While Pew Research Center states that 53% of black adults play video games and on average black gamers play more per week then any other demographic, a University of California study shows that fewer then 11% of games feature black characters, and of those the majority are athletes or gangsters. Additionally, IDGA reports that only 3% of game developers are black. Fortunately these statistics are improving (if slowly) as A-list game developers begin to realize that more diverse storytelling is a vastly untapped market and more black-helmed independent studios (like Dab Studio 7 and Kiro’o Games Studio) come to the forefront.
The past few years have marked an upsurge in black characters in games — a number of major releases have prominently featured black characters (Watch Dogs II, Battlefield I and The Walking Dead Seasons 1 & 2, and Michonne) and many new characters came to the table via indie games (Virginia, We are Chicago, Sunset, and Dandara) and in established franchises (Uncharted 4’s Nadine, Assassin’s Creed‘s Aveline de Granpre, Dishonored 2’s Billie Lurk).
In celebration of Black History Month we’re highlighting some of the best black protagonists in video games.
Lee and Clementine – Walking Dead Seasons 1 – 3
The Walking Dead games have long featured a rich narrative, and Clementine is their emotional center. From the initial relationship between Lee and Clementine to her growth as a character through the entire series, these may be the most in-depth characters in all of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed games.
Aaron – We are Chicago
In Culture Shock Games’ We are Chicago you play as Aaron, a teenager living on Chicago’s south side. Through experiencing Aaron’s day to day existence – harassed by bullies, struggling get a good education, trying to keep his sister and family safe – you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the struggles of growing up in the inner city.
Nadine – Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy
Nadine debuted in Uncharted 4 where her no nonsense, capable attitude shows her to be smarter and more level headed in several situations than both the main characters. In Lost Legacy, Nadine’s personality is developed deeper and we get to see this tough, talented character shine as a lead.
Marcus Holloway – Watch Dogs II
On the surface Marcus Holloway is the new Gordon Freeman – a tech-savy geek type that the average gamer player can relate to. But beyond that Holloway is upbeat, enthusiastic, and well-nuanced, a fleshed-out and multifaceted version of one of the earliest nerd heroes.
Aveline de Grapre – Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
Aveline is as capable as any other assassin, and directly confronts racial inequality in 18th century New Orleans. The popularity of this character and her story led this original solely handheld release to eventually be re-released later across all platforms.
Vella – Broken Age
Vella is introduced in Broken Age as one of her village’s sacrifices to a monster, but this character is never a shrinking violet. Beneath this gorgeous, cotton candy art style is a cunning, resourceful, intelligent young woman to be reckoned with.
Honorable Mentions –
Alex Vance, Half Life 2 – One of the earliest representations of women and black characters in a major release, and arguably still one of the best
Lincoln Clay, Mafia III – Clay is nuanced with a well written back story and the 1960s backdrop provides an interesting perspective on racial tensions during the period.
Diversity is making great inroads into gaming spaces and we’re looking forward to what to seeing what the future brings!
(*Did I miss your personal favorite? Tell me about them in the comments!)
6 thoughts on “Diversity Matters: A Look at the Best Black Protagonists in Video Games”
Y’all forgot Lincoln Clay from Mafia III! Also would not include the protag from We Are Chicago because of how tropey it is.
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I struggled with Mafia III – its a tight game, but I felt like it played to closely to the gang stereotype. OTOH I agree Clay is a deep character and the story very nuanced, which is why he’s in the HM. I don’t think Chicago was a stellar game in general, but mostly included it because it was a unique perspective. I agree that it can seem very trope-y. What else would you add to the list?
I just read through your Mafia III (http://ontologicalgeek.com/ride-or-die-mafia-iii-review/) review. Eye opening – it really puts the game in a new light for me.
Some other potential mentions: Dandara, Sunset (though the fact that she plays a maid isn’t exactly great representation), Herald: An Interactive Period Drama, and Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
Dandara is on my Steam wishlist! I included a hyperlink to Kiro’o studios (the creator of Aurion) – what did you think of the game?
Awesome blogg you have here