As you should all know by now, my favorite genre of gaming is easily RPGs. If you’re into sub-genres, the Japanese styled RPG’s rank #1 on my list. That’s what I’m here to talk about.
I’ve been playing JRPG’s since the very first Final Fantasy on the NES. In roughly 20+ years with the genre, I can’t remember a single game that featured a black protagonist. I mean, I can barely remember any black secondary characters. Most people’s favorite example is Barrett from Final Fantasy 7. The most recent example is Sazh from FF13 I believe. Be that as it may, they weren’t the game’s central figures. Now I’m not here to go on a egotistical rant about how the gaming industry is secretly or openly racist. I’m not gonna frame this post in a manner that shows me as an angry black gamer who wants his favorite type of game to center around someone he looks similar to. All I would like to do is talk about it and maybe discuss why this has happened. So let’s.
There aren’t very many black heroes in Japan period. I mean, look at their anime shows and mangas. How many of them feature black protagonists? I can’t think of any, although I’ll admit I’m no expert on the subject. So why would anyone expect their video games to be different? The Japanese are very traditional about their entertainment. It’s part of the reason many have fell out of love with their RPG’s in America. As times and games changed, most Japanese developers refused to let go of their way of creating. They find a formula that works, and they stick to it with minimal variation. For whatever reason they may have, black heroes (or even villains for that matter) simply have no place in the blueprint.
I sometimes wonder if part of the problem lies in their general lack of awareness about our culture? I can’t even prove that’s a real thing. But I feel like the developers who make these games simply don’t know enough about our history to make our characters properly. I mean, there’s a reason every black character they DO make feels stereotypical in some way. A limited knowledge of the subject will do that. You can only incorporate what you know. Or think you know. Can you imagine if FF7 was centered around Barrett? It would have been a disaster. Maybe they feel like they can’t create a black character in a manner that can carry an entire game. If that’s the case, then I can totally understand. Although I’m disappointed that efforts aren’t being made to correct that issue.
Something else I do think about though…..what would a JRPG with a black main character BE LIKE? Could you even set it up the way they are usually set up? Can you imagine a black man doing the things most main heroes in a JRPG do? I’m not saying I can’t, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit the thought is a little weird. I doubt it’s just me. Maybe that’s part of the issue. On the flip side, if the game was built around the things that black people are thought to be comfortable doing? There would be a damn riot. Maybe we just aren’t ready as gamers to accept a black protagonist. Or if we are ready, the developers may think otherwise. Numbers rule, and if they feel the game won’t be recieved well with a black centerpiece, guess what we won’t get?
With all that said, if there was ever a time where taking that risk could pay off…..it’s now. We’re at the dawn of a new generation. The boundaries of what’s acceptable in gaming have been expanded farther than ever. Why not give it a shot? What’s to lose? We accepted a kid with an oversized key, Goofy, and Donald Duck as world traveling heroes. Are you telling me a black man grabbing his weapon of choice (dont be cliche and give him a damn gun) and saving the planet is really that unbelievable? I would absolutely love to start up a JRPG and see that the sword wielding last hope for humanity looks like he could be my brother. I would love to see him trying to save a woman that resembles mine. I would love it if he acted like me, perhaps viewed certain situations as I might. Yeah, it could be awkward at first, but it could also be something totally new. Something we have never witnessed. It could be special. It could change everything. Or it could stay in my mind forever. As my dark twisted fantasy.