To honor Black History Month here in February, it would be appropriate to recognize the impact that Black characters have had across video games.
Games largely started off with protagonists who were white and donned a five o’clock shadow, but Black video game characters have also left their notable marks on gaming. Here are ten Black characters that should be recognized and celebrated for their notable contributions to gaming.
Sazh Kazroy (Final Fantasy series)
Kazroy stars in multiple Final Fantasy games, one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. He isn’t just a background character either, he is a skilled pilot, has a couple of very climactic scenes based around him, and is skilled in combat as well. His relationship with his son and his veteran presence amongst his peers are his defining traits.
Alyx Vance (Half Life series)
Vance is a major character in the groundbreaking Half Life games, including being the protagonist in the appropriately named “Half Life: Alyx” standout, which is the first installment in the franchise in over a decade. She is most prominently remembered for being one of Gordon Freeman’s closest allies, including saving his life in Half Life 2, which some regard as one of the best video games of all time. Hopefully we see more of her in the 2030s, when Valve finally releases another Half Life game.
Emmett Graves (Starhawk and PS All Stars Battle Royale)
Emmett Graves is the protagonist of the Starhawk, a little known PS3 game with great multiplayer. Fittingly, he also is DLC character in PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, which is basically Sony’s version of Smash Bros., where he made a great impact. Hopefully, we get another round of All Stars during the PS5 era.
Jax (Mortal Kombat 11)
Jax is a playable character in Mortal Kombat 11, and he is amazing in the game’s competitive meta; he is one of the fastest characters in the game, has incredible combo potential, and has a lethal arsenal of throws at his disposal. Even with the innate power creep that DLC offers, Jax remains towards the top of most competitive players’ tier lists, and for good reason. If you ever watch professional gameplay at a MK11 tournament, you will see plenty of Jax players.
CJ (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
CJ is the main protagonist of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He is an amazingly crafted character, manifesting from a wrathful, vengeful warlord into a selfless, calm and collected person who would give his life to protect those close to him. San Andreas is viewed as one of the best games in the series, and CJ is a large reason why.
Doc Louis (Various Punch Out games)
Doc Louis is Little Mac’s trainer in numerous Punch Out games, going back to the original in 1983, and is a former gold heavyweight champion himself. He offers useful advice to the player, teaches Little Mac one of the strongest moves in the game, and is a well known chocolate enthusiast. Doc Louis is simply iconic, and is a core part of the classic series.
Safe to say, Little Mac wouldn’t have had a chance against Donkey Kong without the help of Doc Louis. Getting into Smash Bros would’ve also probably been quite challenging.
Balrog (Street Fighter series)
Balrog is a well known playable fighter in the Street Fighter series, first appearing in 1991’s Street Fighter II.
He is quite unique for his exclusive style of savagely beating his opponents with his fists; he doesn’t have access to a projectile, nor does his movepool offer him much in the manner of kicking maneuvers. Everything about Balrog encourages high speed, up close play. Thus, players who enjoy aggressive, speedy playstyles naturally flock right towards him. While this does make him struggle somewhat against big names such as Guile, it also makes him ideal against other even bigger names, namely being one of the few characters to make the feared M. Bison tremble.
Cyborg (DC Universe Online and various Teen Titans games)
While Cyborg did originate from comic books, his limited presence in other forms of media (we don’t talk about Teen Titans Go) and expanded presence in video games is notable. Specifically, he is one of the hardest boss fights in DC Universe Online’s four man Teen Titans map, being both quite bulky and capable of dealing tremendous damage with his signature arm cannon. Finally, he is a prominent NPC quest giver in this campaign as well.
Rodin (Bayonetta series)
Bayonetta gets a lot of the credit for kicking demon ass, but it sure wouldn’t have been possible without her main informant and arms dealer Rodin. Rodin is able to dish out some pain in his own right, and his presence in the video game series has warranted an appearance in Smash Bros Ultimate as an assist trophy. Appearing in Nintendo’s “celebration of gaming” is no mistake, as he is a key part of one of their most popular series.
Lee Everett (The Walking Dead)
Lee may arguably be one of the greatest protagonists in any video game period. Lee is the protagonist of the only truly great Walking Dead game TellTale Games ever made, and there’s a reason fans were clamoring for his return. Lee’s background and story are nothing short of incredible and immaculately created — he is first introduced having been arrested for murdering a senator who slept with his wife. Due to the zombie apocalypse, his incarceration doesn’t last long, and he eventually ends up coming upon a lonely little girl whose parents have been killed by zombies, Clementine. His journey as her caretaker won TellTale several Game of the Year awards, as he balances that duty with being the leader of a large group of survivors, all fighting to outlast the outbreak of the zombie virus. As such, Lee is one of the best video game characters ever created, not only being a critical part of a major franchise, but leading one of the best video games ever made, that is often held up as an example as to why video games are art.