(Quick Note: This article has spoilers for a lot of games. It’s better if you’ve played some of them or at least have knowledge of them to understand all the game-related terms I use. I would also like to add that I am Latino and my voice should not speak over others.)
As someone who plays video games every day, I gravitate toward lore. Whether for the game as a whole or individual characters, it makes the playing experience more likable. But the second thing I look for is a variety of different characters. Nobody wants to see reused characters with slightly different colors and personalities.
I’m a fan of quite a few games like “Cookie Run: Kingdom”, the “Splatoon” and “Pokémon” series, and “Genshin Impact”, but I’ve been noticing that I’m missing a lot of… well, melanin. “Cookie Run: Kingdom” does a decent job since it is a game about cookies, so there would be a variety of tones, but games like “Genshin Impact” are the problem.
In “Genshin Impact,” Mondstadt is the first nation you visit and is decent in terms of cultural representation. Inspired by Germany, the only problem I’ve heard people discuss is the voice actors’ pronunciation of German names and phrases. Inazuma and Liyue (the third and second nations) were similar, with most people having no problem with the representation of Japanese and Chinese culture.
Then HoYoverse finally released Sumeru.
From my past experiences with friends who also play, I’ve heard people defend the game’s lack of skin tone diversity in previous nations, saying that places like China, Japan, and Germany have mostly pale-skinned citizens anyway, (This is completely incorrect, but that’s a topic for another time.)
The problem is that only five characters out of the large cast have darker skin. Candace, Cyno, Dehya, Xinyan, and Kaeya. They all don’t have incredibly dark skin; they only look darker because the characters tend to have almost paper-white skin. Some look tan, desaturated, or lifeless at best. This is HoYoVerse’s whitewashing.
At the very least, they could use a dropper tool in an application like ”Ibis Paint X” to avoid whitewashing their already darker characters (examples of this would be Kaeya in the orchestra art or Xinyan in the second Golden Apple Archipelago event,) but they don’t.
Some games nail their representation, and others do not. In “Resident Evil: 5”, protagonist Chris Redfield, tries to find the cause of a deadly virus that has spread in West Africa. Redfield travels to places like Kijuju to fight people affected by the virus. It’s easy to understand why people were upset: a white man visits Africa to kill several people (who have been depicted as impoverished, skinny monsters), some enemies in grass skirts, waving wooden spears at the player.
It’s insensitive at best. And if you’d like a more in-depth explanation, you should read it here.
Another example would be the “Danganronpa” series. Most of the cast is pale, and when counting all the characters- including those from the anime and spin-off games- there are a total of 11 darker skinned characters out of over 100 characters. And while there has been discourse on colorism in the series by the fandom, it isn’t the only issue.
Daisaku Bandai, one of the few black characters in Danganronpa, is known as the Ultimate Farmer, with his design seen as controversial. Angie Yonaga’s religion seems like it’s a cult to the player, and Spike Chunsoft seem to have done little to no research on Atuan gods and Māori culture. One of the game’s plus-sized characters (Impostor) is obsessed with eating food all the time. They even insensitively portray DID with characters like Toko Fukawa and Genocider Jack.
Games like these don’t make up the entire community, of course. Multiple games have a diverse cast, like “The Walking Dead” game series. The series offers Lee Everett, Michonne, Clementine, and Javier Garcia as protagonists. They’re all people of color (POC), with two of them being women! Thanks, Telltale.
There’s also “Detroit: Become Human”, a game where you play as three different androids trying to find their way in Detroit. Kara tries to protect a child named Alice (and along the way meets Luther who joins them on their journey,) Markus, an android that leads an android freedom movement, and Connor, a detective trying to find the reason and solution to android deviancy. The game beautifully tells the androids’ stories, with Alice finding family in Kara and Luther as they flee to Canada in one of the story’s branches, Markus standing up for equal rights for androids (or fighting for them, depending on the player’s choice), and Connor dealing with internal conflict as he is forced to fight for his kind or for the humans.
But “Detroit: Become Human” came out in 2018, so it’s also worth mentioning recent, well-known games like “Pokémon Scarlet and Violet”. I still haven’t been able to play “Scarlet” and “Violet” since they’ve come out, but what I can see is that “Pokémon” is improving a lot in terms of diversity. The franchise has never been known for having super diverse representation, as the first game with skin color options other than white was “Pokémon X and Y”, which released in 2013. But from what I have seen, “Pokémon Scarlet and Violet” features more options for the player. Not just eyelashes or eye color, but even eye shape is available for the player to customize. The skin tones and hairstyles look promising, as do some characters like Geeta or Jacq.
Another great improvement is “Splatoon 3,” with it featuring a variety of skin tones and representation- such as the three main idol characters Frye, Shiver, and Big Man, who are inspired by Indian, Japanese, and Brazilian cultures. While some have complained about the lack of textured hairstyles in the game other than the afro option for Octolings (which is completely valid), it’s a refreshing change from games that don’t even attempt to research the cultures they represent.
Overall, I’ve felt disappointed in the video game scene for years because of the lack of representation. I mean, I’ve never seen a character fully struggle like I have—a character to look up to when times get rough. You rarely see strong assigned female at birth characters, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters are just as rare too. So when games do it right, they show people who aren’t the norm that they matter. It doesn’t just inspire kids to value themselves, it can also inspire anyone.
That’s why we need to have diversity. Not to be politically correct, but because there are people out there who despise themselves because they look or identify differently than others.
And that’s more important than a few more sales.
Hi, I'm Gianna! This is my first year on staff as a junior in high school, as well as the Art & Spanish editor! I'm part of the LASO and Horticulture club and am excited to write stories.