This past Memorial Day Weekend, I beat the mobile version of Final Fantasy VI for the first time ever. Although the game had been long, arduous, and sometimes frustrating, beating this game was especially sweet for a few reasons. Not only had I found a Final Fantasy game I managed to enjoy, but I also got to see my favorite character Terra find peace and happiness. As a character meant to represent The Other, Terra’s happy ending was particularly notable to me as a Black gamer.
Gaming is one of a few subcultures experiencing a shift in who is being acknowledged and who isn’t. As demonstrated in this year’s #BlackSpecFic report, more Black SFF writers are having stories published by magazines. 4.7% of the stories published in 2017 were written by Black people, which is an improvement compared to the data released in 2015. While there is still more work to be done, marginalized identities have been steadily finding their voice.
For a while, people of color and other marginalized identities in gaming had to settle for being mostly overlooked as players. Now, we’ve got people like Tanya DePass of We Need Diverse Games, LaToya Peterson of The Undefeated, & Jay Ann Lopez of Black Girl Gamers advocating for visibility and inclusion. Due to the bigger platform that marginalized identities now have, white heteronormative male gamers feel threatened and have used racism, sexual harassment, and other forms of bigotry in order to keep gaming exclusively for themselves.
In fact, racism in gaming is especially common in online gaming. Since the advent of Microsoft’s Xbox Live in 2002, online gaming has become a perilous place for gamers of color. In a recent roundtable discussion about racism in gaming, Emmanuel Ocbazghi recalls logging into Xbox Live at age 12 and being called the N-word. The discussion also mentions Microsoft’s lackluster response to the incident involving Terrence Miller, a Black gamer who endured racist remarks on Twitch during a Dreamhack gaming tournament in 2016.
On top of the bigotry in online gaming, there is also racism in the video game industry itself. There have been only a handful of Black or Black coded video game characters that aren’t stereotypes, such as Enzo from Legacy of The Kori Odan and Fran from Final Fantasy XII. If you can customize a character to make them look Black, the few options for Black hair and skin tones makes one have to settle for Twinelle’s weaponized braids or the same variations of light Brown skin. Meanwhile, obstacles such as financial barriers and lack of job opportunities have resulted in too few Black game developers in the industry.
Given how normalized racism in gaming is, it’s not surprising that I find myself drawn to video game characters that represent marginalized identities through fantastic racism. Fantastic racism is fictional racism, often employed through the use of metaphor. One of the most famous iterations of this is Marvel Comics’ X-Men. The comics and franchise feature a group of superpowered mutants who are discriminated by society and was originally inspired by the Civil Rights movement.
In FFVI, fantastic racism is employed through fictional race known as Espers. Espers are ancient magical beings that were originally slaves for three gods involved in a cataclysmic war. After being freed and enduring another war that occurred between humans and Espers, the Espers fled earth & created their own realm. However, a human named Madeline finds the Esper world and falls in love with an Esper named Maduin, resulting in a child named Terra. Two years later, the Espers are invaded by humans through Emperor Gestahl, setting into motion a chain of tragic events that leads into the game.
As a half-human and half Esper person, Terra endures a lot of issues because of generational trauma and her heritage. Despite finding a way to fight back against Emperor Gestahl and his maniacal court mage Kefka, she has to rediscover her origins and reconnect with her humanity in order to find inner peace. Her story made me recall the centuries of struggle and reclamation that African Americans have experienced.
It is astounding that people can handle racism between video game characters, but not deal with it in the real world. If some players are content to only associate racism with some imaginary race, then there is no way that they will see Black game developers and players as real people. The fact is that Black game developers and players have always existed and some of them have made historical contributions only recently being acknowledged. Jerry Lawson gave us video game cartridges, while Ed Smith co-created a PC and video game console hybrid called the Imagination Machine.
Today, Final Fantasy VI is heralded as one of the most notable and influential video games of all time. I’ve seen its impact on games like Tales of Legendia and Fortuna Magus, especially when it came to their characters, storylines, and their use of fantastic racism. By now, fantastic racism is no longer fantastic, just tired and overdone. Racism toward Black gamers and developers is just as tiring and it’s time we stop pretending it isn’t real.
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