The Game “Forspoken” Mishandles Its Black Woman Lead

Because they’re literally mad with sickness, the antagonists, much like Frey, have no depth, and the mysteries of why Frey ended up in Athia and what happened to her parents feel uninspiring once they’re revealed. (I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve consumed enough Chosen One stories, I’m sure you can guess.) It doesn’t help that the post-game — which dumps you back into Forspoken’s hub city, Cipal, to tie up loose ends — has more of the same Frey–Cuff bickering, which is uncharacteristic for them at that point in the plot.

Throughout my playthrough, I was constantly waiting for some aspect of the game to make me feel fully immersed, but it never came. Considering the number of delays and the game’s bungled marketing campaign, this isn’t surprising, but still it is disappointing, in large part because it seems like a relatively easy problem for AAA game developers to improve upon, if not solve. Luminous Productions and game studios as a whole need to hire better writers, and yes, some of them should be Black. (None of the writers on this game were people of color.)

It wasn’t all bad, though: I found myself briefly admiring the flashes of narrative that didn’t feel either bland or insensitive. For example, the game centers women, including Black women, in leadership (although, yes, the magical ones do all still turn evil and get murdered). It also provides space for a Black woman to be unlikable and unwilling to sacrifice herself for others and still end up being the hero.

And Frey’s well-timed “Fuck!”s after getting beat up or seeing some kind of weird fantasy bullshit was the closest I came to laughing at the dialogue. (More importantly, she loves cats, and there are many of them to pet!) But considering that a game director characterized Balinska as having a “very hip-hoppy kind of walk” during her motion capture performance, the game’s treatment of race (to say nothing of its depiction of mental illness) does raise the question of whether any representation offered by mainstream developers will ever be more than window dressing. 

It betrays the cynicism of the gaming industry that it will create a protagonist who is brown to be “reflective of our diverse audiences” (as a Square Enix spokesperson claimed during a December 2021 preview of the game) without actually doing the work of making that character fully formed and moving through the world like a POC actually would. You can be Black in the ways that mainstream media considers authentic, like walking in a “very hip-hoppy” manner, collecting sneakers, and stealing cars — all of which Frey does — but not a drop more than that. We wouldn’t want to make certain gamers uncomfortable. 

To be fair, Frey is far from the worst video game protagonist I’ve encountered, of any color, and Kotaku reported that Square Enix had hired “a number of consultants from BIPOC backgrounds” to vet Frey’s characterization. Balinska also gave “passionate” feedback during her recording sessions. Frey’s weird “How do you do, fellow kids?”–style quips are eyeroll-inducing at times but could have easily faded into the background if the game had actually been, well, fun. That is, after all, what we’ve come to expect from a blockbuster. The quippy, sarcastic script doesn’t suddenly become more irritating just because the protagonist is a Black woman.

Rather, I’m annoyed by the lack of effort among game developers to innovate when it comes to the richness of their characters, especially when those characters are people of color. The interactive nature of video games means there is always a large dose of wish fulfillment involved — we want to imagine ourselves as the protagonist, doing all the cool things that our fingers and the story are commanding them to do. But if Frey Holland is wish fulfillment, it’s not wish fulfillment for Black women in general. It’s wish fulfillment for a specific type of non-Black or privileged Black person who romanticizes the struggles associated with poverty and systemic neglect without actually wanting to name either of those things. 

Sahred From Source link Technology

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