Have you ever seen Total Recall?
There is only one major Black male character in Total Recall (1990). His name is Benny. He is a buffoon. He is not entirely human. He’s poor. He can’t be trusted. He’s a killer. He meets an untimely death about 25 minutes before the end of the movie. Isn’t that interesting?
Ever since seeing the movie at the tender age of 14, I’ve made a habit of taking a look at the Black characters in movies and videogames to see what patterns come up. Are they the only Black character in said movie or game? Are they the only one with a hideously lumpy forehead, or who is blind, or is constantly dancing? Are they always carrying a gun? Are they the only one who is humongous? Are they played by Samuel L. Jackson? Can they be trusted?
I put together a chart featuring a few of these tropes and their correlating Black male videogame characters to see how they intersect. It could use some work. There are a lot of notable characters missing (Henry from The Last of Us, Brad from Dead Rising, DARPA Chief from Metal Gear Solid, Mike Tyson) because the chart was already getting huge or because they already had representation by a similar character. There are also quite a few interesting tropes (Untimely Death, Grumpy Papa, Constant Smile, Constant Gun, Unnatural Hair Color, has the word “Black” in their name, etc) that didn’t make the cut, either because we ran out of space, they were too subjective, or because they couldn’t potentially apply to everyone here. There is simply no way of knowing if “Black Guy” in Kung-Fu is a Grumpy Papa, but we definitely know he’s humongous.
So it’s not perfect, but it’s still worth a look. I’m hoping it inspires others to make their own fun charts. One specific to zombie games would be particularly interesting. Thanks to Darren Nakamura and Sarah Thomas for helping me put these together, and look forward to more fun discussion of race and videogames right here on Destructoid!
Also, here’s a quick definition of “Grape-y”. Whenever someone is closely associated with dark blue or purple, they could be considered “Grape-y”. It could be in the clothes they wear, the color of their attacks, or even their skin color. Either way, it’s all Grape-y.
For whatever reason, colors on the spectrum between blue and purple are often associated with Black characters in fantasy and fiction. My guess is that the influence from dignified literary works like Raisin in the Sun or The Color Purple have planted the idea in some people’s minds that “purple = classy Black people”.
Or maybe it’s all because of Purple Rain. Regardless, it’s definitely a trend, one that was way bigger in the 80s and 90s, but is still kicking around today (as you see in the chart).