By Shawn Reynolds
This year’s E3 might not have been as memorable as others, but for a particular group, this year’s conference was record-breaking. Microsoft, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo all featured games with a character of color.
Crackdown 3’s reveal trailer opened up with Terry Crews hyping up the audience about the new sci-fi action game, and when the gameplay was revealed, the protagonist was a black man. Not only that, but Terry Crews has been confirmed to be playable by Crackdown 3’s director, Garrett Wilson.
Ubisoft brought out Assassin’s Creed Origins set in Egypt and everyone from the protagonist to the street merchants are of a dark hue. I am so grateful we didn’t end up in a situation like Gods of Egypt. It has been pretty common for white people to whitewash the history of black people in Egypt, but Ubisoft didn’t adhere to that trend. Bayek is Origins‘ protagonist. He is a handsome brotha sporting eyeliner and a strong jaw. He is a Medjay warrior who has a strong opinion on retaining the culture of ancient Egypt in a period where the leaders are trying to progress the nation. His immovable stance causes conflict and somehow leads to the formation of the Assassin Brotherhood, the organization of assassins that the series revolves around. Bayek also has a pet eagle that acts as his eyes to scout out areas. I don’t have any experience with the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but I am highly interested in playing it because the main character is black, and it doesn’t hurt that the gameplay looks great.
Bayek wasn’t the only black character Ubisoft had to show. Considering Michel Ancel’s words last month, no one was expecting a trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2, but we got it. After a monkey runs a con on a pig that goes south he runs out and hops onto a hoverbike driven by a black woman with a twist-out. Her name is Shani and she looks excellent! Her time in the trailer is brief, but she gives off an energy of excitement and fun. I also have to touch on her hair again. It’s not often you see a black woman in a video game, with natural hair with an accurate looking texture. Nadine in Uncharted 4 was almost as good. Speaking of Uncharted…
Naughty Dog had a new trailer to show off of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. This standalone title starring Chloe and Nadine was announced at the tail end of 2016 but made a brief appearance during Sony’s press conference. The women are in search of an artifact called the Tusk of Ganesh. Thier mission leads them into a whole heap of mess as usual with the Uncharted franchise. The two seem not to get along all that well either. Nadine even hits Chloe with a full on left hook. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the first game in the series to feature a female protagonist and one of color as well. We had a very brief showing of the gameplay with Chloe walking through India, but it’s unknown at this point if she’ll be the only playable character or if she and Nadine will both be protagonists. Still, it is two women of color leading a western developed game. Chloe is half Indian and Australian while Nadine is Black. Black women are already extremely rare in games, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Indian woman leading one. Given this game is a standalone title for a home console and not DLC, I just wish Naughty Dog gave this title a proper number, instead of it feeling like a spinoff, but that’s minor.
In the Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus trailer when BJ is climbing an elevator shaft he is met with guns aimed at his face. One by a white man and the other a middle-aged black woman. On Bethesda’s blog page they list a woman named Grace alongside the resistance leader Horton, but it’s unclear if Grace is the woman we see in the trailer. This black woman is a member of a resistance group who aims to dismantle the Nazi regime that controls America in the game’s alternate timeline. I for one am impressed by our unnamed character’s design. They did a great job of conveying the look of a middle-aged woman black in the 60s. She also rocks an afro, and it doesn’t look like that clownish afro we often see in character creation modes. It has some kink to it. From the brief amount of time we see her, she seems to be hard-edge with a sense of humor. Although this is BJ’s story, I would love to play as Grace.
We do have a playable black woman in Dishonored: Death of an Outsider. Billie Lurk is a cybernetically enhanced magical assassin on a mission to kill a man known as the Outsider. She appeared in the “Knife of Dunwall” expansion pack for the first Dishonored, and due to popularity has been promoted to main character status for the upcoming Dishonored. Not much is known about her in this particular game, but she is badass.
Grace Armstrong from Far Cry 5 also looks badass. Just look at how well dressed she in this concept art:
She’s not playable, but Far Cry 5‘s has a character creator, so hopefully, you can create your own black man or woman with just as much swag as Grace Armstrong. However, given that Far Cry 5 is a first-person shooter, you won’t be seeing much of your created character.
Twintelle was revealed months ago, but she had a strong presence at this year’s E3. At the ARMS invitational tournament held by Nintendo, the champion dominated the competition with the curly haired movie star and then proceeded to lose to the game’s producer who also used said character. Japanese media often has brown characters that seem ambiguous and though Twintelle sports unrealistic white curly hair she has a presence about her that feels black. She is also curvy which is rarely seen on a black woman in video games. Curves are embraced in the black community and Twintelle is blessed with a little extra in the back and I find that neat to see in an industry where black people are hardly represented. Although Twintelle’s hair is unrealistic in this highly unrealistic world of ARMS, I find the use of her hair as a weapon fascinating. Black women are often shunned and systematically discriminated against because of their hair, and in the history of America, black women wearing their hair natural has been a form of resistance. Twintelle uses her hair to actively put that resistance in effect as she pummels her opponents with her coils.
Markus of Detroit: Become Human is also leading his own resistance. In this David Cage game Markus, portrayed by Jesse Williams, leads a group of androids to revolt against their human masters. Celebrity appearances in video games always catch me off guard; I wasn’t expecting Jesse Williams, but his inclusion makes me interested in Detroit. I became familiar with Jesse Williams when he made his speech at the 2016 BET Awards and have been a fan of his since then. Jesse isn’t the only black person appearing in Detroit. The trailer opened with a black android singing and we see more black androids in the background throughout the trailer.
There were also a couple of brief black character appearances throughout E3. such as in Knack 2, Star Wars Battlefront II, and A Way Out.
While a number of black characters in this E3 is the most it’s ever been, almost every speaker at each press conference were white men with the only person of color on stage being Janina Gavankar who spoke briefly to promote her role in Star Wars Battlefront II. For a few years, we had Aisha Tyler who hosted Ubisoft’s conferences to ensure us of at least one black figure making a presence at E3 other than Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime. The lack of her presence was especially felt this year. The absence of black faces is not all surprising given how dominating the video game industry is by white and Japanese males, and that brings us to another problem.
While it is great to see more representation of black people in video games it’s also important for black people to tell their own stories, full of our experiences and culture. Other entertainment industries such as music, film, television, and sports have well-known examples of black creators and faces to be found, but in the video game industry the only equivalent is Reggie Fils-Aime, but his role is relegated to US marketing and localization. Perhaps in due time, we’ll see a black-owned studio stepping onto the stage and blowing us all away with their Persona-inspired HBCU RPG.