still a weak excuse for Japan as well if we’re honest.) There’s still a lot of work to make video gaming a more equitable place for everyone. I do want to acknowledge some wins that were gained in the last few years when it comes to Black characters in video games:
Miles Morales (Marvel’s Spiderman Miles Morales)
Miles Morales is one of the most celebrated characters of recent creation from Marvel Comics. Miles himself being a mixed race Afro-Latino, he represented a huge amount of people who are underrepresented in video gaming. His solo game debut garnered much praise for not only gameplay. graphics, and storytelling, but also how the character of Miles Morales was portrayed on screen. Miles felt like a very authentic representation of a Black Latino teenager living in New York. From the way he spoke how he dressed and demeanor felt very real to life. It was so real to life that a GameSpot reviewer said that him diving off of building had the “Exaggerated Swagger of a Black Teen.” Even small touches like his haircut and the fact that he wore Timberland boots spoke to the quality of the character itself. It seem like there was a lot of care put into the adaptation of this character for this video game. This is a shining example of how to translate a comic character into a video game. And also giving the character an authentic voice. This is one of the critiques that Forspoken has been getting in contrast. It was revealed that no black people were involved in the creation of the title character for Forspoken. It is a stark contrast to Miles Morales.
Kimberly Jackson (Street Fighter 6)
Capcom’s upcoming Street Fighter 6 features a brand new character Kimberly. She is an African-American teenage ninja girl. Capcom reported that they used consultants when creating the character. Kimberly is definitely a great representation of a Gen Z Black female teenager. More Japanese companies need to take notes from Capcom on how to produce a fully realized Black character that’s not a stereotype. Capcom has definitely over-indulge in racial and ethnic stereotypes in the previous entries in the series. This is a nice reset.
The Queendom of Solm (Fire Emblem Engage)
I recently finished my playthrough of Fire Emblem Engage. One of the sections of the game introduces you to the (very Black) royal family of Solm: Queen Seforia, Crown Princess Timerra, and Prince Fogado. I’m not sure what the inspiration was for the region of Solm, but I can theorize that it might be somewhere in Northern Africa. One thing I picked up on was that each of the characters were voiced by Black people (which I soon confirmed). Their delivery and cadence were a dead giveaway for me. I appreciate Nintendo going the extra mile to hire black voice actors to voice black characters in their games. this is one of the first times a Black character was in the forefront of one of their first party titles. They do a great job of bringing his characters to life and giving him a very authentic voice. I will also commend Intelligent Systems for creating these Black characters who weren’t stereotypical or rooted in racial prejudices. it showed me that Japan does actually care about this topic more than people would give them credit for.
A brighter future ahead
The video game industry has taken steps in the right direction for a more inclusive and diverse landscape. The indie space is doing the heavy lifting while bigger studios are still struggling. There’s still a need for more Black creators to be involved in the creative process of these titles. Also, game developers need to do a concerted effort to not reinforce and pathologize harmful racial stereotypes and biases. Hiring more black people in the video game industry will definitely help with this effort. But, I wanted to make sure that I highlighted the efforts that have been made and give people their flowers for a job well done. My hope is that next year around this time we can celebrate even more Black characters that were created with this same level of care and consideration.
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