Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away the only black man in the universe was Lando Calrissian a “Card player, gambler and scoundrel”. The only Asian People in comics were Kung-Fu masters and the only person of color you could play in a video game was a cheap knock-off of Mike Tyson. The sci-fi/comic/fantasy genre has come a long way over the last few years, with minorities taking on more (while still occasionally problematic) roles across the mediums. Unfortunately the one area that hasn’t seen much progress is the gaming world. I had hoped that Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation the first video game to ever feature a minority woman as a main playable character was a sign of progress, instead it was one of the most offensive and blatant examples of just how little things have changed in the gaming world.
Even if you lived in “Swing state” just about the only thing that had more ads running the last week of October than the presidential election was ads for Assassin’s Creed 3. The third in the insanely popular series had some of the best commercials you’ve ever seen. Assassin’s Creed follows the tale of a centuries old battle between the “good” assassin’s and their undercover war against the Templars who are sortof a shadowly illuminati group always on the side of the bad guys (corrupt church officials, the Colonial British, etc.) The Assassin’s Creed series, produced by Ubisoft is one of the best – selling and best reviewed video game series in history. In particular AC3: Liberation has broken records for a Playstation hand-held game. Smooth graphics, attention to historical detail and elaborate and time specific plots have made these games a must have. AC has also always been rather progressive as video games on the racial front, with the main character in the first game being a Muslim running round killing corrupt church officials in renaissance Europe. The 3rd in the series was the launch of two games, the main AC3 featured on the PS3 system and the AC3: Liberation on the PS Vita. The games would feature an American Indian and an African American woman respectively as main characters. On the surface this was a big step in the gaming world.
Pop quiz time: How many black females have ever been main playable characters in a video game? (And by that I mean original video game characters, playing Storm in a video game doesn’t count she’s a comic book character first). Times up! Only FIVE. (Sheva Alomar Resident Evil, Lisa Hamilton from Dead or Alive, Christie Monteiro from Tekken, Elena from Street Fighter, and Samantha Alexander from Hunter the Wayward Reckoning). That’s right 5, out of the literally thousands of video game characters that have come out since the advent of home video game systems in 1978. Just to put this into perspective, there have been more Donkey Kongs than black women in video games.
*I decided to review AC3 because the game developers spent so much time doing interviews about how historically accurate the games were not to mentioned patting themselves on the back for making the main characters minorities. I focused mainly on AC3: Liberation which had the following descriptions online.
*Aveline is raised with privilege and love, even after her mother disappears and her father marries her step-mother. As Aveline grows she develops into a strong-willed young woman and starts to take notice of the contrasts around her – wealth and poverty, freedom and slavery – and while torn between the different values she inherited from her parents, she forms her own set of values, including a vehement anti-slavery stance,” (Game producer Martin Capel).
*Wow, before even picking up the controller it’s hard not to be bowled over with the ahistorical and underlying ignorance in the main character Aveline De Grandpre’s backstory. First, placage has long been romanticized by some historians (as well as the French and some Creoles) as the way in which wealthy white men and black women managed to find love despite the oppressive laws against interracial coupling in the 18th and 19th century. The romantic meme is that wealthy white men feel in love with black women, and, unable to marry them set these women (and their eventual offspring) up in fancy houses, gave them educations and gave them all they could except marriage since that was legally forbidden in New Orleans. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Given the limited opportunities for women of African descent at the time (some of whom were still slaves) they were often pressed into these relationships with little or no choice (Read Ann Rice’s Feast of All Saints for a more sobering description of Placage). The white men who “chose” them had no obligation to provide these concubines with any financial support, and these women and their children had any legal standing to inherit money or property when these men died. Worse, in many cases if the man simply lost interest these noble suitors simply abandoned their placage wives and returned to their public white wives without a hint of guilt or legal consequence. In the case of Aveline her mother was a slave, her father a rich Frenchman. He consistently laments to Aveline the laws that kept him from properly marrying her mother. This is a common self-serving twist of logic in discussions of White men and their sexual behavior during slavery. Wealthy white men claiming to have been constrained (by the very laws that they created) as a way to rationalize maintaining unequal and coercive relationships with women of color.
This article originally ran online at Politic365.com.