A few weeks ago I read an article about one of the greatest fighting games ever: Def Jam: Fight For NY. The article basically talked about how amazing the game was (and is) and why it was so memorable for fans. They were RIGHT. FFNY was EVERYTHING. I can remember playing that game so much when I was a teenager: customizing my fighter with the most expensive everything, picking Lil’ Kim as a girlfriend, beating up on Snoop Dogg and his crew. I remembered making up Blazin' moves and becoming a fan of a bunch of the artists because of the game. FFNY was a big part of my teenage years, and I knew that, but reading the article in my current "woke/conscious" state of mind had me thinking about how I felt about the game now. The blatant Blackness on display, the ode to hip-hop culture, and the fact that outside over 90% of the characters were Black all made me realize that it was probably the Blackest game not named Madden or 2K. I started thinking then about something else: where are all the other Black ass video games?
Yes. This gonna be another one of those “let’s talk about Blackness in a form of media” posts. This time with video games! I haven’t talked about video games in a while, which considering how big an impact they have had on my life, is something I need to work on. Truth be told, I’ve kind of fallen off with gaming. I used to be a major gamer, but life kind of limits how much time I can devote to gaming nowadays. ANYWAY, thinking about the lack of Blackness in video games made me wonder who was talking about this. As you know, I’m a big supporter of inclusive media try my best to foster conversations about it, but it’s interesting to me that for the most part people don’t talk about creating inclusive video games. We have movements for diverse and inclusive books, TV shows, and movies, but where are the movements for games?
Now don’t misunderstand me. There are some movements for diverse and inclusive video games, but very few talk about what that interactive representation means. Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry enjoyed by 71% of Black people and being brought into classrooms across the globe; there is no reason why they can't render black hair or be thought of as a viable educational tool. The main reason why I study Black Speculative Fiction is because it can be used for education and individuation, and if video games can be used as teaching tools and ways to build identity, then they are just as worthy of study as any book. They may even be more worthy because video games can also teach the STEM skills needed in today's technological world. For Black people historically underrepresented in STEM fields, this is an invaluable feature of video games.
People constantly try to explain why there are so few Black characters in and Black creators of video games. They'll say, “Oh well Marcus, more Black people will be in games if more of them knew how to design them”. That is true, but let’s not pretend that there aren’t any Black people with the talent to create games, or that people aren’t talking about creating more of them. Just a little while ago Amira Virgil got highlighted for her work on The Black Simmer. Keep in mind The Black Simmer has been around for YEARS and The Sims itself has been around since 2000 and is currently in its fourth iteration. That means that for 17 years Black people were so shut out of the mega popular series that they developed the skill to manipulate the PC game's code. That's a workable skill, something that could get these Black people jobs probably for the rest of their lives. And it was taught because of a video game. Cultivating a love of video games early on can help to give Black people a love and understanding of technology, if because of nothing else than the surrounding tech culture. What better way to get Black people (kids including) involved in the technological revolution of video games than by showing them that people who look like them can make them? We have to talk more about the Black video gamers and game designers that are fighting for inclusion, because whether we want to accept it or not, they are shaping the world and are a part of the call for more diversity and inclusion. I mean, look how blatantly Google is calling for discrimination in tech. It's no different from people justifying oppression in any other media form.
Racial discussions are creeping into video games just like every other part of popular culture, and if we’re not careful games will be just another medium where everyone is talking about us without us doing the talking. Video games deserve to be included on the list of topics when we talk about diversity and inclusion in media, because honestly they probably have the largest reach of any medium outside of TV. We have so few non-sports games that include Black characters, and in 2017 that shouldn't be. We have to include video games in the discussion, and more of us should be included in the creation of them and not just the playing. Who knows, maybe we can even get some cross-medium stuff going where our indie book characters show up in video games. As we continue to fight for and create diversity and inclusion on all fronts, we may finally reach the point where we are properly represented in all forms of media. But until then, if you excuse me, I'm gonna go see how much Def Jam: Fight For New York costs online.
What are some of your favorite video game franchises? Do any of them have any Black (or characters of color in general)? Be sure to leave your comments, questions, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!