The Depiction of Dark Skinned Characters in Video Games

Growing up playing video games, there was one constant I couldn’t help notice. I would always question, why do the ‘baddies’ always have darker skin? As someone with dark skin myself, I couldn’t help but think this was a judgment against me. In recent years the world is slowly becoming a more progressive place but the trend of making weaker enemy types and flat-out villains darker in skin tone to show evil is still a trend many development studios adopt. Gamers may deny this fact or not even realise how often this happens and therefore may not like this article altogether, but I guess I’m used to playing the villain… 

I’m a video games writer by trade but a lot of games journalism outlets have turned down the chance to feature this article as they fear it will bring hate towards their websites from the majority white audiences they accumulate. Gamers are a toxic breed and throughout my life yapping away on Xbox live as a teenager I’ve had my fair share of racist interactions.  

Take a game like Super Smash Bros Ultimate. SSBU (for short) is the Avengers of the gaming world. Characters from all different types of games come together to fight for glory. This game is the “hall of fame” of video game characters but at a first glance of the character selection screen, Ganondorf is the only person of colour. He is from a series you’ve probably heard of called The Legend of Zelda. He is the main antagonist of the series and of course, he is dark-skinned. So it seems to be the main villain from the Zelda series seems to be the only way to make it into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

In the Zelda series, Ganondorf is from the Gerudo tribe. A tribe featuring only dark-skinned women. Every 100 years Ganondorf is reincarnated into the tribe and is thrust into becoming King of the Gerudo. From the start, he is given power and privilege and deems his take over of Hyrule (the world of the Legend of Zelda) as a birthright. Ironically this a storyline fit for a straight white politician but instead disguised as a dark-skinned villain to seemingly match his title of the ultimate embodiment of evil. The symbolism between good and evil has always been an awkward thing to portray. Light and dark have always been two contrasting themes that can be shown in many ways but the easiest way for developers to show a character is evil seems to be to darken said characters skin tone. 

Fire Emblem is a tactics-based game that sees your team of human characters take on many groups of enemies in a mythical land but the setting isn’t the only thing that sets this game back a few hundred years. Starting with the first Fire Emblem we can see out of the 7 characters with slightly darker skin than the rest of the cast, 6 of them are villains. Many other games adopt this same strategy when making characters, such as Valkyria Chronicles 4 which includes 2 out of the 3 main characters of colour, to be evil. All this is even before we look at enemy minions and grunts.

The idea of a low level “bandit” character to easily defeat in games is commonplace. Usually, they’re a ruffian type, poor, uneducated, thug-ish, weak, and I think you know where I’m going with this. Darker-skinned! Even recent games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake uses this trope.

Now in order to mention Final Fantasy 7 Remake, we must point out it does include one of the series’ first black characters, Barret. He is part of the main group of characters in the game and is the only playable character with dark skin. Not even his daughter has the same skin colour as him. Some people may think Barret’s inclusion exempts the game from expressing any bias towards lighter-skinned people but in the many parts of the game that takes place in rural towns and slum areas, these “bandit” characters can be found. Forwarding the stereotype that darker-skinned people are the product of lesser education, less wealth, and thug-like behaviour.    

One way we can see a direct correlation between good against evil is when the main protagonist has an “evil” version of themselves. Having an “evil” doppelganger is all the rage these days, there’s Dark Link, Evil Ryu, and Dark Pit to name a few. Dark Pit’s skin colour can vary but in most incidences stays ever so slightly more tanned than Pit, and the same goes for Evil Ryu. However, it could be said that Dark Link’s skin colour was completely an artistic choice until you realise there are people in the world with that same skin colour. All these characters have had their skin colour altered to show more of a contrast when compared to their “good” counterparts. 

Whilst this may not be necessarily intentionally racist, I do think it’s a very big problem with beauty standards in Asian countries, where a lot of these games are made. Skin tone is a controversial topic when it comes to beauty. In Asia, dark skin is not favourable and the cosmetics world has come up with many lotions and potions not to increase your health bar, but to lighten your skin supposedly to increase your beauty stat. Embracing the sun and celebrating melanin is an alien concept in a lot of areas within Asia and in fact they would rather look more western and lighter-skinned. 

This is all something I’m confident in, as I’m from Mauritius and stay on the darker end of the spectrum than the rest of my family. Mauritius is an island off the south of Africa so we enjoy the tropical sunshine a lot. Like a lot of residents of the island, my family’s ancestors came to the island from India, so I know how damaging and toxic Asian beauty standards can be.

Growing up without different skin colour options in games when there are a plethora of different options for hairstyles, body types, and different shades of white, makes people like myself feel unseen and ignored. This is then perpetuated when I see the people who look like me in demeaning degrading positions. Dear game developers, please use other ways of signifying evil other than skin colour. It may take a bit more creative thinking and less laziness but I believe we are already seeing a change worldwide and as the most successful industry in the world, the games industry needs to pick up the slack, especially in Asain territories. 

One thought on “The Depiction of Dark Skinned Characters in Video Games”

  1. The usual response I’ve seen to this for SSB is “oh well a lot of these characters are intended to be Japanese, so they’re all POC” which I think really misses the point. You’re absolutely right, game devs need to be a lot more conscious of the messages they’re sending and the lazy, racist tropes they make use of. Thanks for this article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *