The First 11 Black Videogame Stars

Jade, Beyond Good & Evil's leading lady

Can you name all the black main must-play characters in gaming? Hint: There are only eleven so far.

When I was younger, I always wondered why there weren’t more black superheroes. And, while you could ask the same question today, it also probably matters less. Today’s kids don’t dream about playing superheroes, they get to be the heroes in videogames all the time. So, that got me thinking: just how many black characters are there heading up games these days. I’m not talking about non-playable characters. And I’m not even talking about playable characters in a roster of characters you can choose between (like Street Fighter). I’m talking about the primo alpha prime you-don’t-get-no-say main playable character of the game. In other words, I wanted to find out how many times game developers have said: “You are Black. Period.” Here they are…

Moonwalker (1990) – Michael Jackson – I suppose it’s fitting that the first alpha black videogame character would be the biggest entertainer of all time. Of course, the game is a shameless attempt to capitalize on MJ’s worldwide success as a pop star. He’s also a particularly safe choice, being among the folks that Pino calls “Black but not really black” in Spike Lee’s classic Do the Right Thing. Still, what other beat-em-up insists that you take out enemies by dancing them to death? At least that’s a first.

Shaq Fu (1994) – Shaquille O’Neal – Another fighting game, this time featuring a superstar athlete. Here, Shaq wanders into a kung fu dojo in Tokyo and manages to fall into another dimension (who knew?) where he has to rescue a kid named Nezu. Hilarious B-movie premise, awful implementation. Shaq Fu is known as one of the worst games ever.

Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City (1994) – Michael Jordan – A 2D platformer featuring Michael Jordan out to rescue his kidnapped teammates. Need I say more? It made Space Jam look like Shakespeare. Few were shocked when this stinker didn’t sell.

Spawn (1995) – Al Simmons – First of many Spawn games, this was one of those titles that my little brothers couldn’t stop playing and I couldn’t figure out why. It was a cookie-cutter sidescroller, and not a very good one. Sent to hell for misdeeds in the living world, Spawn returns to Earth a kind of anti-hero, taking out the bad guys in the most brutal ways imaginable. Though he’s definitely an interesting character, it’s too bad that the hyperviolent Spawn had to be the first black comic character to cross over to videogames considering all the alternatives.

Akuji the Heartless (1998) – Akuji – Here come the voodoo stereotypes! You are Akuji, a young voodoo priest bent on taking out his murderous brother. Experience the “violent and sensual world of voodoo” first hand! Eeks. It’s a 3rd-person Tomb Raider style action adventure, but with extra evil. Seems like dark story means dark skin.

Shadow Man (1999) – Michael LeRoi – LeRoi is a reformed bad guy. He’s also a reformed living person. Existing between the land of the living and the dead, he’s slave (ugh) to a voodoo priestess who must collect Dark Souls and prevent the formation of an army of the damned. Like Spawn, this guy does evil to do good. If you can get over all that, this comic-derived game is pretty fun.

Blade (2000) – Eric Brooks – Yet another black character that walks between the land of the living and the dead, at least Blade didn’t do anything particularly bad to end up there. He’s a half-vampire head-cracking badass that protects the polite society from the vampire underground. I can dig it (even though the game is awful). Still, when you’ve got demons, when you’ve got evil, you need something almost as bad to deal with them. And, at least in the popular media (and in the last 4 titles in this list), that almost-as-bad seems to mean a black man. Thankfully, that changed in 2003…

Beyond Good & Evil (2003) – Jade (see image up top) – Did we really have to wait until 2003 for the first (and only) original IP involving a black woman to hit the videogame scene? BG&E was one of the finest games of the year and, sadly, also one of the most overlooked. For those who played it, Jade’s adventures in war-torn Hillys managed to find fun in an impressive array of play styles (stealth, action, photo snapping, hovercraft racing) while telling a story that cleverly explores the power of citizen journalism. It’s special stuff.

Men of Valor (2004) – Dean Shephard – It’s fitting that the first AAA Vietnam War title from Medal of Honor publisher Vivendi Universal developer 2015 would feature a black lead considering the disproportionately high number of blacks in the real war. Sadly, the game isn’t quite as polished as its WWII counterparts, but it’s still good news to see a big name publisher put a black face on the front cover of a big name franchise.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) – Carl Johnson – The final installment of the GTA 3 series is a special game, but not only because of its variety of play styles or expansive environments or numerous voice cameos. The big overlooked reason San Andreas matters is that this was the first time that a AAA series chose a black protagonist and nobody batted an eye. It wasn’t a topic of conversation, it just was. And, for all the potential for stereotyping the “hood” environment offered up, Rockstar North never quite took the easy road. Impressed.

Marc Ecko’s Getting Up (2006) – Coltrane Crowley – Not the first game to feature graffiti writing as a central game element, Marc Ecko’s initial foray into “culturally savvy gaming” is quite possibly the worst. Though it fell flat, it did place a black man at the center of the exploding graffiti subculture. Is it respect or did Ecko make him black because being black is “edgy”? You decide.

Dishonorable Mention:
Final Fantasy 7 (1997) – Barret Wallace – Barret doesn’t exactly fit the criteria for this list. You must play him in the game, but he’s not the central playable character. The reason I mention him is that he is party to the single most beloved title in one of the biggest franchises in videogame history (certainly the biggest franchise mentioned here). The problem, of course, is that he’s an ignoramus who can’t manage to speak or behave property. Imagine all the worst qualities of Mr. T.

So, there you have it. 16 years have given us 11 alpha prime videogame stars who happen to be black, some a good deal more respectable than others. Why haven’t we seen more? A friend in the game industry suggested that one reason is that there are very nearly zero black folks making games. That needs to change because, frankly, I’m pretty damn sure there are a good deal more than zero black folks playing games. Here’s hoping the next 16 years see us better represented than the last.

What do you think? Did I miss someone? Leave a comment and let it be known.

 Visit the follow-up post Race in Games: The Unanswered Question

Extended List: Thanks to everyone who gave additions to the list in comments! Those that seem to meet the must-play main character criteria are:

Supporting or “share the spotlight” must-play characters:

PS: I removed Tiger Woods PGA Tour and Ken Griffey Baseball because, although they are the cover athletes, you are not required to play those characters in-game (at least from what I’ve read). I removed Guild Wars Nightfall because, while it is set in an Africa-inspired world, it appears you can make a character that looks however you want. I removed Jurassic Park 2, Streets of Rage and Crackdown per comment by Jerry X.

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209 Responses to “The First 11 Black Videogame Stars”


  1. 1 Doc Strange: The Legend of M.E.T.R.O.Y.D.

    What about the black jedi’s in the star wars universe-Jolee Bindu and Mace Windu, although they are not the main characters they serve a substantial role in the games development and outcome. Also Vin Diesel’s infamous “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay”

  2. 2 Muslimah

    I got one for you. Its new and it will not be released for another two weeks. It’s called sandstorm. Based off the comic book. It stars an egytian princess named Anumari. She is black and beautiful and she will be a mobile must have! After its mobile release you will be seeing a console version for it the following year or so. Check out the book and the game:
    http://www.newavecomics.com
    http://www.sandstormgame.com

  3. 3 Aunk

    This is an interesting project. The next question is, how many of these AAA’s are cast in a Culturally Healthy context?

    I gave the story a digg and seeded it on newsvine.

  4. 4 Walter D. Wormack

    I realize I’m coming to the party really, really, REALLY late. But it seems to me that the pachyderm in the room that everyone is trying to ignore is that game developers only make these programs for their ‘Golden Demographic’ i.e. WHITE MALES.

    Everyone else’s participation is pretty much taken for granted. It’s pretty much the developers attitude that those of us who are not part of the ‘Golden Demographic’ i.e. WHITE MALES, can take it, or leave it.

    The gaming industry makes money hand over fist because their products sell. And as long as they do nothing will change.

  5. 5 Kratos

    Kratos character was supposed to be some african with dreadlocks but they changed it to a greek guy because its much cooler to be a greek guy in ancient greece then some black guy fighting in the jungle, problem is they left all his black features and his voice from the african which messes up the character, they should have just made him like somone from 300 the game would have been 10000x better

  6. 6 moumi

    i remember playing these in the late 90s , then and now atleast 3 of chracters in the list didn’t strike me as black ( i know a few blacks argue that their grand dad had a similar european look ). But for real though, why is that that many of these characters are just Tar brushed europeans .

  7. 7 KBeezy

    Until the Japanese start seeing dark skinned people as more than african or black American stereotypes, we won’t see more black characters (at least more positive ones) playable in future videogames. Does Roadblock in any of the GI Joe games count? lol

  8. 8 Invertedzero

    Whoever listed Alyx off Half Life 2, i understand why you did, but she’s mixed-‘race’. Isn’t that clear? The reason i say this is because shes the only mixed race(black) video game character I can actually think of, and so deserves to stand seperately, else we have none.

  9. 9 Greg

    I’m a little surprised that there’s all this discussion on a year old post, and not ONE has mentioned the indie gem, Lyle in Cube Sector. But I suppose indie games don’t count for as much as mainstream drek.

  10. 10 Mik

    In the puzzle game “I have no mouth and I must scream”, if I remember rightly, the black girl is the smartest and joint most blameless of the playable characters (you have to play through all their stories to win, so she counts, I think). She’s also the only one whose consciousness survives to the end, and the one who lands the final blow on the evil computer system(s).

  11. 11 Josh

    One things for sure, theres a lot more black protagonists than there are Asian, why aren’t people complaining about that?

  12. 12 Ozone

    Dont all Egyptians count as African?

  13. 13 Twin Tiger

    I remember reading an article with Koji Igarashi, the head creator on the Castlevania series. He mentioned that he loved the character of Blade portrayed by Wesley Snipes and wanted to do a Castlevania game with a similar character. I was hyped to read that! However, a few years and a few Castlevanias later… we still haven’t seen that character. Too bad, I would’ve bought that game on day one.

  14. 14 baptist

    50 Cent did a game..

  15. 15 aqua

    Christie from tekken is Afro-brazillan and no she is not latina if ya don;t belive me look at her grandpa is her tekken 5 ending an d on top of that she based of of tyra banks!

  16. 16 LDT

    there is a black guy in this game for ps1 and its sequal for ps2 but i cant think of the name all i remember was he had a skull on his chest i think,and it bugs the hell out of me that i cant think of the games name. but i think he was a witch docter or somthing,he was bald an had sun glasses help me out with this someone!!!

  17. 17 Shazam

    Jade is obviously Asian. She looks Asian, uses a j? staff, has mysterious magical powers, hangs around with creepy humanoid-animal hybrids, and has a tendency to photograph everything.

  18. 18 BritishMiracle

    heres a few that havent been mentioned:

    50cent – blood on the sand (not out yet)

    m.c kids, the macdonalds game for the nes had a black kid in it
    there was a white kid too but if you wanted to play 2player
    you had to use both of them

    men in black starred will smith, not sure if u could switch
    2 tommy lee jones i cant remember

    def jam icon, this beat em up casts mainly all black players
    but i think u can make ure own player,… not sure

    ready to rumble boxing has afro thunder and alltho hes not a must play character he was featured on the box cover and was definatly the reason to buy that game he was so cool,…

    hope this helps. over.

  19. 19 BritishMiracle

    oh and LDT, ure probably thinking of shadowman,…
    its been mentioned and dismissed, i was gonna say it too.

  20. 20 Quigley

    There was a black female “Lara Croft” type character in a game I came across years ago but I don’t remember what it was called.

  21. 21 Mary Baker

    Thanks for being an inspiration! My grandson’s goal is to design video games and this website is great reading for other memebers of our family don’t understand his dream. Your art is visually exciting and makes I a grandma want to play games.

  22. 22 Urbn1nja

    Yo Dude. I totally agree with you there man. There should really be more focus on black people in games. I have another game series for the list if it counts the Def Jam Vendetta series…

  23. 23 Daryl

    The mortal kombat developers i have to give a thumbs up becuz they have a lot of diversity in there games. What game as 2 BLACK FEMALE FIGHTERS! Not 1 but 2! Lol they have Tanya, Jade, Jax, Darrius, Kai, and Cyrax.

    I know u said that ur not going by fighting games.. but thats like the only games i can think of that has black females in it.

    So pretty much a list of black female characters:

    Tanya (MK)
    Jade (MK)
    Vanessa Lewis (Virtua fighter)
    Grace (Fighting vipers)
    Storm (most x-men titles)
    Christie Montiero (Tekken)
    Elena (street fighter 3)

    I guess a new title that has a black female lead now is Resident Evil 5 Sheva. She is controlled by the 2nd player.

  24. 24 tommy

    did you forget storm in that spiderman and the x-men game for snes ? :)

  25. 25 Godheval

    Hey Daryl,

    Vanessa Lewis from VF actually presents an interesting study in whitewashing. She WAS of some visible African descent in her original incarnation, but sometime afterwards – I think in VF5, she was transformed completely. Not only did they bleach her skin and thin out her lips, but they even changed her body type. If you remember, Vanessa had quite the set of hips on her. Now she’s been slimmed down to a more generic – i.e. “white” – body type. Look at the image below.

    http://www.meionorte.com/imagens/forteens/vanessa%20lewis%20-%20virtua%20fighter.jpg

    So, while she may have counted originally, she doesn’t anymore. And she highlights the problem with the lack of black female representation in games.

    As for Sheva from RE5, don’t even get me started on her. Aside from vaguely “Africanesque” features, there is nothing about her that is “black”. And it is not lost on me that the “good African” is light-skinned while the “evil” ones are dark.

  26. 26 kejaris

    Birde from Street Fighter games chamges from a white guy to a black guy by the time he’s in Street Fighter ALPHA. And Jade from Mortal Kombat changes 3 races, Dark-skinned black in MK3, Asian in the second MK movie, and Latina in MK Armageddon! What’s up with that?

  27. 27 Godheval

    Sounds like Jade from MK has an identity crisis! But really, that’s just what happens when you have too many hands in the pot. You see the same kind of thing with comic book characters.

    Getting back to Jade from BG&E, I’m going to have to disagree with Jason on counting her amongst the first 11, for reasons I discuss here:

    http://godheval.net/black-white-and-jade-race-in-video-games/

    Thanks for the inspiration to write that, Jason.

  28. 28 Godheval

    By the way, you forgot:

    Hugo from Suikoden III.

    http://i115.photobucket.com/albums/n291/celtic1962/hugo.jpg

    Apparently his ethnic inspiration is debatable, since he’s done in an anime style, and because characters with dark skin and light hair are common enough in that medium. A friend of mine plainly denied that Hugo was of any African ethnicity.

    But I say he is – and moreso than Jade – because of his clearly Africanesque clothing, the hunter-gatherer culture of his tribe, that he’s even IN a tribe, and…most importantly, the look of his mother.

    http://www.suikosource.com/images/chars/l/lucia04.jpg

    Since the release of the game, there has been a Suikoden manga, the artist of which has seen fit to eliminate any suggestions that Hugo is anything less than full-on Aryan:

    http://www.manga-news.com/public/images/vols/suikoden_01.jpg

    Much like what happened to Vanessa Lewis from Virtua Fighter… Gross.

  29. 29 Free Online Games

    You missed a game with a Black lead character…Bad Day L.A. in which you play a homeless Black guy that most save L.A form zombies

    reading the comments it seems that many people missed the point that this list is only for Black characters that are the main character in the game. listing the fact that their are token characters in fighting games doesn’t count.

    @rmo rmo, Mike Tyson punchout doesn’t count because you don’t play mike you play a white guy.

  30. 30 Matt

    Ohhh, Moonwalker is hard to beat, but FIFA International Soccer came out in 1993 and that must be the first game with the most black characters on screen at any one time !!!!

  31. 31 Dann

    Darci Stern Urban Chaos, She was a good cop

  32. 32 Dan

    Don’t you play a black guy in The Suffering? Left 4 Dead 2 has a few black characters too

  33. 33 SAM

    What about Dr. J from One on One?
    a 1983 computer basketball game for the early era of home computers. It was developed by Eric Hammond and published by Electronic Arts (EA) and Ariolasoft in Europe.

  34. 34 Gary K Martin

    There’s one I noticed you missed: The Suffering.
    The Character: Torque.
    Although the first installment they left the main character’s ethnicity as ambiguous as possible (making him more of a neanderthal), they did imply that he was black in the beginning (a picture of his black wife and two black sons, and a black man on death row telling the story about how the protagonist “shived (stabbed) half the aryan brotherhood over at Eastern [correctional facility]”.

    It isn’t until the second installment, Ties That Bind. That the game openly admits that Torque was in fact, black.

    The storyline was somewhat interactive with moral challenges along the way that not only determined the outcome of the ending, but the psychotic powers you apparently posess. I will not ruin the game for you, it is very good, it’s a horror-action game for the XBOX, PS2, and PC. Check it out!

  35. 35 Arthur P Miller

    I believe there are some more black characters you are missing but none the less you are right. The same for movies and every other race in all forms of media.

    One game you forgot to mention was BREAKDOWN for XBOX 360. A sequel is coming out but incidentally they made the character masked and white. Figures.

  36. 36 Arthur P Miller

    UPDATE:

    AFRO SAMURAI!!!

  37. 37 visitor

    you forgot SHADOW MAN!!

  38. 38 Jizahl

    Don’t forget T.J. Combo from Killer Instinct

  39. 39 Unknown

    In all honesty, the stereo type from music, movies, and other forms of entertainment carry over all accross the world.

    R&B is considered “Black Music” in so many other countries.

    Rap is considered to be a creation of Blacks as well, even though way back before it was called rap, it was called stand-up poetry played to interpretive jazz-styled background music.

    Talking with a certain type of slang, whether you are White or Black means you’re “talking black”.

    The truth is, in testable theory, the only attention getters that are portrayed across the mostly viewed media are the ones we actually see. A loud creaky door hinge is all we pay attention to, not the sound of the lock turning, or the handle being engaged.

    My point is that, like how when we think of a door opening as just the creaking sound and not all the other sounds that go with an opening door, we think of black people as just the ghetto personalities and not all the other personalities that make up the group of black people.

    There are Blacks who hate the stereo type and would love nothing more than to be viewed as “classy” instead of “acting White”, the same way there are Whites who would love to be considered as “Being Ghetto” instead of considered “acting Black”.

    Colin Powell does not act “White”. He acts “like a Politician”.

    Cowboy Troy doesn’t act like a “Redneck”. He acts like a “Cowboy”

    Marshall Mather doesn’t act like a “negro”. He acts like “an up and coming Rapper”.

    Perspective shift is necessary before you will see any change in things. The world is not “White Washed” as some would say, its really just dominated by classifications that seem prevalent due to what anyone is able to see by turning on the Television, Radio, or Internet.

    This world lacks justice when it comes to these little niches and stereo types. It’s thinking patterns in general are mostly controlled by the Generation just after the end of the “Slavery in America” stage.

    Once that Generation passes by, and the various races around the world begin to forget that vile period in time and move on to bigger and better things, even the video game industry will begin changing, and becoming more diverse.

    I play League of Legends. There are no Blacks in that video game, however, its ok because there really is no racial distinction on another planet in another ideological universe. Even the Ninjas and Tribals are the same skin color as all the other Champions.

  40. 40 k

    KRATOOS!!!!

  41. 41 sims796

    A few comments are irritating. To the point, the “non issue” posts are just asinine. Of course it is an issue, it will always be one. You will never understand, as your race will always be represented. There is nothing bad about it, but it seems ignorant.

    Honestly, this is not something that should be ignored. When I play a game, I play a game where I am not represented. Does that mean it should be forced? No. However, you get to play a game that shares your face, that looks like you. You get to connect more with the character. You may say that you don’t care about race, but you have that option. You don’t have to feel like you’re living as part of a “white world”.

    It is as xephoid said. You may say it isn’t a problem, but you don’t live his world (and no, a short story about how you two “are not so different” because you have “experienced” racism worst that most doesn’t count). His story captured how I felt for quite some time. You say that it doesn’t matter, but you never have to feel different everywhere you go. I walk outside, and everyone’s white. I watch TV, everyone’s white (cept that terrible network, BET), I play games, the leads are always white. You will never have to feel ‘out of your element’, as it is always there. Sure, you may have a short feeling about how that is, but imagine that we feel that way everyday.

    BTW, there is nothing wrong with being white. At all. You are not ‘the devil’, and it is wonderful that you see past the race. But that doens’t mean that it doesn’t exist, which is what many of the ‘naysayers’ on this article seem to feel.

  42. 42 Nini

    Why does no one ever remember Kiros from FF8(who looks, to me, like an islander of some vague African decent)? Aside from the fact that FF8 sucked all kinds of?

    But this is an issue I understand and am also apathetic to a point of. On one hand, I never really paid much mind to race when I played a game…. not really anyway, most of my ilk came from ‘wth is this, why couldn’t this have been a woman lead?’. But, on the other hand, I know and experience how damaging stereotypes can be. For example, when I meet someone I often note some of their auto mental responses. First it’s ‘oh gosh, it’s a black person’, then they notice I am a girl(I’m kind of boyish looking) and go ‘oh snap, it’s a black woman… this is potentially bad because she will Z snap me to the next world and must be Sassy’, then I open my mouth and speak and I can practically see them relax. It’s amazing. Those few reactions come from stereotypes from media. Media means tv, movies, books, and yes video games. If every other black character was a gun toting nut and ‘talked like dis, foo!’, and was a charming buffoon, I promise you that image will stick in some manner. Like when you see a group of black kids you think ‘gangs?’ or ‘up to no good’. I’ll admit I’ve even caught myself thinking it before I caught myself which is pretty darn sad, but that’s the power of the stereotype. To be fair everyone gets stereotyped(Caucasian man is the Everyman that every human is meant to relate to, Asians are either the hot exotic or smart ones, Hispanics I’m sorry to say in most games seem like the other half of Sassy, and women are Boobs or nags).

    And that’s why I’m sort of happy for this article. It’s necessary to see everyone, and not just Africans, more frequently out of their roles and or taking up roles as leads. The more we see that the perspective of the main character is essentially the same regardless of nationality, gender, or race the less we’ll mentally associate someone who is not a Caucasian male as ‘other’ or ‘other and it has breasts, too’.

  43. 43 miaalien

    M BISON IS BLACK! Duuhhh & so is Zalasmel, Skate was black in streets of rage

  44. 44 Black Gamers

    Lol – Mike Tyson Punch Out was a video game i remember well. I can still hear the sound effects. Still don’t think Moonwalker gets enough credit :)

    chi
    blackgamers.net/forum

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