Not surprisingly, when I was brainstorming this piece, it took me a while to think of more than one or two characters to put on this list. I reached out to my coworkers and even with a big group of us thinking, we couldn’t really name that many prominent characters that were minorities. It seems like every time I write a list like this, I get a bunch of responses claiming that in fact, white people are the minority and I’m talking out of my ass. So, before I go any further, I wanted to precisely define what I meant by minorities: in this piece (and for most people in America) a minority is someone not of European/Caucasian decent.
Franklin: GTA V
Franklin is an interesting character to me because as GTA V starts, he is tiptoeing on the line of the thug/criminal stereotype that I’ve already written about. Instead, Rockstar portrays him as someone at least trying to get out of the self-destructive cycle most of the people he grew up with are stuck in. While he does go about “bettering” himself through illicit means, for the most part, the situations he is forced into dictate his actions. The tragedy of Franklin’s story arc is that even though he does get out of the destructive cycle of gangs and drugs that he strives to escape, he falls into an, arguably, even worse situation. To me, this nuanced and complex part of his character is what makes it come off as realistic and keeps it out of the thug/gangmember stereotype.
Adéwalé: Assassin’s Creed IV
I didn’t think I could love a character from the Assassin’s Creed series as much as I love Altair, but Adéwalé proved me dead wrong. His character just hits all the notes that resonate with me. The fact that it was Adéwalé’s guidance that lead/pushed Edward Kenway towards joining the Assassins and fighting for an ideal beyond his own desires, shows the influence that his character possesses. Probably my favorite part of his character is that while he can fit into that wise older guide role a la Gandalf or Professor X, he also is the focus of the upcoming Freedom Cry DLC, showing that Ubisoft believes he can handle the load of being the main character. I remember watching the trailer for Freedom Cry and getting similar chills to those I got after watching the trailer to the first Assassin’s Creed. It’s extremely premature, but I’m fairly confident that Adéwalé will be listed in the 2014 version of this minorities feature.
Nilin: Remember Me
I’m extremely saddened by how mediocre Remember Me turned out. Nilin is already one of the most progressive characters in the history of gaming, but she would have been much more celebrated had the game been better made. The way Nilin’s ethnic background was handled by developer Dontnod Entertainment, which is to say not mentioned at all and just allowed to be, is what made her character so impressive to me. By taking a similar route to how Telltale handled Lee’s blackness, Dontnod created a minority character that didn’t fall into any familiar tropes and allowed the audience to think of her as just the protagonist instead of a black protagonist. A black female lead is impressive, and hopefully indicative that the industry is heading in a more diversified direction.
Keith David: Saints Row IV
It’s Keith David. One of the greatest black voices of all time. If you don’t like Keith David, I don’t like you.
Over 400 games were released last year, and yet I could only think of a little more than a handful of minority characters I would include on this list. Even fewer were the number of games that had female protagonists. I’d like to think that over the coming years those numbers will be consistently increasing.