Happy Thursday! This post is delayed because I had submitted it to another blog for their Black History posts. They never used it or communicated anything else with me so I politely wrote them back and declined my interest telling them to not use my article. Now (after February smh) I will post the 3 part series over the next 3 weeks.
Reflecting back to a time where video games were beginning to focus heavily on a story mode and adding characters that the gamer cares about, there was something missing for gamers of color. We loved playing as Sora in Kingdom Hearts, teaming up with our brother Luigi to fix a problem in the Mushroom Kingdom and even helping Leon to unmasked the horrors inside of Raccoon City. These are awesome games and the characters will always be role models to gamers across the world, but where was the role model for a kid of color? A dark skinned, hero that would save the day and possessed the values of truth, honor and humility? In honor of Black History Month, we will take a look at the Evolution of Gaming and how a once dominated field is becoming more diverse. Power up Players for the Evolution of Black Characters in Gaming!
Before we get too far into this post, I want to say that I am aware of how controversial diversity and inclusion can be. My goal is to shine light on how far we have come in video games and not to whine, complain or force my views on anyone. As bloggers we have opinions that we share daily and while this one isn’t as light as I normally like to be, there’s real value in speaking out for the causes that you believe in. What you will be reading is a well-researched, honest review of just how far the gaming industry has come. Today’s post will talk about early gaming (from my experience) in the early 90s and each week I will post another era of gaming.
When we take a look at my early years in gaming, Fighting games were one of the more predominant genres. On Super Nintendo Street Fighter II was my very first experience with fighting games. Looking to identify, I would always select a female character and Chun-Li was my absolute favorite. I noticed from an early age that finding a character that’s more closely associated with my race (and even gender) wasn’t something in popular demand. I will say, that the character of Balrog (English name) was a step in the right direction for having more diversity and inclusion. Balrog is an American Boxer who is modeled off of Mike Tyson. His features were exaggerated and his I.Q and back story fit into a stereotype that I was not fond of. Balrog was a highschool dropout, mean, intimidating and an obsessive rule breaker. He was the brawn and for a time, many “Balrog” character types would flood the market in the 90s.
T.J. Combo from Killer Instinct is another example of a character taking on an ‘stereotypical’ role for a character of color. T.J. appeared in the inaugural Killer Instinct game in 1994 and progressed as a person in the storyline. T.J. is not a morally “good guy” but he is far from Balrog. T.J. has similar traits like being an American Boxer and being super pumped ,but he takes a different turn. TJ starts as an arrogant, fighter desperately reaching for fame and glory at any costs. He loses his way and reaches rock bottom before realizing that he needed to make a change. Now TJ fights to save the world and save his corrupted soul.
His moral compass doesn’t always point north, but TJ is trying his best to atone for his past mistakes the only way he knows how: Punching things. Hard.
— TJ’s story mode description
T.J’s portrayal is satisfying and we are starting to get away from the earlier stereotypes of the 90s. At least we are starting to.
We meet a character named Marvin Branagh in Resident Evil II when he is bloody and on his last life. The police officer was attacked by the zombies in Raccoon City and Marvin is one of the people that you will encounter as you play through as Leon. What I love about this instance is that Marvin, even though he plays a small role, plays a vital role in the Resident Evil storyline. Marvin is the source of information that sets the story in motion for Leon. He exhibits traits of a hero by being a police officer and he also displays nobility by providing Leon with a ID keycard to save the survivors. Marvin, even though you can skip this scene, is portrayed brilliantly in his final minutes and he is given the respect he deserves…. Until you have to kill him, what did you expect? He was bit lol.
The evolution of minority characters in gaming received a major lift when Mortal Kombat made a great, heroic character named Jax. Major Jackson Briggs has been appearing in MK canon as early as Mortal Kombat II and he is a staple of the franchise. Jax is a United States Special Forces agent and the superior to Lieutenant Sonya Blade. Jax adorns bionic, metal arms that makes him a tough opponent in a brawl and coupled with his Special Forces training, he is a worthy opponent for anyone. His own spin off as the main protagonist.
The early years of gaming has its flaws, but there’s also something good that can born in the ashes. Someone has to be a villain and someone has to be a hero. Can you blame the developers for catering to a specific demographic and playing into the stereotypical roles of that generation? In modern gaming, we see larger strides for diversity and inclusion for all races and that’s something to be proud of. For the first time, we have African American headliners like in the game Crackdown and 50 Cents Blood on the Sand, but we also now have another controversial issue to look at: The language and portrayal of the characters. Yes ,we are no longer hidden behind low IQs and a poor upbringing, but now we are loud, proud and sometimes a little foul-mouthed. Tune in next week where I talk about modern video game characters having an impact.