The recent downloadable content for Assassin's Creed 4, entitled Freedom Cry, sees the player take on the role of Adewale, the second-in-command character from the main game. A former slave, Adewale is now an assassin himself and the bulk of his missions involve freeing other slaves from their captors in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. However well or clumsily Ubisoft tackles these themes, it's fascinating to see the issue of slavery placed into the foreground of a major video game. In the past, they've featured a previous non-white protagonist in the series in the form of Aveline in Assassin's Creed III: Liberation.
Other developers have dipped their toes in non-Anglo Saxon waters with Cole in Gears Of War, Sheva In Resident Evil 5, Franklin in Grand Theft Auto V and that dude who said "bitch" all the time in Dead Island. Wait. All of those characters are pretty terrible aren't they? Well, in addition to these examples not being the best written characters in the history of games, they are all sidekicks or secondary protagonists. Cole, a fan favourite for Gears Of War fans, didn't get his time in the sun with Gears Of War: Judgment. He got pushed off the box art for the game by Baird, the blonde white dudebro who everyone regarded as annoying at best.
Even Assassin's Creed have relegated their minority characters to additional content or handheld versions. Save the main series protagonists for the white man. Or at least part Native American who is mostly white. Who else is left? Big Bo in Binary Domain? That weirdo Drebin in Metal Gear Solid 4? Jacob in Mass Effect seems like a partially-rounded human being but he still spends most of his time staring into space while Default White Man goes off on his own adventures.
Let's have a quick examination at some of the release calendar for the remainder of 2014.
- Thief - white dude
- Infamous: Second Son - white dude
- South Park: The Stick Of Truth - white dudes
- Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - white dude
- Kinect Sports Rivals - white dudes
- The Elder Scrolls Online - white dudes by default
- Wolfenstein: The New Order - white dude
- Murdered: Soul Suspect - white dude
- The Evil Within - white dude
- Deep Down - white dude
- The Order: 1886 - white dude
- The Witcher 3 - white dude
- Mad Max - white dude
- Evolve - white dudes
- Quantum Break - white dude
- Watch Dogs - white dude
Do any of these need to be white? Yes, a few are pre-existing characters but come on. And this is just announced games. There's still tons of other games and Call Of Duty to come.
Devil May Cry didn't need to be a white man. Spec Ops: The Line didn't need to be a white man. Bioshock Infinite, Resident Evil 6, Far Cry 3, The Last Of Us, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and so on and so forth. It's not that these games should have featured minority characters above any other concerns. It's just that there's no reason for them to be white.
As you've probably noticed for decades, there are some mind-destroyingly racist people who play video games. Some of which I've displayed here. Trust me when I say you don't want to delve any deeper than I have. It is a deep hole of raw, unfettered psychosis. There are entire websites and forums designed for people to come and exchange opinions and ideas about how they would like to see all minorities burned from the face of the earth and their desire to keep video games 'pure'. Not to mention the tens of thousands of people populating in-game voice chat, twitter and other dark corners of the internet.
I know it's hard. The marketing department is hesitant to put a non-white man on the poster. It's more 'relatable' with white people in the starring role. You've got Troy Baker booked in the voiceover booth and it's too late to change it. But try to keep in mind that with every dismissal or excuse, you are pleasing these people. The type of person who is sick at the thought of playing as Lee in The Walking Dead or talk about getting "niggers in their scope" in multiplayer shooters. You're making them get slightly more comfortable in their bigotry chair. They're not the ones who feel like they're excluded when they see row after row of game with rough-and-tumble white hero saving cheeky-but-smart white woman. On the contrary, they feel in charge. As they always have. Because this is who is buying your game. Forget the kids bitching and moaning about server issues or leaderboards. Those irritating flies can be swatted with a patch or blog post. They are nothing compared to the terrifying hate for any humans who look different that these customers display in their daily lives. It's staggering. Anything non-white and the game is instantly dismissed.
So here's what I propose. Let them dismiss it. Allow these horrifying people to give your game the once-over and move on with their crippling pain and anger. They will return to their lives without experiencing your all your hard work. You're better than this. Video games are better than this. You just want to tell stories and create universes, right? We all want to pick up that controller or mouse and play something that opens our minds to something that couldn't be achieved without your vision. You always wanted to see something like your game in the public eye and this is your chance to give it an audience who will appreciate your creativity rather than spit on it out of irrational fear and hatred. There's a simple way to ensure this. Just remember: it doesn't need to be a white man.
But there will be those who will say "This is how it has always been" or "Video games are not the place for political statements". This isn't about being political. It's about someone else having as much fun as you. It's that simple. Someone else who grew up playing as white people in video games, rarely seeing anyone like themselves being represented. Remember when you felt an emotional connection with a video game because the main character looked like you? No, of course not. Because it's happened so often that it no longer holds any meaning. There's plenty of meaning left for people who aren't white. All we need to do is get past this notion of "A non-white protagonist couldn't possibly star in a game and it still be popular and enjoyable."
No, not possible at all.