My biggest problem with Black representation in sci-fi and fantasy gaming is that it tends to be unrealistic. Characters like Jax Briggs from Mortal Kombat, James Heller from Prototype 2, and Vivienne from Dragon Age (to name a few that come to mind) are all represented as Black characters who don’t face racism at all. Now you can read this in two ways – either video games show idyllic post-racist societies, or, more likely, the developers don’t want to alienate any racist white customers who would boycott the game because a Black character has something to say.
This is where Wolfenstein II stands out – the year is 1961, the Nazis won the Second World War and America is controlled by fascists and the Klan. The secondary protagonist, Grace Walker, is a Black American Resistance leader in this alternate timeline who, unlike a lot of characters in gaming, is moulded into the character she is by the experiences she endures under the racist regime. She’s a good example of a realistic character living in a racist society – unlike many of the typical Black characters in video games who seem to be Black because the developer just wants to claim representation without addressing any of the issues, otherwise known as having your cake and eating it too.
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead might have been overshadowed by the TV show of the same name, but it provides a far more interesting experience. You control Lee Everett, a Black man recently arrested for killing his ex-wife’s lover, as he adapts to a zombie apocalypse, with his guardianship of the young orphaned girl Clementine acting as a redemption arc.
Throughout the game, the player is given choices to which there is never a right answer– who should be saved in a certain situation, for example. Every time Lee experiences the fallout of one of these decisions– the anger of one of his companions, for example– it seems half-directed at the player: why did you do this? He develops through these choices, managing to stay sane despite everything that happens to him. He is the perfect protagonist for one of the grittiest games ever made.