black portrayals in video games

Current African American Portrayals in Video Games

With the release of the Finn (Star Wars) skin in the Fortnite item shop and the announcement of the new Xbox Series X, I reflected again on African American portrayals in video games.  While I am still upset that Finn did not become the star Jedi in the newest trilogy, overall the Star Wars franchise has done a decent job of representation of black people with some notable characters being Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Finn, Saw Gerrera, and Cere Junda (Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order)

One of the reasons I started Blerd was because of the lack of representation in many of the games that I played growing up. We have come extremely far from that point, and it is not uncommon to see black characters in video games now in a non stereotypical manner.  Black video game characters have started to be as diverse in their storylines and personalities as the culture that they represent.  With the rapid growth of gaming, it is important to positively display black characters, as games are often an area that reinforce social and cultural identities. Here are some current popular black characters in gaming:

Popular Black Video Game Characters:

bangalore apex legends
lifeline apex legends
Bangalore and Lifeline from Apex Legends
nessa pokemon sword shield
Nessa from Pokemon Sword & Shield
lola afterparty
Lola from Afterparty
Leroy Smith from Tekken
Finn Star Wars Fortnite
Finn from Star Wars x Fortnite
Lucio from Overwatch
Lucio from Overwatch

For the list above, I choose to go with not only current black video game characters, but also unique characters that were not borrowed from another franchise or sports related.  While sports games such as Madden and 2K are blerd favorites, there is more to black gamers than just sports video games. 

One thing that you might also notice is that the first four characters are black women.  There are TONS of black female gamers and it is amazing to finally see representation in their likeness.  Black stereotypes in gaming are finally starting to break down with gaming publishers realizing that all black video game characters do not need to be men and/or also fall into the categories of  “scary or funky.”

Another thing that stuck out to me when playing the Finn skin in Fortnite in particular is that the character actually had a curl pattern in his hair!  At Blerdcon 2019, a big topic of discussion during one of the panels we attended is how developers usually fail to depict black hairstyles accurately.  It is refreshing to start to see fades, afro puffs, and locs become common in media and gaming, and not just motionless afros.  

Seeing a black person in a game is still a strange experience more often than not. For the longest time, black characters seemed to fall precisely into two categories, scary and…funky.

Malindy Hetfeld – Eurogamer

Black People in the Gaming Industry

Blackness is more than just a color, it’s a culture.  

Unchenna – NowThisNerd

As mentioned in one of the videos below, black representation in the gaming industry itself is necessary to continue to see improvements.  It is estimated that only 3 percent of game developers are African-American, a far stretch from the 11 percent of African-Americans that consider themselves gamers.  The recent success of the Watchmen series shows that if you include those of the culture in production, the end product will feel more authentic and come out better.  

Our Blerd audiences knows that while black gamers share some common interests, our group can be incredibly diverse and wants to see all of that color shown in gaming.  Stereotyping of a black target audience is part of the issue according to Dennis Mathews of Revelation Interactive Studios.  One initiative that is interesting is the Blacks in Gaming page on the Xbox website that highlights diversity in gaming and black game developers. 

“Blacks in gaming should not just be about developing positive characters, but also about what can be created by diversity in development.”

Derek Manns – Professor & Game Designer / Polygon

There are a ton of other perspectives about the current state of black video game characters.  What are your thoughts on this?  Please let us know in the comments.  Here are some other perspectives on black representation in gaming:

CEO & Founder // Blerds out about: Video Games, Tech, Anime & Sneakers // He has a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Social & Economic Justice from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

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