In 1972, Magnovox brought coins eating time wasters into American homes with The Odyssey. In 1975, Atari released Pong, followed in 1980 by Atari’s “Asteroids”. Today video games have developed into a 70 Billion dollar industry. The industry has moved from Pong to Pac-man to Super Mario; from initials and high scores to gamer tags and trophies; from 8-bit to 64-bit to 128-bit buses; from single-player to Multiplayer to co-op; from online gaming to remote play, the video game console is now the center of the home entertainment experience. In five decades the video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds. There have been advancements in all areas except one. ..Race.
The usual video game controversies are sex and violence, but many of us have been gaming since we were two, yet when you scour the 70 billion dollar industry; minorities only litter the landscape as bit players or cover athletes, Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Shaq and Tiger Woods. You find one dimensional black characters based off of comic books or movies like Spawn, Blade or Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, but you won’t find them as the central character in a video game, unless they are a pimp, gangster or built on a celebrity persona such as Michael Jackson. The most popular main black character is Carl “CJ” Johnson, the ultra-violent gang founder from Grand Theft: Auto San Andreas.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that black youths between 8 and 18 years old played video and computer games roughly 90 minutes a day (30 minutes more than white youths).”For a long time, we’ve talked in the game industry about gender diversity as the one problem on the radar, but the racial split is worse,” said Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech game design professor. Most video games, right or wrong, are being designed from the unconscious biases, reflections and opinions of their creators. 80 percent of video game programmers are white; this may have something to do with the absence of color in video games.
Most characters of color are either covered up or they aren’t playable, leaving one to wonder if there is racial bias, even in cyber-space. Over time America has become more and more diverse, but not our primary game characters. Is it necessary for gamers to identify with the characters they are using? Does it matter if all the heroes are male Caucasians when minorities (male and female) are not only purchasing expensive gaming consoles, but also shelling out $60 on each video game. America has made social advancements in every way of life except gaming.
In 2012 enter Starhawk, a third-person shooter, aerial-vehiclar combat, real-time strategy video game and the first of its kind. A Playstation 3 exclusive and a collaborative effort from Lightbox Interactive and Sony’s Santa Monica Studios. Starhawk is an inspired game, it is not recycled and it’s the right kind of freshness a stagnant industry needs. Starhawk introduces a new system called “Build &’ Battle”, which changes the landscape and possibilities each time you play. With the flick of a button, Build and Battle, give the player options to build structures such as, bunkers, defenses, and armories which crash down from space, in the midst of battle. Build & Battle gives the game a dynamic real-time strategy feel while remaining a third-person shooter.
The hero of the game is Emmett Graves, a man who was running a rift mine on the Frontier alongside Logan, his brother. All was well until the mine was attacked by an Outcast war party. Emmett’s rig exploded and both Emmett and his brother became partially exposed to rift energy. Colonies of humans called Rifters have been exploring the “Frontier” of planets, but now they find their way of life threatened at every turn by the Outcast, a psychotic species of humans who have mutated due to over-exposure to rift Energy. Caught in the middle is Emmett Graves, ostracized by the humans because of his partial exposure to Rift Energy, leaving him partially mutated. He becomes a hired gun to protect the Rifters, while his infected brother becomes the leader of the Outcast. Will Emmett be able to retain his humanity… This game gives you a real sense that he is fighting for his family, the rifters and for his very survival.
The game is visually stunning, fluid, fast paced and a mash up of the sci-fi and western genres. The game features flying vehicles called Hawks that transform into Mechs, tanks, 4×4 razorback, 32-players, huge maps, weapons, customization, jetpack, 2-player split screen, skill mods, “Build & Battle”, power ups, Jetbikes, multiplayer, co-op, HD, a limited edition package and yes a Black protagonist. “The rift energy looks really good on darker skin, and we really liked the tale—the brothers’ tale, I thought, felt better with having the character be a black guy. It was just really more about design stuff. It wasn’t about, “Yay, let’s be the first to make a black protagonist.” It was just, you know, the design evolved and he ended up being a black guy. And it was like cool, let’s roll with it.” Dylan Jobe Lightbox Interactive President
Experts will say gamers generally ignore the character they are playing, but there are already questions surrounding Graves’ race, and how the game will play with the buying public. “I’m curious how fans will react when they’re placed in the shoes of a minority. Will Graves speak to them? Will they even have the maturity to contemplate this instead of just spewing forth the typical vitriol of an Internet gaming message board?”- IGN (Starhawk: The Reveal of a Bold New Frontier)
Video games have been in American homes for 50 years and indeed times have changed, yet criticism about a black primary character is already being spewed by those unsure of their aversion to the game and those shocked at how great the game is. Unavoidably there will be those so disappointed in the skin color of Starhawk’s main character that they will fill message boards and social network postings with racial vitriol. There will also be many more smiling, albeit silently, that they can finally play a hero that l looks like them; a character, a face to connect with. This is a positive step for gaming and could lead to more primary minorities in video games, but more importantly it could open the door for more minority game developers. Starhawk begins recruiting May 8th 2012 with Emmett Graves as the hero the video game world needs, but doesn’t want.
Other Tolerable Black Characters:
Adam/Skate – Streets of Rage Trilogy, Balrog/Dee Jay– Street Fighter Series, Mr. Sandman – The Punch-Out!! Series, Eddy Gordo – Tekken 3, Captain David Anderson – Mass Effect, Barret Wallace – Final Fantasy VII, Sergeant Major Avery J. Johnson – Halo, Augusts Cole a.k.a. Cole Train – Gears of War Trilogy, Sergeant Foley – Modern Warfare 2, Zack – Dead or Alive Series, Coach – Left 4 Dead 2, Louis – Left 4 Dead, Romeo – Halo 3: ODST. Doc Louis – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! & Punch-Out!!, Fortune – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Jacob – Mass Effect 2, Jax – Mortal Kombat Series, Alyx Vance – Half-Life 2, Dean Shephard Marc Ecko’s Getting Up and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil the first and only original IP involving a black woman (although the developers say Jade is Racially Ambiguous). Not to slant Prototype 2 but the main character didn’t start off as black.