Guys, I’m going to be real with you. I had to search for over an hour to gather ten Black characters with real stories worth talking about. I should not have had to do that. In this article, we’re here to celebrate some characters that are shaped by their experiences being black, but I want you to utilize this as a way to remember that black characters are underrepresented in gaming, even more so than other mediums. But enough of that! Let’s get into it.
10. Cole – Gears of War
Augustus Cole was born into a loving family in the town of Hanover. His love and respect for his mother is cited throughout the series as a major motivation for him, and with her support he began a career in Thrashball (based on American football). His athletic accomplishments and victories eventually set him up as something of a hometown hero, but he declined to join the war as a soldier until his parents were killed on Emergence Day. Stricken with grief, Cole’s mission to avenge his parents and prevent more deaths drove him to enlist in the army and use his platform as a sports star to encourage thousands of others to stand up and fight the grey monsters. Cole is a shining example of someone working hard to create a platform, and then using it for good.
9. Three Dog – Fallout 3
Three Dog is your only truly constant companion in Fallout 3, assuming you’re a heathen that doesn’t keep Dogmeat with you. Three Dog serves as the DJ for Galaxy News Radio and continues operating the radio systems for, well, no one. When meeting Three Dog he’s surprised to learn that anyone, much less the Lone Wanderer, has been actually listening to him. Three Dog is a constant beacon of support for the player, reminding them to “fight the good fight” and never give up. His hatred of the oppressive Enclave government drives him to get up every morning and spread the good word. Fallout 3 is a role-playing game, and if you’re truly immersed in the game as The Lone Wanderer, hearing his energetic motivational snippets pop up between rebellious rock songs can be enough to power you through the next Deathclaw. The man exudes positive vibes and absolutely cannot be stopped. Three Dog’s lasting legacy formed “The Good Fighters”, a group of activists still working in the Capital Wasteland ten years later to bring hope to all who wander.
8. Nadine Ross – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Nadine grew up in a rough and tumble lifestyle, constantly having to fight to stay alive and in control. After her father’s death at a young age, she took over the organization Shoreline, and led bands of mercenaries through foreign wars, changing the outcomes for the worse. While introduced as a villain in A Thief’s End, she became a protagonist of The Lost Legacy as the muscle of the group. She’s well versed in martial arts, military strategy, firearms and political conflicts, making her an easy addition to the list. Nadine is perhaps not the most heroic character in the Uncharted franchise, but she made her mark as a cool-headed and calculating complement to Chloe’s boisterous and bold attitude.
7. Captain Anderson – Mass Effect Trilogy
Captain David Anderson is the rock of the Mass Effect trilogy, holding the squad together while the universe falls apart. Anderson, voiced by the impeccable Keith David, is perhaps the most decorated war hero in all of the Alliance, receiving numerous awards from many different organizations for his bravery in combat. Anderson is so well suited to his position as captain due to his unbreakable nature – even when things go south, he holds his composure and is able to focus on the next step, one thing at a time. Shepard can always count on backup from Anderson, even if they make choices that the Captain is less enthusiastic about.
6. Charles Smith – Red Dead Redemption 2
Born to a Black father and a Native American mother, Charles Smith didn’t have an easy time growing up in the late 1800s. Charles is quiet and reserved, but concentrated in his approaches to problem solving. He’s a crack fighter, so much so that he’s won several tournaments over the years. He’s a brave, honorable and righteous man, never discriminating between white, black or Native American people when he sets out to help the locals. While obviously the muscle of the Gang, Charles really serves as its moral center. His natural silence is usually read as shyness, but in reality he’s just an overly observant guy – and that observant eye saves Arthur Morgan’s life more than once. Charles is absolutely the man you want as your backup.
5. Lúcio – Overwatch
Lúcio Correia dos Santos was born in a poor, crowded slum of Rio de Janeiro and, like many poor children, used sports as a way to escape. He grew up playing street hockey and football (soccer) with the local kids and eventually decided to use his passion to inspire others. Brazil was facing hard times following the Omnic Crisis, and Lúcio found that music was the best way to inspire his fellow countrymen to action. Taking advantage of the poverty, multinational conglomerate Vishkar (run by Symmetra) came to town and began gentrifying the neighborhoods, exploiting the population as cheap labor. Lúcio began rallying the troops, using his songs to inspire thousands to stand up for social justice and fight to defend their home. After leading the charge to drive Vishkar out of Brazil, Lúcio became a national symbol for social change and joined Overwatch to spread social justice the world over.
4. Lee – The Walking Dead
Lee Everett is a strong, determined and thoughtful man, but he is most definitely not a perfect man. Lee begins the story of The Walking Dead on his way to prison, having murdered the state senator he found sleeping with his wife. He is freed from his impending incarceration by the zombie apocalypse, escaping into the city to find refuge. Upon meeting Clementine, a young girl that was separated from her family, he takes her under his wing and eventually becomes her adoptive father. Regardless of the decisions that the player makes for Lee, he’s consistently an intelligent, encouraging and thoughtful man – he actually was a history professor before the apocalypse began. Lee’s story is so significant because what he truly finds through Clementine is redemption – a second chance to be a good man. Many of us can relate to his mission to be better, and all of this is ignoring that Lee is one of the first established Black protagonists in a high-profile video game. There’s often a lot of pressure for firsts like this (Wonder Woman comes to mind), and Telltale absolutely knocked it out the park. Lee is a real person fighting through a real nightmare to be better, and I can’t give the character any higher praise than that.
3. Bayek – Assassin’s Creed Origins
Having at least started every game in the series, I feel comfortable saying that Bayek is my favorite protagonist in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. He is relatable in that he works to hone his own weaknesses into strengths; he is determined to make his own loss something good, something powerful for his country. He is driven by a need for both justice (good!) and revenge (not so good) and directs every moment of his energy towards fighting for the people of Egypt from the shadows. Bayek is the last medjay of Egypt (national police in service of the Pharaoh), and his life is immediately turned upside-down as he loses his son in the opening scene of the game. He vows revenge on the shadowy order that executed his son and takes to the streets of Egypt to hunt down the killers one by one. He’s dedicated, determined, unrelenting and merciful all at once as he attempts to put things right, blazing a path of carefully focused destruction through those that would oppress his countrymen. This excellently written character is brought to life by Abubakar Salim in some of the best video game voice acting/motion-capture I have ever seen. This, finally, is a protagonist I know, understand, and can fight for.
2. Billie Lurk – Dishonored Series
Billie Lurk is a Black, bisexual, handicapped, middle-aged woman that starred in her own action game – and it was the most natural progression of the series possible. Billie has been a core part of Dishonored since the first game, serving as an apprentice to Daud, the assassin who killed Empress Kaldwin. Eventually becoming Emily Kaldwin’s core ally in Dishonored 2, Billie operates the ship, The Dreadful Whale, that serves as a home base. Without her assistance it’s unlikely Emily would have ever made it out of Dunwall alive, much less taken the kingdom back from Delilah. After securing the throne for Emily, Billie moves on to become the protagonist of Death of the Outsider, closing out the story. Competent and straightforward, she speaks only frankly and doesn’t engage with small talk, jokes or other frivolities. Billie is reserved and terse, but more than anything she’s resourceful – you’ve got to be resourceful to kill God, after all.
1. Clementine – The Walking Dead Season Two
Forget lists of the best female, or the best black, game protagonists – Clementine would earn a spot on the top 10 protagonists of all time. Clementine begins the series as a scared child and depends on Lee to be her father figure. In Season Two, Clementine is hardened by loss and failure, growing up in the most painful way possible. What was once innocence is now anger; what was once wonder is now mistrust. Clinging onto the values Lee taught her in the first game, Clementine goes on to become braver and braver with each setback, never stopping her focus on moving forward. Matured by necessity, Clementine experiences what many of us did growing up without a stable home life. In that pain, in that force, she finds individualism. She finds independence. She finds herself. Somehow she is able to hold on to her humanity through the terror of living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is more than I can say for any of the characters in the TV Show. Clementine tops this list because she succeeded in turning her misery into something better, and we might all be a little better if we follow in her footsteps. Don’t let your pain break you – wear it like armor.
There were a good number of characters on my shortlist for this article, but I chose these ten because they are in some way inspirational to me. I hope that someone making this list again in five years will have a much harder time narrowing it down. There are many more Black stories to be told, and it’s up to all of us to make sure they do.