Video games allows a player to be anything from a space pirate to a truck driver and everything in between. Games create worlds that can have very complex rules and mechanics that can take hundreds of hours to master. Alternatively, some games only take a few minutes to ace. In general, games try to create an immersive experience that draws in the player and doesn’t let go until the ending credits. The more a player is enveloped into a game the deeper they will be able to connect to the world that was created. Usually an increased sense of immersion equals a more positive review from the player. Though for many players their level of enthrallment will never be at the same levels as others. In some cases, the game just doesn’t connect as well with them. Now this may not always be the issue but there are other ways to increase immersion.
One of the easiest ways to increase immersion is to have the main player character be someone that the player can relate too. As a black male this is one reasons why I like games that allow the player to create their own character. In games that allow me to customize my own character I can create someone who looks like me or nothing at all. But in whatever direction I choose to make my character, I am already more invested in them. Personally, the more I am devoted to my character the more I care for what happens. Now this is the part of the article where I would make a false equivalency argument about how I don’t relate to the lean muscle build, crew cut, white male in a generic shooter. But that wouldn’t be fair since, in most cases, they are one dimensional characters where the story is an excuse to kill more NPC’s (Non playable characters). Instead I will focus on games that are more narrative driven like BioShock or Portol.
In games like BioShock Infinite, the only BioShock I have played and I loved it, you have your main protagonist male who is brave, tough, has the MacGyver gene and is white/Eastern European. All essential characteristics to survive in a world where everyone is trying to kill you. For me, as a black male, the fact that Booker was white never hurt my sense of immersion considering the context of the story. For those who don’t know BioShock Infinite takes place around an alternate history of the 1910’s and during this time, in actual history, anyone not white had a rough time. So to have a white male protagonist makes plenty of sense unless you wanted to play servant/slave simulator. But after doing a quick Google search I have found that there are several games with black characters but even fewer with black characters as the main protagonists.
Two games that have black males as the playable character are 50 Cent: Bulletproof where you play as 50 Cent, the rapper. Then there is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas where you play as Carl “CJ” Johnson. In both of these cases the player as a character feeds into the stereotype of black males in America. Both of them are shown as violent thugs/gangsters types that will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. As far as I know there are no playable black male protagonist that do not fit the gangster/baller stereotype in a video game (But if you, the reader knows of any, let me know in the comments). Now I could explain the reason for games using black stereotypes is because all game companies are just privileged white male cis racist scum. But that would just be just flat out wrong and bigoted on my part. A more reasonable argument is that about over half the gaming industry is made up of white males. But if you are a white male what kind of games would you make? You would make games about things you know and like. So if all you really know about black people is the stereotypes then it not unreasonable to make a game using stereotypes.
As a disclaimer I am sure that many game companies know that black people and people in general are not just their stereotypes. Though I think that many of us forget that most people make games to make money. They see it as a business to make a profit and not just to entertain you. With that being said, those who make games like 50 Cent: Bulletproof are just using a black stereotype as a way to sell games.
At this point if I were a Social Justice Warrior I would probably demand that game companies make more games with more black male protagonists. This course of action would be wrong. Just because I want a game to have a certain playable character does not mean it fits the game or makes it appealing to the desired market. So instead of demanding others to make a game that appeals to me, I should make a game that appeals to me. Problem solved right? Well almost, cause if I make a game that appeals to black males that is one game in a sea of thousands that may or may not reach a larger audience. But if there were some Indie, Mid and AAA tier game studios that were predominately black in their staffing then there would be more games with black protagonists. Or at the very least if there were more minorities staffed by these studios then there is a higher chance of having more diverse playable characters. Though to ever get to this point there would need to be a concentrated effort to push black youth into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and Art with a focus in Gaming. Though to do that is another article all together.
In conclusion the immersion of a game can be increased by having a playable character that the player can relate to. But for many blacks, nonwhites or minority groups in general this lack of immersion can be solved by these very same groups making games with characters that they can relate to. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to solve it yourself and not wait for someone else to solve it for you.