Ask yourself this question. When was the last time you played a video game and the lead character was black? I’ll even go one step further. What was the last game you played with a lead black character that you cared about? The list of games with strong lead black characters is small. The number declines even more when count the characters that don’t follow the stereotypical roles. The last black character for a popular game (that I can think of) was CJ from GTA: San Andreas. Outside of sports games you won’t get see too many minorities on the cover of game boxes. Hell, I’d argue that you wouldn’t see too many of us on sports covers if black athletes weren’t some of the most popular athletes!
But this isn’t a rant about what isn’t happening, but what is and can happen. You see, as an African-American male sometimes I like controlling a character that looks like me. It adds to the connection I have with the game. But it’s more than just looks. The character has to been well developed. Telltale did an amazing job with Lee. He is educated, speaks intelligently, and even has some character flaws. It was someone who I enjoyed watching develop as I played the game. During conversations with Clementine she begins to question his past. It is during her questioning that we witness Lee battling between the truth and white lies to protect this 8 year-old girl from the harsh reality of life. Even with a zombie apocalypse going on, he was able to put Clementine before himself.
I understand it isn’t easy to create a minority character if you don’t have many sources to draw from. We don’t all act, think or talk alike. Everyone wasn’t raised in the projects, and we
aren’t all rich either. And because we are so multifaceted, you are stuck with a character who will appeal to one side. As much as I like San Andreas I will never relate to CJ. Nothing about him speaks to me in a “positive” manner. He is the embodiment of what I see on television and what most people expect. And because of the one-sided nature of our game counterparts, many of us are alienated. But Lee is our guiding light; a beacon of hope that a minority character can be just as solid of a choice as the typical candidate. I would challenge the industry to stretch and create more characters like Lee.
And while I give Lee credit as an outstanding character I wonder if his performance will get the credit that it deserves. The Walking Dead has already sold 2 million copies and is slated to continue to sell millions through the rest of the episodes. We will praise the team who created the game, dissect the dialogue system, and debate for hours about who we should have saved throughout the game. But will we give the time to look at Lee Everett as the driving force of the game? It is not unusual for great characters to go overlooked. We loved the Cosby’s, but we praise the Real Housewives as stand-ins for great actors. And like most pioneers, it won’t be until we get our gaming equivalent of Denzel Washington that we will look back at the impact of Lee Everett.