by Virgin Wolf
Minority Protagonists in Videogames
I spent a lot of time trying to find examples of videogame protagonists besides white males. It's difficult to say the least. The black protagonists are typically stereotyped to oblivion, even ones that are based on real people (looking at you 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand).
Surprisingly, female protagonists fare a little better, but they are always white as well. There are precious few black female protagonists. The only ones that come to mind are Lisa from Dead or Alive and Sheva from Resident Evil 5. Asian protagonists are quite large but that's mainly because of Japanese development. It's sad to say, but I believe there are more animal and children protagonists than women or black men.
Before I go into my thoughts into the whole manner, let's take a look at a few of the black men who have headlined games. One of the earliest that I can remember is Barret from Final Fantasy 7. He was, and still is, a hilarious character, but he's as stereotypical as they come. He's buff, burly, and swears a lot which is none too surprising when the source of inspiration was Mr. T. The only thing that helped him get away from that stereotype was Marlene, his adopted daughter. She was the main source of real humanity from him and helped bring out his softer side. It was almost enough to make you think all the machismo was there to cover up is soft side.
Carl Johnson was the star of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and to be honest, it felt like he was a perfect fit for the story that was trying to be told. Yes, it was stereotypical to have a black character "in the hood" but if it was a white character, it would feel fake. CJ also felt like a real character in that he reacted to most things realistically and had goals that matched his personality. The bigger problem was Officer Tenpenny. Yes, it's possible for a black cop to be this corrupt, but I have a feeling they chose to make him black to skate around the racism debate. In all though, San Andreas probably has one of the best portrayals of black characters to date. Conversely, Cole Train from Gears of War is definitely one of the worst. He's a sports athlete that's 100% machismo that spouts dated one-liners constantly. He also raps for no apparent reason during the end credits.
Then there's Sergeant Johnson from Halo. (Strange that Johnson comes up twice as a last name though I doubt it means anything.) To me, he is the best example of a black protagonist. Give that man a game of his own because his personality isn't classified by race. He is a soldier through and through and he would act the same no matter what. When you hear his voice, it's as a tough-as-nails drill sergeant, not as a black man. He's intelligent, able to motivate his troops, and is able to stand side by side with Master Chief without batting an eye. It's a shame he died in Halo 3 because he was a great addition to black characters in videogames.
Most recently, we have Sazh from Final Fantasy 13. While no one has any idea what his greater role will be, we're already off to a bad start as far as stereotypes go. He's the goofy sidekick with a huge afro. It offsets Lightning quite nicely, but my real hope is that he'll be the heart of the game; the moral compass that everyone should be at. He's certainly nicer than Lightning from what I've seen in the trailer so it's a wait and see with him.
Women, on the other hand, have fared much better as protagonists than black men at least as far as quantity. Dozens of female leads can be listed off but that list starts to dwindle when you exclude oversexualized or helpless women. Off the top of my head that leaves Samus from Metroid, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, and Shanoa from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.
The root of this problem is that the majority of gamers are white males. I know girls and every race in existence plays videogames, but they aren't the majority. Developers still market their games toward the major market so that means the others get downplayed or, in the case of women, changed to suit the tastes of men. The most recent and most disappointing example of this is the breast jiggling of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. It serves no purpose other than to attract low brow and perverted men.
Despite all these obstacles between gamers and a variety of gaming protagonist, I do believe the barriers are coming down slowly. CJ is a step in the right direction and Sazh has potential. The goal should be Sergeant Johnson in my opinion. Once a game comes along with a black man with Johnson's personality in the headlining position, the door for others will be swung wide open. The opportunity for women to be viewed appropriately as protagonists will come once developers stop using them to appeal to the lowest common denominator. There are many examples of women like this in games themselves but few as the headlining role. In itself there's nothing wrong with giving women sexuality, but do it with a point behind it.
And just so you all know, I am a white male gamer. I don't care if my protagonist isn't white, only if he or she is interesting.