Representation Matters: Positive Portrayals of Black Women in Video Games

Nadine Ross of Uncharted 4 and upcoming Lost Legacy

2016 was a much improved year for black gamers — several major releases prominently featured black characters (Mafia III, Watch Dogs II, Battlefield I, Fifa 17, and both The Walking Dead Season 2 and Michonne) and numerous other characters came to the table via indie games (Virginia, We are Chicago) and in established franchises (Uncharted 4’s Nadine, Dishonored 2’s Megan Foster). Additionally, as the gaming industry seems to be attempting to introduce more women in lead roles, more black female characters are being featured in games.

This month Legendary Women is celebrating Black History with a series featuring inspiring black women on our social media. I wanted to continue that celebration here by highlighting some of the most positive portrayals of black women in video games. My top five:

Vivienne

Vivienne, Dragon Age: Inquisition — First enchanter, adviser to the Empress, and arguably one of the most politically important characters in the game. Written by Mary Kirby, Vivienne’s poise and self confidence are her strengths and make her a standout in a game full of terrific characters.

Vella Tartine

Vella Tartine, Broken Age — The heroine of this unique point and click adventure is a distressed damsel not only saves herself, but her entire world. Boasting a charmingly unique graphic style, the character is voiced by Masasa Moyo. Broken Age broke records by becoming one of the largest and fastest earning games on Kickstarter.

Nilin Cartier-Wells

Nilin Cartier-Wells, Remember Me — Nilin is smart, capable, internally conflicted, but externally confident. Remember Me won an IFMCA award for original score but more importantly was praised for its deep, complex story. Developers fought to keep the character’s gender and race as written despite pressure from publishers. When asked in an intervaiew why the team took the decision to make the protagonist of the game a mixed-race woman, creative director Jean-Maxime Moris stated: “It was not a decision. It was something that just felt right from the beginning.”

Aveline de Grandpre

Aveline de Grandpre, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation — Despite Ubisoft’s initial reluctance to create a female Assassin, Aveline’s story and character was arguably better than that of the main storyline for AC3. Scored by Winifred Philips and Winnie Waldron, this was the first Assassin’s Creed game to feature a female playable character.

Clementine

Clementine, The Walking Dead — Clementine is considered the emotional center-point of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed episodic game series. She is also the only character to be in all three seasons of the game.

Honorable Mentions:

Anne Tarver, Virginia — This unique indie features two black women protagonists as FBI Agents.
Alyx Vance, Half Life 2 — One of the earliest representations of women and black characters in a major release, and arguably still one of the best. 
Nadine Ross, Uncharted 4 — Nadine was fierce and smart in Uncharted 4, and will return to co-helm the next game in the series.

Things are still far from perfect — while Pew Research Center states that 53% of black adults play video games and on average black gamers play more per week then anyone else, a University of California study shows that fewer then 11% of games feature black characters, and of those the majority are athletes or gangsters. Additionally, IDGA reports that only 3% of game developers are black. Fortunately these statistics are improving (if slowly) as A-list game producers start to realize that more diverse storytelling is a vastly untapped market and more black-helmed independent studios (like Dab Studio 7 and Kiro’o Games Studio) come to the forefront.

There’s good stuff on the horizon, and here’s hoping that 2017 proves to be another year of great strides for diversity.

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