History of Video Games | Honoring Black Voices

Welcome to HeR News! Here you can find the latest hot topics, and news–from all things Nancy Drew to updates in the gaming industry, history of video games, and any trending conversations we feel like Nancy and our team should contribute to. 

Part of our aim with this new blog is to bring attention to women and diversity in the gaming space. We’ll be discussing topics such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and any other relevant events that happen throughout the year. 

In addition, we’ll share the latest updates about HeR Interactive and work with bloggers across the industry to discuss upcoming shows, games, and books in the mystery-adventure and educational genres. If you have ideas for blogs that you’d like to contribute, please email them to us at marketing@herinteractive.com. Here are some thought starters to help you know what we’re looking for, but be creative! 

The Top 5 Hardest Nancy Drew Puzzles, How Nancy Drew Inspired Me To Do…, 10 Things I Learned Playing Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew Games and Their Book Counterparts, How Playing as a Female Heroine Changed Me, How I Use Video Games in My Classroom, History of Video Games, My Favorite Female Protagonists, etc… 

*Please note that articles written by individuals do not necessarily reflect the view of the company, but that the company would like to share these for added perspective and discussion.

Black History Month: Authenticity in voices and characters make great video games

In the history of video games, voice acting is one place where there has been progress in inclusion and authentic diversity, while we can do way more, the system has many outstanding strong Black voices that we can celebrate and should be aware of and highlight during this Black History Month, and all year round! 

Using authentic black voices behind the microphone for black video game character roles has been a topic heavy with debate. I got my first look “behind the scenes” of video game creation when I had the privilege of being in the recording studio sessions for a new video game as support for the game dialogue, scripts and recordings. I gained a new appreciation for voice acting, it is not as easy as one might think! I also saw firsthand how collaborative the process of game making is. I experienced how all of the voices came together to make a great game. The talent was a diverse cast and that was not forced, it was how it should be.

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices

Different races and different genders all surrounded the recordings from talent, to creators, to directors, and to engineers in the studio. Take after take, emotion after emotion, real acting is required in each line in a video game and there are many roles to give opportunities for racial equality. There are more lines and backstories, utterances, and commands in the dialogues for video games than any other form of entertainment. Games can hold so much data, so writers are writing longer scripts accompanied with plot twists, transformative character arcs, and player interactions.

 

As I sat tracking every line and every word in the dialogues recorded, it made me consider how everything in the game is recorded and just how much detail is included in the process. Focusing on inclusion and having more lines to record means more actors recording the lines. Additionally, engineers and directors working in the studio add to the list of great opportunities to offer more jobs to people of color and highlights the importance of equipping talent with skills and experience to grow the racial diversity with each new game.

In the studio:

Celebrating African American talent and leveling up diversity in video games

Strong games require strong voices. The average game script can be between 300 to 500 pages. Now, compare that with the average film script at 120 pages and you can see why video game voice actors have their work cut out for them! There are now more video games published yearly than ever before, and that means there are more opportunities for voices of Black artists to be recorded than ever before. On the gaming platform Steam, over 8,000 new games were released in 2020!

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices

With all of the opportunity and great black artists we do have represented in video games, there is more we can do. We can advocate by asking for greater diversity in video games as fans, and as creators, we can intentionally create stories with roles that are inspired and influenced by black creators from inception. We love great character voices. The voices manifest the characters that we love so dearly – it helps us envision and bring their fictitious personalities somewhat to life. There is no rule book for casting voice actors, nor are there set parameters for whom to cast, but, for many, it does make sense to assign the voice actors to a character with a certain likeness. Thus, many feel a sentiment that there should be a healthy and encouraged correlation of ethnic game characters to their voice actors.

History of video games and African American Voices

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices

Oftentimes, there is a beautiful and distinct richness of voice that black and other ethnic voice actors bring to the studio, but many times, the essence of that voice is something that some productions will attempt to duplicate rather than have authenticity in the voice. This ongoing issue has created a point of contention and division in the gaming development world – should all black characters be voiced by black actors? On the other side of the debate, black voice actors express that since the characters are entirely fictitious, the assignment of their voice actors can be given to whomever.

 

Vox writer Shante Daniels writes about this subject in length and voices this reality into poignant words in her Vice article

Shante Daniels: “The problem is that we do not live in a society where true merit is the only deciding factor. There is still some bias when hiring voice actors, even if their faces do not appear on screen”.

The history of video games moving forward will note how Black actors are making a difference in the video games they voice and the role many play behind the games to help create authentic cultural representation. To reach true authentic roles, having the voice of a person of color at the table is necessary for progress and to bring accurate dialogues and references that are part of a special culture.

Bringing black history to the studio: RaVal Davis

The list of strong games with strong black voices begins with Her Interactive’s Midnight in Salem, released in 2019. The story features the character of Lauren Holt, a descendant of the historical figure Tituba, the very first woman (a black woman) accused of practicing witchcraft during the 17th century Salem Witch Trials. Lauren is voiced by RaVal Davis, who in this interview of Her Interactive’s “Unlocked!” podcast series, gives an honest and insightful look into the depth she feels for her character.

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices
HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices

Lauren had these words to share about her sentiment regarding bringing the voice of Lauren to life:

RaVal Davis: “Lauren is a strong character, I think. She knows what she knows, she is very connected to her history, and I love that about her. Women in stories and TV, you know, they don’t get to be these strong women who know what they know. She has been passed down a book from her grandmother, which has all of this wisdom and information in it, and I think that it is very cool that she has that. Lauren has a rich family history and legacy, and is firm and unwavering in her beliefs.”

 “Being a black woman in America, our history has somewhat been hidden from us – I think it is really cool the way they linked real black history to the game. The way this story is written, it just feels authentic.”

Black Voice Actors Lifting Their Voice

The history of video games for Black History Month celebrates Black voice actors that bring their characters to life. Here is a list of six fabulous black voice actors that we want to highlight in the gaming industry.

One of the first and most notable trailblazers of black voice actors known is Arthur Burghardt, who is the voice of some well-known villains in video games and shows both. Some of Burghardt’s work includes significant roles in games such as World of Warcraft: Cataclysm , God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and many more.

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices
  1. Arthur Burghardt- the voice of Venom in Ultimate Spider-Man: 2005; the voice of Pete Disney’s Goofy video game(s) and movie(s) franchise, and the voice of Thanatos in God of War: Ghost of Sparta

 

Photo by FamousFix

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices
  1. Erica Shukrani Luttrell – the voice of Bangalore from Apex Legends

 

Photo by TheAMEMagazine

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices
  1. Karen Dyer – the voice of Erica from Streetfighter franchise

 

Photo by Resident Evil Fandom

  1. David Scully – the voice of Avery John from Halo franchise
  2. Janina Gavankar – the voice of Lola from Afterparty
  3. Lowell Deo – the voice of John Grey from Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon
HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices

The wonderful black voice actor, Lowell Deo, who plays John Grey in Nancy Drew: Train to Blue Moon Canyon, was also featured in an “Unlocked!” podcast. Lowell studied for and pursued another industry apart from entertainment, but he was lured by a passion and an interest for acting when many people acknowledged his talent in performing. Lowell had these authentic words to say for aspiring voice actors – “People should take stock of what they do, what they do well, and put it in a range. Basically, be yourself, but just hone in on ‘this is me happy, this is me doubtful, this is me angry’, and that should be enough. Remember, you are enough. The key is, don’t beat yourself up in voice acting.”

Photo from Her Interactive “Unlocked!” Podcast Episode

Key Takeaways:

Because education is vital to making change, telling authentic black history and current black culture through multi-dimensional, non-stereotypical black characters is an easy but necessary stepping stone. It is not even a big or confrontational question to tackle, and our steps can start now.

Black History in video games is a great way to educate yourself and one another on the richness of black history in this country and in the world, so that the next generations may be informed and inspired to change the world through the power of gaming.

Join the conversation and tell us your favorite Black video game characters and voice actors.

Before we get to the list of some of the top black video game characters, a bit of trivia! In the history of video games, what video game had the first black character? According to Vintage Computing and Gaming, in 1979, the Atari 800 home computer featured a black basketball player in their arcade style game, Atari Basketball. Today, advanced graphics technology has helped provide more accurate skin tones and detail for authentic representation of black video game characters.

For Black History Month and every day of the year, here are six great game characters that deserve our praise.

It’s only fair to start off with the iconic character of Miles Morales, who debuts in the new PlayStation 5’s Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Miles Morales serves as a non-stereotypical, heroic, black protagonist in this game – Miles is a great superhero of color and we need  so much more of that.

HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES: Honoring Black Voices
Voice Actor of Bayek, Assassin’s Creed: Origins - Photo by: Twinfinite

The Assassin’s Creed Franchise is massively popular, and one of its iconic characters, Bayek, received quite a lot of positive praise for his dexterity, stealth-like capabilities, and his relatable spirit to players. While the game character Bayek of Assassin’s Creed is of Egyptian descent in the story, the character is voiced by Abubakar Salim, a talented black actor of Kenyan-British descent – in addition to his voice acting, he is a huge fan of video games, and a video game developer as founder and CEO of Silver Rain Games.

Marcus of Watch Dogs 2; Photo by GetMyLeather

The France-based video game company Ubisoft created perhaps one of the most loved black video game characters – Marcus of Watch Dogs 2 plays the role of a computer hacker who fights to overcome ctOS – San Francisco’s city-wide surveillance system. Unfortunately, one of the reasons that Ubisoft’s character of Marcus became so widely popular was because of the deviation from the exhaustive and offensive stereotypes of black and  dark-skinned individuals in video games.

Barret Wallace of Final Fantasy VII; Photo by FinalFantasyUnion

Another world-famous franchise, Final Fantasy, provides us with the awesome character of Barret Wallace, a tough guy who towers over other characters in height and stature, but has a heart of gold. Barret is another fantastic example of a black video game character that is multi-dimensional, with a character arch.

Grace Walker of Wolfenstein 2; Photo by PCGamesN

Now, let’s talk about one of the coolest black heroines ever in video games, Grace Walker of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. Grace is the protagonist of the game which is set in a Nazi-occupied American society, where she plays the role of leader of The American Resistance. Grace is seen as one of the most influential and powerful double-minority (black and female) protagonists in video games.

Mickey and Lou of Far Cry New Dawn; Photo by ComicBook.com

We love to see a powerful female duo – and Mickey and Lou of Far Cry New Dawn provide just that. Cold, dynamic, powerful, and ruthless, Mickey and Lou are the leaders of a national gang called The Highwaymen. They wanted to have the gang leadership title all for themselves, so they actually killed their father for the job (however, that’s something we don’t necessarily encourage). Fans of this game have given notable praise for the thrill that these two provide.

These are just a few of the black characters that made a powerful impression in the gaming industry, but the goal is there should be many more to choose from. A beautiful step of progress in racial diversity and equality in games would be to publish celebratory lists of hundreds of black voices and forces in gaming. Like anyone that is seeking to unite and make change for our future generations and planet, we need to practice what we preach.

For the history of video games, today, and on into the future, the world of video game characters should look just like the world does when we step out onto our doorstep – a racially, ethnically diverse and unique humanity.

Who are some of your favorite black game characters and black voice talents are from your most loved games?  Let us know so we can add to the list of Top Black Video Game Characters we fan over for Black History Month 2021.

RaVal Davis (the amazing voice of Lauren Holt) was one of the incredible Black voice actors mentioned in this blog post. RaVal was in HeR’s newest video game release, Midnight in Salem, which is linked here on the shop page.

~SB

Posted in: HeR News Blog

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