Where are all the Black People?

Within games and gaming communities alike, there is an overwhelming lack of diversity: Fantasy games like Dragon Age or Final Fantasy have a surprising lack of black and brown people aside from the few used as plot points. The addition of female soldiers in Call of Duty: WW2 had male fans in an uproar about historical accuracy—what, were women not invented in World War 2? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey let you be gay, and again, many male fans were quick to jump on the historical accuracy bandwagon and claim that no one was gay in Ancient Greece and Rome.

The few games that have an abundance of black and brown people that know of are Madden2K, and FIFAAnd even then, there aren’t that many women or lgbt representation.

Why does this matter? Because these are fantasy games and should include all races, genders, and orientations without compromising the overall gameplay experience.

Many games that claim to be “woke” in the current political climate tend to use the collective experiences of minorities/POC while not placing them within the story. Many games with morality matrices rely heavily on slavery narratives, and oppressor-oppressed narratives and conveniently leave out the people they’re about.

Image result for detroit become human
Detroit: Become Human’s main characters (from left to right): Connor, Markus, and Kara

Detroit: Become Human strives to be a game that delves into heavy social commentary dealing with civil rights and freedom from second-class citizenry/slavery (for androids) and borrows speeches and ideas from notable black activists like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and President Obama, and applies them to three relatively white-passing androids, inserting black characters as plot points to serve as connections to the real world. It is objectively a slap in the face to black history, to have civil rights be at the forefront of an honesty beautiful  game, but have so few black people in one of the blackest cities in the United States.

The game relies heavily on black culture and iconography as character quirks for the whole game: it’s set in Detroit (a city that is 83% black) in 2038 with the music and background art of the game are borrow heavily from black culture and are meant only to inspire feelings of hope and resilience for the androids’ liberation movement. However the writer, David Cage, denies any political motives for the game considering Detroit’s actual political and racial history (like the race riots of 1943 and 1967). A game like this that can be considered a “high culture” cultural production that gloss over suffering with stoic nobility, historical memories become more marketable, more palatable, and less illuminating. It’s dehumanizing as a black person, and it’s commodifying the “it was 400 years ago, get over it” argument into a pretty game with conventionally attractive characters with a sob story for people to fawn over.

Image result for detroit become human mural
One of the many murals illustrating black people in D:BH

“There are many groups of people today who can feel the same and feel segregated for different reasons…so I wouldn’t connect this to the civil rights [movement]” —David Cage

The images in "Detroit: Become Human" are simultaneously hyper political and yet treated apolitically

I take no issue with wanting to put social commentary into cultural productions: it’s an effective way to synthesize the world around us and allows others a glimpse into individual and collective grievances that shape human experiences, but it’s a bad idea to do it like this and then ignore black people.

However, I am glad it is a game like this that allows the player to be emotionally invested and explore different open-ended storylines within one game, rather than it being something like Grand Theft Auto that exaggerates negative stereotypes of black people and lets players vicariously live the exciting and dangerous lives of black men who flagrantly break the law and use extreme violence to “solve” the problem. There’s already enough negative stereotypes of black people in the real world and real-world consequences of people acting on those stereotypes. I don’t want to see them in my video games—they’re supposed to be an escape from all that.

Get woke.

-Ishah Blasio

6 thoughts on “Where are all the Black People?”

  1. Great post Ishah! I specifically liked the point you make about games being “an effective way to synthesize the world around us and allows others a glimpse into individual and collective grievances that shape human experiences.” They can help foster empathy for experiences totally different from those of the players, as they can put players in the shoes of people unlike themselves. You are right to point out that, despite the best efforts of some gamemakers, games do not fulfill that goal by simply appropriating minority culture without including minority characters as well. I sincerely hope that gamemakers do not get scared off by the outcry of those who cling to the past and get frustrated with efforts to increase diversity in games, as it is an incredibly important mission. Representation can make all the difference, not just in amplifying the voices of minorities, but in increasing tolerance and fostering a better, more cohesive society as well.

  2. Great post! I liked reading your commentary on the cultural and racial aspect of video games, especially with Detroit Become Human. I really feel that a properly done video game can make strong statements about our society as a whole. I wanted to talk a bit more about the reactions that gamers have towards certain franchises’ attempts to include more diversity in their games. To me, video game audiences always seem so eager to criticize any change regardless how accurate the portrayal is. In the two examples you brought, history sides with the fans in one case and against them in the other. In World War II, female soldiers were definitely almost never seen in the front lines of the war, although they did play auxiliary roles; and in ancient Greece and Rome, homosexuality was a commonly accepted and well documented aspect of every day life (at least for the men, there’s much less out there about women).

  3. this blog post got me super hyped up! It is clear that you know what you’re talking about and have the facts to back it up! I especially loved your game choice as your main example, Detroit, and how it could have had so much potential that was lost by having the three central characters be white. This was awesome.

  4. Wow! I loved this post so much. It seems like such a glaring issue in the gaming world that almost never comes into lengthy discussion, largely because it’s quickly shut down by large amounts of white/male gamers and developers almost immediately. It begs the question of who is actually developing these games and who they perceive of as a “universal” audience.

  5. Awesome post Ishah! This is something that needs to be said and hopefully falls on ears outside of just our small Vanderbilt classroom. In a world where (as you said) many people and organizations claim to be woke, it is alarming that our society has so many instances of pushing for espoused progression, but in one of the most popular forms of entertainment (and one that offers vicarious experiences and educational opportunities in the simulations) completely ignores this push. You bring up important games like GTA and how the few instances where POC and members of the LGBT community are present, it is under the auspice of negative stereotyping or plot points. The one optimistic take I have is that with the rising popularity of fandoms like Luke Cage, Black Panther, and even True Detective, there may be a translation of interest in developing games or interactive media for these franchises. Furthermore, there is potential for recognition of their popularity and thus a push for accurate representation of our diverse world in the gaming world too. One can hope…

  6. Great post! I very much agree that this is a crucial conversation to have in our current political climate. I find it appalling that the gaming medium, which generally strives towards realism, has yet to adapt its incorporation of minorities to the real world. I wonder if others have brought up similar points about the game Detroit. I would find it very surprising if others have not argued against the game’s significant oversights in pursuit of becoming more marketable and palatable. Awesome work!

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