Playable person of color

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Julius "Dr. J" Erving is a playable character in One-on-One (1983).

Games with a playable person of color are very rare despite the fact they account for the vast majority of the people on the planet. I'm presuming this is related to the fact that a large amount of video games are made by white people, and they prefer to make games about their own ethnic group. Those few games which have a playable person of color usually have only a single person of color in an otherwise all-white cast. Since characters who are persons of color are so noteworthy, I have created a category for them on this Wiki. Various gaming databases have categories for games which feature a black protagonists, but they rarely address other ethnic groups. Games are slowly becoming more diverse and playable characters who are persons of color are becoming more popular, but they still make up a slim fraction of the total number of games being developed. Excluding sports titles, it appears there are even fewer games which feature a playable person of color than there are games which feature a playable female character.

Personal

I don't remember the first game I ever played which featured a playable person of color, but it was most likely a sports game. However, since most sports games have you interchangeably control various players in the roster, it didn't register to me that I was playing a person of color. I think the very first game where a playable person of color actually surprised me was in the early 1990s with the game Ultima VI: The False Prophet. You get to choose your character portrait from twelve possible options. All of them are white except for a black man and a Japanese woman. At the time, I remember thinking that these two didn't fit the theme because I was still of the mindset that fantasy fiction could only take place in an all-white European setting. Only later did I realize, oh yeah, this is all make-believe, there are fire-breathing dragons flying around, so why am I hung up on there being black people? Throughout all of the 1980s, the only game I remember playing where the player had to control a non-white character is Ninja Gaiden in which the playable character, thought Japanese, still looks white when depicted.

Definition

The term "person of color" can be pretty subjective, so, for the purposes of this site, I consider a playable character to be a person of color if they meet one of the following two sets of criteria:

  1. If the game's literature unambiguously describes the playable character's ethnicity as being non-European. This counts even if they are not graphically depicted (as in a text adventure), or are graphically depicted looking white. It's not uncommon for artists to use light skin, especially in a cartoon medium, for characters who wouldn't have light skin in real life; anime frequently depicts characters of Japanese descent with pale skin and rosy cheeks. A non-anime video game example can be seen in Age of Empires where all of the character graphics are drawn with fairly light skin, but most of them are described as having various Middle Eastern and Asian ethnicities.
  2. If the playable character's heritage is not mentioned in the game, but their skin tone is clearly not white. However, the playable character must be human or very close to human. Aliens and monsters do not count, but fictional humanoids like elves or dwarves and real humanoids like Neanderthals or Denisovans do count. Also, the character's skin color must be a human skin tone. Blue elves or green humans do not count.

Examples

This is a list of games that are important to me which feature playable persons of color. For the full list, see the category.

Title Released Notes
Age of Empires series 1997-10-15 Throughout the series, most of the playable empires are ancient Middle Eastern or Asian ethnic groups.
Borderlands 2009-10-20 Roland is black.
Civilization series 1991-09-?? Throughout the series, most of the playable civilizations are people of color.
Diablo series 1996-12-31 The sorcerer from Diablo is black, the Monk from Hellfire is Asian, the paladin from Diablo II is black, the witch doctors from Diablo III are black and the wizards are Asian.
Left 4 Dead series 2009-11-17 Louis from L4D is black, and Coach and Rochelle from L4D2 are black.
Magic Carpet series 1994-??-?? You play a Middle Eastern character in each game.
Master of Magic 1994-09-?? Raven is North American, Sharee is African, Lo Pan is Chinese, Jafar is Middle Eastern, Tlaloc is South American.
Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra 1991-??-?? The custom male human portrait is black, one of the custom females is Chinese. Some of the other portraits are questionable.
Mortal Kombat series 1992-10-08 Several fighters in the series are persons of color.
Street Fighter series 1987-08-30 Most of the fighters in the series are persons of color.
Tecmo Sports series 1989-02-?? Their various sports games feature real-life athletes, many of which are persons of color.
Terraria 2011-05-16 Character creation allows for pretty much any skin color.
Ultima series 1990-06-01 Ultima VI: The False Prophet lets you chose a player portrait of a black man or a Japanese woman. Ultima VII, Part 2: Serpent Isle includes a black man and black women. Both Ultima Underworlds feature a black man and black woman. Ultima Online lets you customize your skin tone.

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