Black hair (not the hair color, but the color of the person) fascinates people with its complexity.
I’ve lived with black hair my entire life, so it’s easy for me to understand the difference between 3a hair and 4b hair (it refers to the looseness of the curls), and also why people were so adamant about touching black hair before it was decided that it’s kind of rude. If you haven’t dealt with it, it’s reasonable to not know as much. I have also played video games my entire life, so I know that video game developers have not had the easiest time adapting black hair into a virtual world.
History of Character Customizations
Creating a custom character has been a core feature in video games since forever, adapted from tabletop roleplaying games which gave players customization options before video games were even a thing. These features are so beloved because they give players the opportunity to make characters in their own images, and a large creation suite is oftentimes a deciding factor for whether or not a gamer buys a game. Recently, graphic upgrades have given character creation tools more depth than ever before. Video games have done well with skin tone inclusion, allowing players to choose any color imaginable, from the realistic to the fantastical, for their skin.
In contrast, the hair choices for black people are usually still just an afro, cornrows, or dreads.
Guild Wars 2
Black Hair In Video Games
One of my favorite game series as a child was Smackdown vs Raw. The wrestling game was best known for its in-depth creation suite (although it’s lost prestige with the release of last year’s WWE2k20). But even in those games, where multiple black wrestlers were present, the hair options for players of color were severely limited.
While the hairstyles Smackdown vs Raw did include were accurate, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can do with black hair. Even pretty normal hairstyles within the black community, like fades for men and straight or natural hair for women, are missing. The ones that are included are never designed extremely well, either; the afro sometimes resembles a huge styrofoam ball that’s been painted black. No texture, no bounce, just a blob.
Why Black Hair Is Ignored or Appropriated
Getting the afro texture right should be the least that any video game studio can do, considering afros are worn by people all over the world and are synonymous with pro-black movements aiming to show that natural hair is normal. Sadly, European beauty standards have always been the standard, leaving other beauty ideals stigmatized or completely ignored. Light skin and straight hair are seen as beautiful and professional, while dark skin and curly hair are seen as the opposite. This results in discrimination, with non-Eurocentric styles being left out and misunderstood, oftentimes accepted only after they’ve been appropriated by white culture.
Black hair has been used as a form of expression in times when black people were discriminated against for their features. Even recently, a student in Texas was forced to cut his dreads in order for him to graduate high school. This happened after states adopted the CROWN Act, which makes hair discrimination illegal for schools and other employers. Meanwhile, people of other cultures are able to wear the hairstyle and it’s “edgy,” “chic,” or “fashionable.”
Recent movements have attempted to uplift black hair and help teach people that it’s beautiful. Chris Rock released the documentary “Good Hair” in support of the movement. He was inspired after his daughter asked him why she doesn’t have good hair. Hair is something that many black people have grown to love despite the persisting ideas that it’s nappy or difficult to work with. Showing that in more mainstream media, and giving kids the options to really see themselves in the games they play, will dispel the negative ideas associated with black hair.
Good Hair – Trailer
We Need More Black Video Game Developers
The addition of black voices and ideas in video game development would also do some good in making sure black hair is represented accurately. Having someone who understands the culture goes a long way in making sure that the culture is represented. It’s a simple concept, and studies show that it works. We often complain about forced representation, but with the advancement of recent technology, there’s no excuse for black hair still not being done right.
Video games graphics have come far since the days of the original Playstation. Developers are able to create entire worlds with lifelike humans, buildings, and even animals. GTA V even recreated an entire portion of Los Angeles. With the next generation of consoles being released later this year, the way black hair is represented is something that needs to catch up with the times.
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