Women of Color in Videogames
So, for your reference, this was actually one of the first posts I wrote for the blog. I did not publish it because I was trying to figure out how to make this point while being pretty much a white chick. I’m actually not white. I’m legally hispanic, whatever that means, but I have white privilege. I am pale as hell, and people assume I’m the whitest whitey who ever whitewashed a fence.
However, I feel like race in videogames is a serious issue that gets glossed over far too often because ‘white people’ are not allowed to complain about being overrepresented. So here goes…
Have you ever noticed that most of the ‘colored’ women in videogames are not exactly… natural colors?
There are lots of prominent representations of women of color in video games. The problem is, those women tend to be blue or purple or green.
Women of unnatural skin colors are a staple of sci-fi and fantasy genres. Fictional races of colorful women tend to be more sexualized than the others. I’ve wondered if the unnatural skin color makes it easier to other them and treat them like sexual objects. That could be an issue, or it could simply be that the Asari are modeled on the Twi-leks who are modeled on the Orion Slave Girls. My boyfriend pointed out that easiest way to make a race ‘alien’ but keep them ‘sexy’ is to merely change their skin color, and that’s very true and probably a contributing factor.
But in this post I’m going to talk about black women of color, not white girls dyed blue and purple. With white privilege, I cannot have as good an understanding of this topic as a black woman due to my lack of personal experience but I think racism is still a huge problem plaguing game design that warrants a lot of discussion. To me, the inclusion of more ethnicities isn’t even about fairness or quotas… I’m just really bored of white bald space marines.
I’ve mentioned this before but one of the pivotal moments that changed the way I played video games was the advent of Unreal Tournament 2004. I had previously avoided directly competitive games, afraid that I’d be too unskilled and knowing that the boys I would fight with would demand I be twice as good as a male gamer to acknowledge me if they knew I was a woman. But something about Unreal Tournament 2004 was just too enticing to pass up.
It had women.
It had huge brutish women, it had alcoholic punk rocker women, it had silly cenobite women and sexy women and robot women.
It also had black women. One of them was on the cover, brandishing a gun next to a reptilian alien. The game had a team that was compromised almost entirely of black characters, with a single white guy who may or may not have been a black albino.
That was the first and last time I can recall seeing a black woman on the cover of a videogame.
Actually as I type that I’m forced to retract it. Guild Wars Nightfall had a black woman on the cover, but she was extremely pale. Still, the intent to make her look ethnic was obvious. And here’s where I run into problems talking about this sort of thing: white people are the unmarked race, like men are the unmarked gender. Complaining that a character design isn’t black enough for me to recognize it could just be my privilege kicking. Black women with paler skin are no less legitimate than darker skinned black women.
And yet it seems strange how difficult it is to find a woman of color in videogames who is darker than a latte.
Pictured above are Christie Monteiro from Tekken and Sheva Alomar from Resident Evil 5. There is some debate as to whether Christie is intended to be darker skinned. She came up numerous times on lists of ‘black’ female characters when I did research. The swatches near the center line are a rough average of their skintones obtained with the photoshop eyedropper tool. The specular maps may be throwing off the averages, but neither of them are much darker than my own skin tone, and I am one of the whitest looking bitches you will ever meet.
When I tried to find more examples of black women in videogames I was surprised by some of the characters that people claimed were black.
What’s with the white hair?
Okay, stylistically, blonde or white hair contrasted against dark skin is fabulous. There’s really no arguing that. RuPaul makes it pretty clear that it’s a good look… but most of these women aren’t wearing wigs. Elena and Storm are definitely intended to be black, but the others are up for debate. I personally assumed that Shinobu was an exaggerated Ganguro girl. Gloria is a white character in disguise, and Vanessa Lewis has such a flimsy character background that I have no idea really if she’s intended to be a woman of color. These women are what the internet told me were some of the most popular black women in video games.
As I mentioned, light hair on dark skin has an obvious visual appeal. Fortune from Metal Gear Solid has blond hair, but it retains noticeable texture. But this reoccurence of silky white hair seems to me to be intended to send some kind of message that says “It’s okay, these women aren’t THAT black.”
It reminds me of the dark elves from D&D. In theory, they’re meant to have dark skin and white hair, but their features are usually european and frequently their skin is lightened to a pearly pale grey or blue. In some cases their ‘darkness’ is done away with altogether. It’s an understandable decision, the premise of the ‘evil’ elves being more dark skinned is messed up from the get-go but then you fall into the question of whether or not negative representation is better than less representation. I don’t know how to answer that one, because I pass as white and it affects me less.
Racism is stupid. There’s no such thing as ‘white features’ or ‘black features’. Our ancestors all fooled around together and what we perceive as racial differences are mostly a result of climate and diet and isolation. But I look around when I go outside and the diversity I see on the streets does not match what I see in video games. I see people claim that Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is asian, hispanic, black, white, whatever… and I don’t think we should need to split hairs like that to account for diversity in our character designs. I’m a lucky artist. I’ve gotten to see people cosplay as my designs. I love that, I think it’s awesome. I think it’s sad that sometimes when someone has a darker skin tone when they want to dress up as a character from a video game their options are limited. I think that’s unfortunate. I think every fan, every human being should be able to see some characters on their TV or computer screen that they can recognize as looking like them. Why shouldn’t they? White people have dominated the stage long enough. I can barely tell Leon Kennedy and Nathan Drake apart anymore.
I mean look at these:
Those are some excellent character models. They look like people I know who aren’t bleached blondes. Aveline’s design in particular I really love, and yet I’m not sure she’s worth buying a Playstation Vita for. I already use my DS as a paperweight until it’s time for a road trip or plane ride.
All I’m saying is look outside your fucking window. Look outside and see how much diversity we actually have in the fucking united states of america. Doesn’t that look more fun than endless retreads of Bruce Willis and Ryan Gosling?
PS: I am pretty sick of wordpress. I think I might transfer the blog to another website, and also open up a facebook page. I think I’m going to take it public as well. I’m pretty consigned to never working on mainstream videogames again. I’d like to work in indie games someday, but working at the kind of company where I have to censor my opinions doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.
On that note, keeping tabs on two twitters is way too annoying! so just twitter at @Beetemup ❤