When you think of black hair in games, what comes to mind? Maybe a clean set of cornrows? How about some dreadlocks? Or, and this is probably the most likely, are you considering an afro, a Caesar fade, or just a bald scalp?
This litmus test has been a debate that has raged in the gaming industry for as long as games have featured protagonists and character creators. Even exes Kotaku employee Evan Narcisse took up the debate in his essay on the difficulties depicting Blackness in gamingwhich shows that the road has been traveled but is still quite long.
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While all of the aforementioned hairstyles are now likely to be found on almost any character creator, unfortunately, they’re still incredibly limited for black players when it comes to creating digital versions of themselves. As any black person will tell you, our hair has a depth and breadth that is barely represented in our favorite medium.
And that’s exactly what it is Kinda funny games’ Host and producer, Blessing Adeoye Jr. tackles his latest episode The broadcast of the blessing. So we decided to sit down with him and find out just how bad it is when it comes to black hair in gaming.
Character creators are good, but could be better
Adeoye Jr., one of the latest additions to Some funny games crew, has his own series looking at aspects of games and design. In its latest episode, “We need to fix black hair in video games,” provides some history of black hairstyles, noting that the most common appearance in games, cornrows, dates back “over 3,000 years in sub-Saharan Africa.” This is profound. Even deeper is the diversity of black hair styles, which include 360 waves, bandeau knots, hawks, Jheri curls and twists, among others.
Unfortunately, many of these styles are not seen in the character creators of most modern games. That’s not to say things haven’t improved. It highlights games like Nioh 2 and, sigh, Hogwarts Legacy as examples of great options for black players to create an extension of themselves with hair to match.
But it is clear that Western standards of beauty— blond hair, light skin, blue eyes, slim build, etc. are still the norm in the industry. As Adeoye Jr. mentions, “a lot of popular games are developed in countries like Japan,” meaning that training around the more natural, “ethnic” hair worn by black people is much less common. Therefore, you get something similar Elden Ringcharacter creator who, while vast in his options, is limited in his ability to accurately represent a black person. FromSoftware’s magnum opus is the best selling game in the Japanese studio’s catalog, but it can’t even do its portrayal of Blackness right.
The confrontation between games like Nioh series and Elden Ring it is indicative of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
Western standards of beauty in games
According US Census Bureau estimate, Blacks make up just 13.6 percent of the American population compared to whites, who dominate at 75.8 percent. Judging by this alone, you would assume that Black characteristics—like our tanned skin and kinky hair—are not “normal or common enough to be considered,” as Adeoye Jr. suggests. in his video. And he is not wrong.
Throughout history, black people have been they are demonized for their physical characteristics in order to uphold Western standards of beauty as the ideal that everyone should strive for, whether it is possible or not. This is something that both of our families have experienced—straightening their hair to avoid it the distinctions to come wearing a more natural style. And we spent it in our teenage years, dying our hair in an attempt to get closer to whiteness and thus become beautiful to our classmates, teachers, bosses and colleagues, even our parents. Never mind the damage it did to our roots. Straightening our hair made us beautiful because it was the hairstyle society wanted.
Because blacks don’t even make up a quarter of America’s population (and less places like Japan), it’s no wonder natural hairstyles aren’t found or are limited to the usual suspects in games. It is also not surprising that so many of them favor physical characteristics that suggest whiteness such as: pale skin, straighter hair texture, smaller lips and noses, etc.
While some games, such as Pokémon Scarlet and Violet and The Sims 4 have received updates to “expand” the options available, like most The fall of Babylon, he couldn’t even recognize that black hair (or people for that matter) exists. And even when we exist in these worlds, our depiction is at best inaccurate or at worst a caricature (looking at you, CJ).
I get Varlthe brave clan and main character of Guerrilla Games’ Horizon series. He’s got an impressive head of locs that are “refreshingly comprehensive” for Adeoye Jr., but even Varl isn’t immune to the suffocation Western standards of beauty have on game design. In a closer look at the taper fader that Varl has in the 2022 sequel Forbidden Westyou can see that the texture of the hair is straighter than would be considered natural for a hairstyle like this (that is curly, kinky hair). The same can be said for Varl’s beard, which also appears to have a straighter hair texture.
Black people are not monolithic, of course. The texture of our hair varies with each person’s culture and scalp, but Varl’s design is indicative the problem of portraying Blackness in games;. It’s almost there, but so often it misses the mark and that’s terrible. In most cases, it’s clear that a lot of love clearly went into these characters, and improvements in rendering technology provide the means to make these depictions even better – we just need the training to keep up with technical progress.
However, there are some shining examples for black players
The games didn’t have many great examples of authentic black hair. However, Miles Morales“next generation fade,” Kimberly from Street Fighter 6 and her huge braids, and Estelle from Season: A Letter to the Future with her short afro are among the favorite depictions of Blackness in Adeoye Jr.’s games.
“I think usually when you’re trying to portray black women in a video game, you want something like Kimberly or something, but for a character to have a shorter afro, I think that’s awesome. Adeoye Jr. says Time in an interview with Kotaku. “One of my sisters has a shorter afro, so I just saw it [Estelle] I was like, “Oh, snap, that reminds me of my sister.” That’s a hairstyle that a lot of black women have and so for her to have that defines her character, I thought that was really good as well.”
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It’s easy to default to something like this GTA Online and NBA 2K for character creators with decent options for black players. But what about inclusive representation in The Simswhich he promised to do better for the Black community—and delivered. The Sims 4 he’s got applied many of the mods that Black Simmers have made allowing for greater precision and variety when creating black characters.
WWE 2K22 is another powerful character creator with its diverse selection of body types, skin tones, and hairstyles. Or the Saints Row series which blew our minds with how many options were available creating our own “Boss”.
Curls aren’t going anywhere
Often, whenever discussions about Black representation in gaming come up, a vocal subset the gaming community diminishes what is worth highlighting with excuses and “the math”. While the rock that appears during the speech about Black representation upsets Adeoye Jr., he wants his video to be relaxed and welcoming to both Kinda funny audience and the gaming industry as a whole.
“This is a video I made with the hope that it’s approachable, like something that’s not offensive most of the time. I feel like sometimes I can be aggressive about it, but I want to give that option for people to want to watch the video and not feel like I’m talking down to them,” Adeoye Jr. explains.
Despite the possibility that the majority of Kinda funnyHis audience is white, Adeoye Jr. he believes the arguments he made in his video, and the digestible way he presented them, will “go a long way” in encouraging viewers to advocate for better representation in games.
“When you have an industry that’s predominantly white, it’s hard to see these issues. It’s hard to look at these characters and say, “Oh, there’s something wrong here or there’s something here, right?” As black people who play these games, this is something we care about,” says Adeoye Jr.
Adeoye Jr’s video it may not lead to an immediate shift in the video game industry towards a more authentic representation of BIPOC people, but it does manage to encapsulate the many frustrations and occasional joys black gamers feel when it comes to seeing ourselves. the games we play. Here’s hoping we get even more hair options besides just the finish or fade in games like Diablo IV and Starfield.