Every year hundreds of video games release, and we typically see a lack of diversity in their protagonists. Minorities are either not represented or are represented as one-dimensional or built solely around stereotypes. Specifically, characters in the black community are typically portrayed as either gangsters, rappers, or comedic relief.
The issue doesn’t fully fall on developers choosing to not make their protagonist a minority. It lies with the misguided industry stigma that games featuring a person of color (POC), woman, or LGBTQ will not sell as well as a game that features a white male protagonist.
Our list is comprised of some of the most prominent characters since the beginning of gaming. While we could make a list recognizing every appearance ever, this list is instead dedicated to characters that transcend one-dimensional stereotypes.
We chose to exclude characters from both the fighting and sports genres of games as well as any characters from games whose backstories aren’t explored inside the game. We will be diving into the stories of what makes the characters stand out, so spoilers may be present.
Without further ado…
Billie Lurk – ‘Dishonored: Death of the Outsider’
Admittedly she has the alcoholic single parent, working as a child origin story trope. However, what elevates Billie Lurk’s story from the trope is how varied her character becomes. At a young age, she aspires to be more than what was expected of her. Her journey is one of both internal and external growth.
Billie’s tale, like many tragic anti-heroes, is about revenge. In this case, it’s against the man who killed her lover Deirdre. Billie is identified as strong-willed and resolved throughout her growth. She compartmentalizes her feelings and doles out justice and revenge as she sees fit upon the wicked.
The difference between Billie and other vigilantes is that although she sees the world in black and white, her scale is always changing. Many characters in this style often stay one-dimensional and whatever was good/bad at the beginning is the same at the end. Billie’s ability to modify her opinions and actions based on the knowledge she gains shows internal growth of character.
Clementine – ‘The Walking Dead’
Clementine is one of the youngest protagonists in recent years and arguably has seen the most character development. At eight years old she begins innocent and polite, but these qualities are quickly replaced with more mature and cynical ones. Throughout her character development, we see her grow from an innocent child into a brash adult that has no issue speaking her mind.
We also see her face adversity in key moments that, for better or worse, change her forever. Her transition into a loner hero is a remarkable one as it most likely occurs to limit her feeling of loss. Regardless of this decision she is still forced to endure loss, and while it becomes easier, it never becomes easy.
Even with all of her loss, she still manages to retain her sanity and moral compass by using her previous experiences to guide her. While once a child, she quickly grows into a leader that many grew to care for and depend on.
Aveline de Grandpré – ‘AC: Liberation’
Aveline de Grandpré is an enigma in the category of gaming protagonists and deserves to be on multiple lists of this sort. Not only is she the first female protagonist in Assassin’s Creed games but is also French-African — another franchise first. Her mixed heritage afforded her a level of freedom in society despite her darker skin tone. Aveline became a testament of good character and selflessness at the age of 12 when attempting to free a slave.
Her passion and commitment to justice despite the absence of her mother speaks volumes about her character. At every opportunity, Aveline fights for the oppressed and for no benefit of her own. Aveline has her faults as well; she is often reckless in her decisions when helping the disprivileged. She has a tendency of being manipulated but still manages to never compromise her morality.
Aveline is one of the few protagonists in games to experience slavery and impact it in a positive way.
Nathan Heller – ‘Prototype 2’
James Heller is classified as an anti-hero, similar to Wolverine. Heller is a husband, father of one and a former Sergeant in the Marine Corps. After the virus outbreak and the supposed loss of his family, Heller sets out on a quest for vengeance.
Often consumed by rage, he experiences moments of clarity where he shows great composure and depth. Just moments before slaughtering an unsuspecting target he hesitates upon hearing them on the phone with their daughter.
This restraint is a determining factor in showing that Sgt. James Heller is more than the perceived rampaging monstrosity. Heller’s compassion and ability to relate to another father figure shows his complexity while grounding him in reality. While he may not be the most positive role model in this list, he is certainly anything but one-dimensional.
Adam & Eddie “Skate” Hunter – Streets of Rage Series
One of gamings earliest appearances of not only a strong black character but a strong black family. Adam Hunter and his younger brother Eddie, commonly known as Skate, were major characters in the Streets of Rage series. While they don’t have the most informative narrative or fleshed out backstory, they still explore key elements surrounding black culture and family.
Whether you pick Skate or not, the story is always about the reuniting of Adam and Skate’s family. For a story like this to exist in the early 90’s, during a time when black characters were nearly non-existent outside of sports games, was crucial. Sure, these two characters may not have impacted slavery or pushed the bar like other characters on the list. But for them to explore black culture and family bonds with zero dialogue is key on its own.
Growing up in a black household is different than other cultures, as you’d expect. More often than not many choose to be stoic or appear emotionless. Instead of voicing feelings and opinions black communities typically show feelings through actions. To be able to sit down with younger siblings and offer them the option to play as Skate was game-changing.
Streets of Rage gave siblings and family the opportunity to connect and feel represented in the medium of gaming. This message of inclusiveness was more important than a bunch of kids in front of a TV in the 90’s could have ever realized.