Black Gamer: My love & hate history of playing Black characters
By Eye Candy
May 17, 2018
By Kwame Shakir, AFROPUNK Contributor
Black characters in video games were rare back in the 80s and 90s, but nowadays, they’re portrayed as gangsters, thugs, exotic dancers, hookers, and athletes. And these are images that the white ruling class media constantly forces and shoved down our throat on a daily basis.
The white rulers have used media to depict the black community in so many negative ways from promoting horizontal violence to justifying the oppression of our community. And all these negative portrayals of our community by the white ruling class media heavily perpetuates colonial violence against our community whether it be police violence, gentrification, and mass incarceration.
My own personal history of playing as black characters in video games actually started back in the mid-1990s with “Streets Of Rage”, a 1991 beat em’ up game for Sega Genesis where you could play as either Blaze Felding aka Becky, Axel Stone aka Bob, and my favorite character from the game which is Adam Hunter who was heavily based on Mike Tyson who was at the peak of his legal issues at the time.
Even though Adam was the slowest of the three in terms of speed, he made up for hit with his sick haymaker uppercut that I often used to defeat my opponents and that jumping karate kick when he said “hooyah” sounded amazing.
And then I played the sequel called “Streets Of Rage 2” where Adam gets “kidnapped”, but really enslaved by Mr. X in his desperate attempt to exact his revenge on the three young characters who defeated him in the first game. I absolutely hated how they depicted Adam being in chains and shackles which is very similar to how our ancestors were enslaved which later led to the colonial parasitic capitalist economy that we’re living under.
My favorite character from “Streets Of Rage 2” is Adam’s younger brother Skate and even though he didn’t hit as hard as Max, he made up for it with his dazzling speed and my favorite move of his from the game is when he gets behind his opponents, he immediately lays the smackdown while sitting on top of them until they’re defeated and I truly enjoyed doing that.
Then I started to notice there were plenty of black male characters that I played with in fighting games back in the 1990s too like Jax in Mortal Kombat, Balrog from Street Fighter II, Michael Max from Fatal Fury, TJ Combo from Killer Instinct, Birdie from Street Fighter Alpha. And these black male characters that I mentioned were also based on Mike Tyson.
Little Known Fact About The 1st “Punch-Out” game for The NES
While Tyson went on to become an iconic champ, he hadn’t won his first world belt when Nintendo licensed his name and likeness for the game. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa attended one of Tyson’s bouts prior to his 1986 victory over Trevor Berbick that claimed the World Boxing Council belt. Arakawa was impressed and signed Tyson for Nintendo at a pre-world champ price. Nintendo let the contract lapse before his subsequent legal troubles.
Nintendo dropping Mike Tyson from the game had nothing to do with his criminal conviction. One of the great dividers during the NES era was whether you owned the original Mike Tyson version of Punch-Out or the infinitely lamer version released later featuring “Mr. Dream” as the final boss. For years, most people assumed Nintendo dropped Tyson because they didn’t want to be associated with him after his high-profile “incident”, but they actually ended their deal with Tyson nearly a full year before his arrest.
It was Tyson’s upset loss to Buster Douglas in February 1990 that convinced the company to drop him. They figured Tyson was on the way down, and they’d already got more than their money’s worth out of him, so they decided to quit while they were ahead. It was a bit of a brash decision, but one Nintendo was probably very happy to have made when Tyson ended up in hot water a year later.
Nintendo only paid $50,000 for Mike Tyson’s endorsement. Another reason Nintendo probably dumped Tyson was because he was undoubtedly going to ask for a huge pay hike to continue endorsing the Punch-Out. Nintendo managed to snag Tyson when he was still on the rise, before he became the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion. As such, they got Tyson’s endorsement for a song. The dude lent his likeness to the game for a mere $50,000. If Nintendo had approached Tyson only a few months later, an offer of $50,000 probably would have got Nintendo’s execs fed to Tyson’s tigers.
Negative Stereotypes In Today’s Video Games
One of the biggest example of the constant negative stereotyping of black characters in video games today like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto in which I played that game a few times back in the day and noticed there was not one positive image of black characters in that game because they’re negativity stereotyped as criminals, gangsters, thugs, hookers, and exotic dancers like you see on TV & hear in The Media.
Another main example of the negative stereotypes of black characters that you commonly see in today’s video games is that when you go to a gaming store like GameStop and look at the latest cover of an NBA, NFL or even some of the old college football games, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be a black athlete and the white ruling class media loves to shove these images down our throat. We know that we’ll always be more than the negative stereotypes that they often portray us as.
The Conclusion – I think that if some of our youth lean towards becoming coders and developers, then they should be able to create the games that they want to created without being stifled by bigoted white dudes in the gaming industry.