Another black gaming lead – does race matter?

There’s been a few notable games which have featured black characters, much like the token black guy meme in movies, video games have been no strangers to having black sidekicks. Yet, when it comes to the lead role, black gaming lead  characters have somewhat been overshadowed by their Caucasian counterparts – much the same in the superhero business, although there are exceptions.

We can cast our minds back to characters such as CJ in GTA San Andreas, even go back to D’arci in Urban Chaos or more recently SGT James Heller in Prototype 2; but does colour of skin really have much of an impact in today’s gaming market? From a gaming perspective it shouldn’t make much difference although when it comes to actual marketing, there are potential pitfalls.  Caucasian characters seem to be most widely accepted or those with a Japanese appearance, largely due to those who are at the helm of creating the games in the first place.  It appears that although career wise there are a number of black people working in the games industry they are not as prevalent as their Caucasian counterparts. Rather than go into the social reasoning behind this as a digression, the fact remains that having a black lead is a rarity – possibly as a result –  and when we do see one, they often fit a typical stereotype which doesn’t always bode well – light-hearted or otherwise – Augustus “Coletrain” Cole from Gears of War springs to mind.

Moving forwards and it seems Capcom are looking to present another black female lead for their latest game Remember Me, which wouldn’t be the first time as Resident Evil 5 offered the choice to play as Sheva Alomar or the very typically American Chris Redfield. Are Capcom being diverse here or potentially taking some risk especially when people still have comments such as:

“the reason i won’t buy this game, is because i don’t wanne play with a ugly black chick all the time, no offence.” – a Youtube user comment.

With comments like this being quite frank or whether its true or not, it’s likely to be reflective of some members of the gaming community whether they say it aloud or not. Most probably for the majority, the colour of the gaming character makes no difference at all where the reality is whether the game is any good or not has more bearing; but when some gamers are affected by the race of the main character it does raise questions as to whether developers play it safe by using a more conventional looking character for their products. In some ways race probably does matter in relation to the subject material as we’ve seen in games like Assassin’s Creed 3 which features a Native American as the lead – although Ubisoft skirted around the issue by making him mixed race. Would it have made much difference if Connor was all Native American?

The question one has to ask in the wider field is, if race isn’t an issue, then why are there so few ethnic minorities represented in video games? Perhaps it’s the word “minorities” that suggests a possible reason, and as mentioned, with those producing video games mostly being Caucasian it stands to reason. That said, with more games offering the chance for players to create their own lead characters means all bases are covered – although interestingly the games that do offer this choice don’t opt to market the game with a black lead – Mass Effect being one example.

Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.