When you think of black hair in games, what comes to mind? Maybe a neat set of cornrows? How about some dreadlocks? Or, and this is probably more likely, do you think of an afro, a Caesar fade, or just a bald scalp?
This litmus test is a conversation that’s been going on in the gaming industry for as long as games have featured playable protagonists and character creators. same old kotaku Employee Evan Narcisse criticized the speech in his essay on the difficulties in portraying blackness in gamesillustrating that the path has already been traveled, but it is still quite long.
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While all of the aforementioned hairstyles are found today on nearly every character creator, they are unfortunately still incredibly limited for black gamers when it comes to creating digital versions of themselves. As any black person will tell you, our hair has a depth and range that is hardly represented in our favorite medium.
And that’s exactly it funny games’ host and producer, Blessing Adeoye Jr., addresses in his latest episode of The Show of Blessing. So we decided to sit him down and complain about how bad he is when it comes to black hair in games.
Character creators are good but could be better
Adeoye Jr., one of the newest additions to the funny games crew, has its own series examining aspects of games and design. In her last episode, “We need to fix black hair in video games”, he provides some history of black hairstyles, noting that the most commonly seen look in games, cornrows, dates back “over 3,000 years to sub-Saharan Africa”. This is deep. Deeper still is the diversity of black hair styles, which include 360 waves, bantu knots, fro-hawks, Jheri curls and twists, among others.
Unfortunately, many of these styles are not featured in most modern game character creators. That doesn’t mean things haven’t improved. He points to games like nioh 2 and, sigh, Hogwarts Legacy as examples of excellent options for black players to create an extension of themselves with hair to match.
But of course western beauty standards– blonde hair, fair skin, blue eyes, slim body, etc. – are still the norm in the industry. As Adeoye Jr. mentions, “a fair amount of popular games are developed in countries like Japan,” which means that education about the more natural and “ethnic” hair that black people wear is much less common. As such, you get something like elden ringcharacter creator who, while vast in his options, is limited in his ability to accurately represent a black individual. FromSoftware’s masterpiece is the best selling game in the Japanese studio’s catalog, but it doesn’t even get a correct representation of blackness.
The juxtaposition between games like nioh series and elden ring it is indicative of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
Western beauty standards in games
According to an estimate from the US Census Bureau, Blacks make up only 13.6% of the American population compared to whites, who dominate with 75.8%. Judging from that alone, you’d assume that black features — like our melanized skin and frizzy hair — aren’t “normal or common enough for consideration,” as Adeoye Jr. suggests in his video. And he is not wrong.
Throughout history, blacks have been demonized for its natural characteristics in order to uphold western beauty standards as the ideal that everyone should strive for, whether it is possible or not. This is something both of our families have experienced – straightening hair to avoid the discrimination that comes using a more natural style. And we went through this in adolescence, perming our hair in an attempt to move closer and closer to whiteness and thus be seen as beautiful by colleagues, teachers, bosses and co-workers, even our parents. Never mind the damage it was doing to our roots; straightening our hair made us beautiful because it was the hairstyle society wanted.
Because black people don’t represent even a quarter of America’s population (and less in places like japan), it is not for nothing that natural hairstyles are not found or are limited to the usual suspects in games. It is also not surprising that many of them prefer physical characteristics that denote whiteness such as: pale skin, smoother hair textures, smaller lips and noses, etc.
While some games, like scarlet pokemon It is violet It is the Sims 4 received updates to “expand” the options available, most such as the fall of babylon, couldn’t even recognize that black hair (or people) exist. And even when we exist in these worlds, our representation is inaccurate at best or seems like a caricature at worst (looking at you, CJ).
To take varlthe brave tribesman and an important character of Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Series. It has an impressive loc boss that is “refreshingly inclusive” for Adeoye Jr., but even Varl isn’t free from the bottleneck Western beauty standards place on game design. On closer examination of the taper fader Varl has in the 2022 sequel forbidden westyou can see that the hair texture is smoother than would be considered natural for a hairstyle like this (being that curly and kinky hair). The same can be said for Varl’s beard, which also appears to have a straighter hair texture.
Blacks are not monolithic, of course. The texture of our hair varies according to each individual’s culture and scalp, but Varl’s design is illustrative of the problem with portraying blackness in games. It’s almost there, but it often misses the mark and that’s a bummer. In most cases, it’s clear that a lot of love has been put into these characters, and improvements in graphics rendering technology provide the means to make these representations even better – we just need the education to keep up with technical advancement.
There are some shining examples for black players, though
The games didn’t have many examples of authentic black hair. However, Miles Morales‘ “next-gen fade,” Kimberly from street fighter 6 and her huge braids, and Estelle de Season: A Letter to the Future with his short afro hair are among Adeoye Jr.’s favorite portrayals. of blackness in games.
“I think usually when you’re trying to portray black women in a video game you’re going for something like Kimberly or something longer, but having a shorter afro for a character I think is amazing. ”, says Adeoye Jr. about Season in interview with kotaku. “One of my sisters has a shorter afro, and as soon as I saw[Estelle]I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that reminds me of my sister.’ This is a hairstyle that many black women have, and therefore, to define her character, I also thought it was a very good thing.
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It’s easy to standardize something like gta online It is NBA 2K for character creators with decent options for black players. But what about inclusive representation in the simswhich promised to do better for the black community – and delivered. the Sims 4 he has implemented many of the mods that Black Simmers made allowing for greater precision and variety when creating black characters.
WWE 2K22 is another strong character creator with its diverse selection of body types, skin tones, and hairstyles. or the Saint’s Row Series that surprised us with how many options were available for creating our own “boss”.
Curls are not going anywhere.
Often, whenever conversations arise about black representation in games, a vocal subsection of the gaming community belittles whatever merit the critic highlights with excuses and “what the isms”. While the obstruction that occurs during the rant about black representation upsets Adeoye Jr., he wants his video to be relaxed and welcoming to both viewers and viewers. kinda funny audience and the gaming industry as a whole.
“This is a video I made with the hope that it looks approachable, that it looks like something that isn’t lashing out most of the time. I feel like I can be aggressive about it sometimes, but I want to offer that option so that people want to watch the video and not feel like it’s me badmouthing them,” explains Adeoye Jr.
Despite the likelihood that most kinda funnyAdeoye Jr.’s audience believes the arguments he made in his video and the digestible way he delivered them will “go a long way” in encouraging viewers to advocate for better representation in games.
“When you have a predominantly white industry, it’s hard to see these problems. It’s hard to look at these characters and say, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong here or there’s something wrong here, right?’ As black people playing these games, this is something that stands out to us,” says Adeoye Jr.
The video by Adeoye Jr. may not lead to an immediate shift in the video game industry towards more authentic representation of BIPOC folks, but it more than succeeds in encapsulating the many frustrations and occasional joys that black gamers feel when they see themselves in the games. that we play. I hope we get even more hair options beyond just an afro or fade in games like Diablo IV It is star field.