Playable non-white character

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Julius "Dr. J" Erving is a playable character in One On One (1983).

Games with a playable non-white character are very rare despite the fact that most of the people on the planet are not white. I'm presuming this is related to the fact that a large amount of video games are made by white people, and they prefer to make games about their own ethnic group. Those few games which have a playable non-white character usually have only a single non-white character in an otherwise all-white cast. Since non-white playable characters are so noteworthy, I have created a category for them on this Wiki. Various gaming databases have categories for games which feature a black protagonists, but they rarely address other non-white ethnic groups. It appears that games are slowly becoming more diverse and non-white playable characters are becoming more popular, but they still make up a slim fraction of the total number of games being developed. Excluding sports titles, it appears there are even fewer games which feature a playable non-white character than there are games which feature a playable female character.

I don't remember the first game I ever played which featured a playable non-white character, but it was most likely a sports game. However, since most sports games have you interchangeably control various players in the roster, it didn't register to me that I was playing a non-white character. I think the very first game where a playable non-white character actually surprised me was in the early 1990s with the game Ultima VI: The False Prophet. You get to choose your character portrait from twelve possible options. All of them are white except for a black man and a Japanese woman. At the time, I remember thinking that these two didn't fit the theme because I was still of the mindset that fantasy fiction could only take place in an all-white European setting. Only later did I realize, oh yeah, this is all make-believe, there are fire-breathing dragons flying around, so why am I hung up on there being black people? Throughout all of the 1980s, the only game I remember playing where the player had to control a non-white character is Ninja Gaiden in which the playable character is Japanese.

Definition

The term "non-white" is pretty subjective, so, for the purposes of this site, I consider a playable character to be non-white if they meet one of the following two sets of criteria:

  1. If the game's literature unambiguously describes the playable character's ethnicity as being non-European. This counts even if they are not graphically depicted (as in a text adventure), or are graphically depicted looking white. It's not uncommon for artists to use light skin, especially in a cartoon medium, for characters who wouldn't have light skin in real life; anime frequently depicts Japanese characters with pale skin and rosy cheeks. A non-anime video game example can be seen in Age of Empires where all of the character graphics are drawn with white skin, but most of them are described as having various Middle Eastern and Asian ethnicities.
  2. If the playable character's heritage is not mentioned in the game, but their skin tone is clearly not white. However, the playable character must be human or very close to human. Aliens and monsters do not count, but fictional humanoids like elves or dwarves and real humanoids like Neanderthals or Denisovans do count. Also, the character's skin color must be a human skin tone. Blue elves or green humans do not count.

Examples

This is a list of games that are important to me which feature non-white playable characters. For the full list, see the category.

Title Released Notes
Age of Empires series 1997-10-15 Throughout the series, most of the playable empires are non-white ancient ethnic groups.
Borderlands 2009-10-20 Roland is black.
Civilization series 1991-09-?? Throughout the series, most of the playable civilizations are non-white ancient ethnic groups.
Diablo series 1996-12-31 The sorcerer from Diablo is black, the Monk from Hellfire is Asian, the paladin from Diablo II is black, the witch doctors from Diablo III are black and the wizards are Asian.
Left 4 Dead series 2009-11-17 Louis from L4D is black, and Coach and Rochelle from L4D2 are black.
Magic Carpet series 1994-??-?? You play a Middle Eastern character in each game.
Master of Magic 1994-09-?? Raven is North American, Sharee is African, Lo Pan is Chinese, Jafar is Middle Eastern, Tlaloc is South American.
Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra 1991-??-?? The custom male human portrait is black, one of the custom females is Chinese. Some of the other portraits are questionable.
Mortal Kombat series 1992-10-08 Several fighters in the series are non-white.
Street Fighter series 1987-08-30 Most of the fighters in the series are non-white.
Tecmo Sports series 1989-02-?? Their various sports games feature real-life athletes, many of which are non-white.
Terraria 2011-05-16 Character creation allows for pretty much any skin color.
Ultima series 1990-06-01 Starting with Ultima VI: The False Prophet, several games in the Ultima series allow the player to chose a non-white player.

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