Last week, another incredible piece by Tauriq Moosa was featured on Polygon. In it, he describes the inherent race problem that has all but saturated the games industry—and popular culture—for some time. He makes a wonderful point, which is summed up rather neatly below. It’s something I feel needs to be addressed by us as we move forward in carving a space out for our own voices here at FemHype:
“Just as major media and consumers have been vocal about gender representation—with Call of Duty and now FIFA including playable female characters in upcoming games—we should want such discussion about race as well. Diversity of voices should be key and we should actively want and demand voices of color alongside white men.”
Tauriq’s honest efforts for discussion were met with an absolute firestorm, as detailed by Offword, where the hashtag #GamesSoWhite was coopted by the usual suspects. In an effort to celebrate the incredible games that do, in fact, feature characters who aren’t white, I turned to our writers for their personal recommendations. These are the games that truly gripped us, particularly defined by the diverse characters whose stories are absolutely necessary to be shared in this ever-changing industry landscape.
If you feel we missed your favorite diverse game on this list, please drop it in the comments! Granted, there are a few duplicates here, as many of these games are beloved by players. But it’s the discussion that’s important to foster as we embark on this journey to be more inclusive. Let’s work together to generate more awareness for the games that fight against the status quo and actually represent the world we live in!
It’s a toss-up between Assassin’s Creed: Liberation and Remember Me, two games that feature biracial black female protagonists. To be honest, they compliment each other very well.
Liberation features a half-black and half-white woman whose mixed-race status plays a major role in the gameplay and story. Depending on the clothes you wear, you can walk through society as a slave, an upper class woman, or an assassin, each with their advantages and disadvantages (for example, as a slave you can slip under the radar but lack access to certain sectors, while wearing upper class clothing gives you access to special places but limits your combat ability). Mixed-race identity has always been a social tool used as a wedge to further widen the gap between the elite and the disenfranchised, giving rise to issues of colorism, national status, and the ever classic psychological reality for many mixed-race people to this day: ‘Tragic Mulatto’ (hint: don’t actually call us this).
Remember Me represents the other side of the extreme—the lead character Nilin’s racial background is incidental and unmentioned. Her story instead revolves around the loss of her memory and a mysterious organization she used to work for trying to hunt her down for a crime she can’t remember. It’s an interesting scenario right out of a classic sci-fi/action film and it’s more than a little refreshing to see someone other than a grizzled white guy moving this kind of plot.
The answer is not to always mention identity or never mention it—rather, the best route is to show the full spectrum of experiences a group of people can have and both of these games display biracial black identity in different, engaging, and respectful ways. While they have their flaws (Assassin’s Creed: Liberation recently and thankfully got a patch for bugs in the re-release and Remember Me is considered a beautiful but woefully underdeveloped psychological AAA title), they’re cheaper than ever now and you should definitely check them out, especially if you’re biracial like myself and eager to see yourself reflected in games media.
One of my favorite games ever in terms of characters, story, and dialogue is Ubisoft’s (yes, Ubisoft) 2003 game Beyond Good and Evil. The protagonist, Jade, is a woman of color, although there’s some debate about what race she is exactly. The game’s PR manager has even stated that she “does not belong to any race” since the game “takes place in the future on another planet, where race is not really a factor.” Still, it’s pretty clear that Jade is not white. Throughout the game, she’s a fully empowered character, saving herself, saving others, and saving the world. She handles each situation with wit, poise, and genuine emotion, making her one of the most loveable and relatable characters I’ve ever come across.
Other characters of color in the game include Jade’s AI assistant, who comes in the virtual form of a Latino named Secondo; and the Governor, a black woman formerly in charge of the planet before the imperialist military forces took control, and who is still fighting to protect the rights of her people. There’s some interesting colonial/imperialist elements at play in the game, both in terms of plot and race. The colonizing military Alpha Sections and their general are portrayed as buff white male soldiers. Many of the native, colonized citizens of the planet, meanwhile, are human-animal hybrids with implied cultural identities, such as Chinese or Jamaican. While this approach to race certainly has its share of problems, it does provoke some interesting questions, and gives the cast a racial diversity that is sorely lacking in many other games of its kind.
Telltale is well-known for its characters and for good reason. I’ve always found their writing to be pretty top-notch, and especially so in their Walking Dead series. Lee Everett, the main character from The Walking Dead Season 1, is a black man and when the player first meets him, he’s in the back of a police car. At first glance, it’s not an exactly a groundbreaking portrayal, but right from the start and as the game goes on, you find out more and more about Lee and who he is as a character.
He’s refreshingly complex and realistic. He’s capable of destroying zombies and nailing headshots, but it’s his relationship with Clementine, an 8-year-old girl, where his character really shines through. He cares for her, teaches her how to shoot and how to survive. It’s a touching pseudo father-daughter relationship, something that is wonderful to see when well done with realized characters. The best thing is, Telltale’s stellar character writing only continues in The Walking Dead Season 2, where you get to play as Clementine.
I would recommend Tomb Raider to someone who is looking for a game with positive diversity. True, Lara is white, but she spends the majority of the game trying to save her very close friend Samantha, who is Asian. It has a degree of Save-the-Princess with that arc, but it is interesting. Other cast members include Riley, the black engineer who talks about her biracial daughter with one of the other NPCs. There is Jonah, who is Pacific Islander and also part of the crew. Even NPCs who have little to do with the emotional arc of the story are people of color, such as Captain Jessop, who you briefly encounter. While there are problematic elements of the game, such as the preponderance of Russian bad guys, by and large PoC are an interesting and vital part of the plotline without making an issue of race.
Remember Me is a game full of flaws—the gameplay can be a bit clumsy and the story feels rushed and unfinished the more you explore the world of Neo-Paris. Despite this, Remember Me is a visually stunning game with its heart in the right place, and its protagonist provides a refreshing reprieve from the sea of white, brown-haired cis dudes abound in some of our favorite titles.
Nilin, a member of an underground resistance movement in a world where memories are commodified, pulls the player out of the swaddled comfort zone that comes with the usual protagonist; she is a dark-skinned, light-eyed badass whose mixed parentage is actually very typical among modern Parisians. Beyond Nilin, there is more diversity found in the cast of secondary characters: her mother, a black, physically disabled CEO, features in the story as one of its antagonists; Headache Tommy serves as a technician to help upgrade Nilin’s abilities, and one of the more fun bosses you fight is a pro-wrestler-style bounty hunter by the name of Kid X-mas.
With a small handful of exceptions, a lot of the characters in Remember Me seem to be composed of individuals with considerably mixed heritages. These characters can be a bit one-dimensional at times—our clever protagonist included—but in the white-washed world of video games, it is a much-needed breath of fresh air and a great jumping off point for other developers to take note of and learn from.
Just recently, I purchased Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation on Steam, which features Aveline de Grandpré, the first woman protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Aveline is of French and African heritage, and her story takes place in 18th century New Orleans. While the game itself supplements Assassin’s Creed III and is not part of the main franchise, the narrative of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is impressive. Aveline is a well-developed character. She’s smart, skilled, and independent. As the daughter of a French merchant, she knows how to play the political game of the wealthy. As the daughter of a slave, she finds the practice deplorable, and many of her missions involve disrupting the slave market (which is how she became involved with the Brotherhood). Yes, there are individuals who give her a hard time for being a woman, but they are typically depicted as “less-than-desirable.”
In contrast, there are plenty of men who defer to her advice and authority, and it happens more often than not. She is treated as an equal, and other women in the game receive the same treatment. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation proves that it is possible to have an impressive game with a woman of color as a well-developed protagonist. She is a relatable and emphatic character, and I had no problem playing her as a white woman. There is no excuse as to why we cannot have more games that feature women of color, so it is depressing that Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the only game that I can think of from a major franchise where the main character is a woman of color, with or without stereotypes.
Dead Island really surprised me with its diversity in character selection and interactions. I would highly recommend it if you can stomach the zombies. Playing co-op is especially helpful! I chose to play an Australian aboriginal female, Purna, who was part of the New South Wales Police Force. The other three main characters (not including the expansion) are all non-white: a Chinese hotel desk worker, a black rap star, and an American football player (who may be Latino). Each are given an extensive bio and the reason why they are in Banoi, a fictional vacation destination. The diverse set of characters that come from various places in life sets the stage for the rest of the game.
As Dead Island is set during a zombie plague, stereotypes are difficult to come by. People realize that if they don’t cooperate despite their differences, it may spell the end. This is made clear because the interactions with NPCs in the game are not debilitating to the other characters. Everyone is essentially on the same footing: trying to survive. While following the main storyline, every character has the option to interact with NPCs and, because of this, the dialogue from NPCs is very generalized. The few cutscenes we have encountered have not distinguished characters for their race/ethnicity and were inclusive of every character. Indeed, it is the black rap star that takes on one of the leading roles. The good thing about a zombie apocalypse: people seem to forget about race.
I should preface this with a note that I’m white. While I hope to strive for an informed intersectional approach in my discussion of diversity in games, I’m also aware that it is inevitable that I have my own blind spots and biases that need work. I am always open to learning how I can be a better person and a better ally, so if anything in this review is problematic and you would like to let me know, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on Twitter.
The moment I received this prompt, I knew I needed to talk about Remember Me. For those of you who haven’t heard, Remember Me is a lovely, ambitious game developed by Dontnod Entertainment of Life Is Strange fame. It follows the story of Nilin, a memory hunter living in a future dystopic Neo-Paris who must find clues to her own past in other people’s memories while being guided by the mysterious voice of Edge and hunted by martial forces of the Memorize Corporation. While I have some issues with the game as a whole (mainly regarding the very distinct feeling that it was meant to be larger and much longer that it ultimately was), I will nevertheless always be impressed with the world and characters that Remember Me created.
Neo-Paris is a visceral experience that feels both strange and disturbingly familiar—futuristic tech and abject poverty live side-by-side, separated by just a few walls and walkways, while classic architecture and modern advertising vie for visual dominance above poor and rich alike. Race is less an issue in this world than class and wealth, but it’s definitely not ignored. The protagonist, Nilin, is a woman of mixed-race who occupies a unique place in Neo-Parisian society: her skills as a Memory Hunter are formidable and feared by those in power, but her memory loss at the beginning of the game leaves her vulnerable to manipulation by larger forces at work in the world—a fact she must contend with throughout the story. Morally complicated and well-rounded (at least for someone missing most her memories), Nilin is the heart and soul of Remember Me and her characterization is one of the best parts about the game. I could talk about Nilin all day, but unfortunately, a lot of her character is tied up in events that are extremely spoilerific, so I’ll have to leave it there for now.
But the diversity in Remember Me doesn’t stop with Nilin. Headache Tommy (owner of The Leaky Brain and former Errorist agent) and Scylla Cartier-Wells (President of the Memorize Corporation) are two prominent, disabled POC characters who are both well-developed individuals and integral to the game’s plot. Background characters are also a realistic mix of POC and white character models, too. While Remember Me is by no means perfect in its representation or execution, it manages to create a world that feels more in-line with reality than most games out on the market do. The game is visually stunning, the characters feel real and complex, the music is beautiful and haunting, and the setting is solid and believable. Overall, I highly suggest Remember Me to anyone who hasn’t tried it yet.