EA’s upcoming video game ‘Battlefield 1’ features a Black man on the cover and that has caused controversy. (Courtesy photo)
Video game developer EA has become a powerhouse in the industry by releasing top selling projects for more than two decades, with titles such as “Battlefield” and “Madden NFL.”
Recently, the company revealed that their next war game, “Battlefield 1” would be set in World War I, a departure from previous entries in the series. The announcement sparked controversy because the character depicted on the front of the game is Black.
As one typical poster on the internet wrote, “It’s extremely disrespectful to put a black man on the cover for a WW1 game. Even though there were in total a couple of hundred thousand black people involved in the European and African theaters of war, this was a European war between white empires and to some extent the the Turks and the Arabs. Featuring a black man on the cover is pandering to blacks and also quite patronizing. On top of that it also usurps white European history. I don’t understand why the main game can’t have a white on the cover…”
The backlash came despite the role Black’s played during the war, specifically the Harlem Hellfighters’.
Formally known as the 369th Regiment out of New York City, the group fought vigorously in World War I and II, receiving their nickname from their German adversaries.
The videogame industry has evolved drastically since the days of Atari 2600, making strides in graphics as well as innovation. Yet, as industries and fields continue to integrate, the idea of Black main characters in games is still an issue with some consumers.
The Battlefield series was under scrutiny for its 2015 release Battlefield Hairline that also featured a Black character holding a gun on its cover. Despite the game being about the war on crime in the streets of Miami, critics blasted the cover, assuming the character was a criminal.
Similar to the early days of Hollywood, Black protagonists in games are often relegated to stereotypical roles such as gang member or sidekick. The list of Black main characters is sparse, and more often than not reserved for violent roles.
Games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Prototype 2 and The Walking Dead feature Black protagonists, but these are rare cases.
The majority of titles with Black characters are sidekicks, most conforming to stereotypes such as Sazh Katzroy, who plays a bumbling fool in “Final Fantasy XIII.” These characters often serve as comic relief, or weak allies to their White counterparts.
The other key role for Black characters is combat games, often using clichéd fighting styles while throwing out cheesy catchphrases.
In 2015, acclaimed film director Spike Lee took his talents to the virtual world, directing, producing and writing “NBA 2k16’s Livin’ Da Dream” mode.
The mode tackles the behind the scenes aspects of inner city youth attempting to make it out of the ghetto by way of the hardwood floor.
The game mode caused controversy, citing the use of a Black family and urban setting. Even though nearly 75 percent of the players in the NBA are Black, some critiqued the game’s main character, named Frequency Vibrations, for his ethnic background.
Black cover athletes are mainly seen in particular sports, usually basketball and football. The “NBA Live” Series has never had a White player on its cover, and “NBA 2k” has only had one (Larry Bird on “2k12”). In the 15 years of the “Madden” series featuring athletes on its cover, 12 have been African-American. Despite the strides taken by Black players in the hockey, Jarome Iginla is the only player of color to grace the cover of EA Sports’ “NHL” series in the U.S. (NHL 03).
EA’s attempt to recognize the work of African-Americans to defend this country by incorporating the Harlem Hellfighter’s into “Battlefield 1” is a step in the right direction. But the videogame industry’s lack of recognition of African-American’s outside of sports is a sad testament to the world we live in.
Daniel Berlin, lead designer of the game, when asked about the reaction he has received after the protagonist was revealed to be Black and that Blacks were key contributors to World War I, told Venture Beat, “People don’t know that this was the case. We want to show diversity in the game. That’s been a key goal.”
African-Americans are given the short end of the stick, and when finally recognized for their work, it is an issue. It is time for African-American gamers to demand more, and those with the issue to get over it.