We need to have a serious conversation with game developers, and they need a reality check.
Let’s start with the latest action RPG Forspoken, which has finally dropped. Once again, a game I had desired to play has shown me that the gaming industry needs an overhaul. Every time we progress and take a few steps forward, something goes wrong, and we take two steps back. After Forspoken reviews dropped within the last few days, the dialogue has been called “cringy” more times than I can count. So, is the dialogue really “cringe”? Or are gamers saying this because the protagonist is Black?
Forspoken is a game that puts you in the shoes of Frey Holland, played by black actor Ella Balinska. Frey is a young Black woman and an NYC native who is described as “unlikeable”. She is later pulled through a portal to the fantasy realm of Athia and mysteriously bonded to a talking armband named Cuff, gaining magical powers in the process. Faye also comes in contact with the antagonist and formidable foe, Tanta Sila, played by Janina Gavankar. To me, this sounded like the start of a fantastic story that will take you on some fun twists and turns the further you progress. Eventually, the tale would conclude with Frey most likely saving this fantasy world and returning home with her new abilities.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, so I have a few questions. Why does Faye have to be called unlikable? What makes the dialogue bad? What the hell is a “very hip-hoppy walk?” And why were there no Black writers in the room during development?
This seems to be another case of Black game developers being left out of the process. However, during a Kotaku preview of the game back in 2021, Square Enix stated that they “worked closely with a number of consultants from BIPOC backgrounds to help portray Frey’s character and tell the story from her perspective”. They added that Forspoken’s supporting cast was “dominated by women and several women of color”. How can a project be dominated by “several women of color” when there weren’t people of color involved during these crucial parts of development?
To add insult to injury, the developers of Forspoken reached out to streamer and content creator MiladyConfetti to work with them on Twitch. MiladyConfetti gave their quoted price, and the Forspoken team returned with a counteroffer that was 70% less than what they asked for. It’s no secret that when it comes to Black content creators, we’re offered significantly less than white content creators. And no matter how much we speak about it, nothing has changed.
Do I keep having deja vu? Or do we keep having the same conversations about representation in media? Are we still not going to Black content creators what they’re worth? As a Black woman and a gamer, I always crave representation in something I love. I want to see myself in these characters I get to play. But, once again, our words are left unheard. We continue to scream into the void while everyone else looks at us like we’re unhinged.
More often than not, we have the bare minimum of one or two Black characters or characters of color who have questionable descriptions or aggressive portrayals. It is tiring to constantly see us depicted in this way. Black game developers need and deserve the space and platform for creating genuine characters who represent us. Then, games that represent these characters wouldn’t have to be dissected every single time they’re released. No more labeling Black characters as “angry” or “undesirable”, on the verge of prison, or having a “very hip-hoppy kind of walk”. (Tom Keegan, I’m looking at you.)
Use your place of power and give BIPOC writers the space to create the characters we know represent us. Instead of doing the work yourself and getting it wrong every single time.
Forspoken is now out on PC and PlayStation 5.