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 I know of are Madden, 2K, and FIFA. And 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.
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.
“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
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.