The Black Sidekick in Games

Very rarely do you have a game where you play as a Black person, the entire time. Sometimes you get the curve ball playable character option or the technically playable party member but, it's always very clear that these characters are not intended to be the center of the story. These characters are relegated to the role of sidekick.  Any representation, at face value, seems like a step forward for an industry which, just a matter of a few years ago, rarely ever included Black people at all. But, view it in a larger context and things get tricky. What is the effect of the Black character almost always taking on the role of a side character?

In order to answer this you need to look at a few aspects of this image. Who is the sidekick assisting? Usually the primary player character who is white, a overwhelming amount of time. Why are they assisting the white character? Typically because there is something special about the protagonist, they are ordained to change the fate of the world in a way which the Black sidekick is not. To cut to the quick, the sidekick lives a a non-threatening existence in the service of a, typically, white character. Though the non-threatening part seems a bit odd in a conversation where many capable warriors come up, it's imperative to remember these Black characters threaten the enemies, not the player. 

Jacob Taylor from Mass Effect Two isn't non threatening, but he's also squarely in your corner, ready to serve.

Jacob Taylor from Mass Effect Two isn't non threatening, but he's also squarely in your corner, ready to serve.

It's also important to remember that the Black sidekick is actually one of more illustrious roles for a Black person in video games. There are a few odd protagonists here and there but, more often than not, this is it. And I'm here to say, that's fucking pathetic. Whether you're talking about, Stahz of FFXII, Vivienne from Dragon Age Inquisition or even the beloved Riley of the Last of Us, these characters all live and die around a narrative which is not their own. But Black people do not revolve around white people. Black people do not exist to serve or to be helpful to white people. We can be the center of a story and the world won't crumble. I won't give a single damn about the increase of Black representation in games until that fact can be acknowledged. 

*Side note, most of the Black protagonists don't get white sidekicks. So, funny business indeed.