Breaking the Narrative Episode 9: Representation? No Problem!

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Last time we had some fun showing how the damsel role is not a permanent thing in gaming. This time, let’s change gears to representation. I’m not talking about just women this time! I’m talking about perceived minority characters in leading roles. These will be main characters who aren’t the “White Cis Male” presumption and can’t be confused for such. I’ll be hopping around the whole of gaming history on this one so please keep up. Let’s hammer this in!

I could make this easy and mention that about 72% of Japanese made games which happen to be a significant part of the historical market are based in Asia or Asia-equivalent settings which makes the main characters ASIAN. Or we could go back to where a large majority of early game characters were blank slate analogs with no race whatsoever like in the game Commando. Or we can even touch upon MMO character creation systems and the like. But we aren’t interested in ‘easy’ around here are we?

Well, let’s start up with sports games, shall we?  Do you REALLY want to try to tell us that throughout the 1990s there weren’t any black characters in sports games? Take a look at Tecmo Super Bowl or even Madden. I mean let’s be serious. Electronic Arts wouldn’t have a game history or even a fraction of the control over the industry they have today if it wasn’t for these games.  They used real rosters from teams of that age and Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing was one of the better early examples of character creation in games. In that game, you could play as a green-skinned character called “The Beast” if you typed that into the name engine that is a maxed out player character. (Sources: http://www.tecmobowl-vs-rbi.com/tecmo-rosters.html, http://maddenratings.weebly.com/rosters.html, http://www.letsplaysega.com/play-evander-holyfields-real-deal-boxing-online/)

But I know some people wouldn’t exactly be happy with sports games because they are picky little shits. So why don’t we go for another Sega classic: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. One of the reasons I mention Jackson here is because even though it’s been irrevocably proven that the late King of Pop was never a pedophile and didn’t mess with anyone, due to his immense paranoia he is still vilified by our media. My theory behind that is that they feel threatened by the idea of showing any individual male that much more respect than a woman. Pick any example of a popular male singer and watch the disdain grow exponentially as they go beyond their first year. Elvis, Bieber, Nelson, none of these men are immune to being mocked by our gynocentric society… but I digress. Moonwalker is still an example of a black man in a lead role in a game, even if it was from the era where his skin condition was in full effect. (Source: http://www.letsplaysega.com/play-michael-jacksons-moonwalker-online/)

But we’ve been concentrating a bit on Sega properties, haven’t we? Now how about we go for something on the N64 that was kind of niche but still a strong game: Shadow Man. The titular character of this game is an immortal voodoo warrior priest tasked with passing the trials of the Deadside. Originally Mike LeRoi, this character laments the loss of his kid brother Luke, a tragedy he was powerless to prevent. Once his tests are complete his job is to protect the living world known as the Liveside from Dark Souls of the Legion. Due to the nature of this game, of course, it’s set in the bayous of Louisiana and also have a primarily African and Haitian cast. They don’t hold back in the game on anyone either.

But how about something more recent that still predates all this ‘representation’ nonsense? Dead Island! The entire roster of protagonists in this game are quite varied, we start with the one hit wonder rapper Sam B, the secret Chinese spy Xian Mei who is also a strong woman, former Sydney police officer Purna Jackson, then finally former football idol Logan Carter. From what can be seen in the game race isn’t even considered an issue in the world of the game. Granted, one kind of has to forget such things in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, but that doesn’t stop some people if you have ever watched any of the Dawn of the Living Dead films. This simply shows just how much progress was made through video games before SJWs just had to come and ruin it for everyone else. (Source: http://deadisland.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Playable_characters)

So how am I going to wrap this up with a fifth example? Well, it would be pretty bigoted to keep to pure human examples, wouldn’t it? Consider Final Fantasy XII’s Fran, a Viera warrior, mechanic, and co-pilot. One could say that this character is a potential influence to Rey of the current Star Wars franchise. She is the complete equal to her partner Balthier and carries the title “Master of Weapons”. She is a major motivating character in both the main game and its spinoff Revenant Wings. She is never in any trouble she can’t get out of on her own and her experience is uncanny since she is 50 years old despite looking no older than her late 20s. While starting out as a long range character, if trained in such a way, she can close the gap rather quickly. There is no ignoring her worth to the party. (Source- http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Fran)

I know I’ve bent the rules with some of these examples (particularly that last one but it’s from a party based RPG series so I don’t find it as that much of a technicality.) But this solidifies my entire point. Now you may have noticed that I didn’t touch upon the Grand Theft Auto series or anything in which you play a criminal role. The reason I did that is because if I did I wouldn’t hear the end of it and I wanted to prove more positive representation. Not anything that reinforces the criminal culture that is supported by #BlackLivesMatter. If I can show good minority role models to a new generation of young minorities then I’m going to do so.

However if you want to add more to this list or even discuss my choices please put it down in the comments below and as always, Game Freely.

Alex Tinsley
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About the author

Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.

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