Author: Devon Anderson
Video games are a mirror to the soul, and how you play says a lot about who you are. Some play to escape reality. Some play for the competition. But the best part about video games is to see yourself doing amazing things that you could never do in real life. Growing up, I loved video games, but as a black man, I was missing a crucial part of the experience that others had: Seeing yourself. There were some wild and crazy characters, but none of them looked like me. So how important is representation? My name is Devon, and today I’m going to be talking about representation in video games, and how games have become more diverse over the years.
When I was about 8 years old, I got my very first game: Mario Kart 64. With a cast of 8 characters, 5 were white, and 3 were animals. I identified with Toad cause he was small, fast, and annoying, just like me. Back in these days, representation wasn’t much of a factor, since the simplistic graphic couldn’t represent anyone accurately. Italian plumbers jumped for joy, but beyond that, nobody saw themselves.
Later on, the PS2 came out, the newer technology opened the door for a ton of other favorites. Mortal Kombat (which had no black characters in the original game), Kingdom Hearts (two amazing games, but not a single black character in either), GTA and racing games (which opened the door for black representation, but only as thugs and gangbangers) and sports games (most NBA and NFL athletes were black, but it only seeing black people in these games gave off the message that black people were only cool if they were an athlete or a rapper).
Eventually, games developed that gave us the option to create characters. It was a start, but wasn’t quite there yet. Take Skyrim for instance. Even in the world of swords and sorcerers, where you can spend an hour just creating your character… There are 3 different types of white characters, 3 different types of ELF, but only one option for black people.
When I started creating characters, often times I wouldn’t create black characters. It never crossed my mind that a black person could or should be the main character in video games. I would create fictional characters that were either white or some type of fantasy creature. Why?Games didn’t give much thought to black people being characters either. There were usually dozens, sometimes hundreds of skin tone choices. As a black person, I had 1 or 2 skin colors, with 1 hairstyle (if I was lucky). Eventually, I migrated to sports games, because there were plenty of people that look like me in the NBA. Go figure.
Thankfully, by the time the PS4 came out, video game fans and creators began to notice this trend, and decided to advocate for more diversity in games. Games began to feature more black people, and in more prominent roles. They also began to have more options for black people in character creation. It wasn’t perfect but it was getting there. For the most part, I wasn’t into the gritty, violent, shooter games, so I wasn’t really seeing black characters unless I was creating them. That is until…
In 2016, Blizzard created a game called Overwatch, a game that not only features diversity, but yells from the mountain tops how diverse and amazing our world is.
The game is a team-based, FPS game where teams of 6 work together to capture an objective.
This game diversity in every way you can imagine it. With a cast of 27 characters, over 22 different countries are represented, included England, China, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and others. Where most games have one or two token females, this game has 13: literally half the cast is made of powerful, diverse, and non-sexualized female characters.
There are so many cool and unique characters, but the most important one was… me.
Meet Lucio. He’s an Afro-Brazilian Freedom fighting-roller skating-hockey playing-social activist/DJ. How cool is that?
When I first heard about this game, I thought it was cool. It was just another hot game that everyone was talking about. But when I saw Lucio, my whole world changed. For the first time, I truly saw myself in a character. That was a feeling unlike any other, because up until that point, I hadn’t experienced that. I didn’t realize how important what was until I saw him.
Lucio is a DJ: I’m a musician. Lucio loves sports: he loves hockey, I love basketball. Lucio has an upbeat, always positive attitude, something I identified myself by my entire life. Lucio is the same height, the same weight, and most importantly, the same skin color as me. I really felt like I was looking in a mirror. I bought the game immediately, and I never looked back since.
This is why representation is important. When little black boys and little black girls around the world see themselves in media the way I saw myself in Lucio, it sends them the message that, “You are important. You matter. You can be anything you want, do anything you want, and go anywhere you want.” If you’ve always had your race represented in games, it’s easy to take it for granted. There’s even been outrage on the internet wondering why representation is being “forced into gaming.” Of course, all this diversity benefits minorities. Having your face and your race represented after years of feeling like an outsider is amazing. But it doesn’t just benefit minorities, it benefits everyone. Think about this: what happens when a person that plays video games only sees one race represented in their favorite medium? It gives them a warped view of the world. It makes anyone that doesn’t match their picture of the world an outsider, a foreigner, and make us less tolerant as people. When the diversity in games matches the diversity in the world, it gives kids growing up a better picture of how the world really is. It makes more tolerant, well-rounded kids, which makes tolerant adults, which makes the world a much better place.
Think about this: How awesome is it when you get to see yourself run, jump, kick, punch, and defeat the biggest bosses the world as ever seen? What if you never got the chance to do that? That… is how important representation is.