This is a picture of the character select screen from Super Smash Brother Brawl, a fighter featuring many of Nintendo’s main characters. You may notice it, but something is certainly lacking in this picture (No..It’s not MegaMan)
Nintendo has been in the video game industry for well over 30 years, and the number of franchises and characters they have created is unrivaled in the industry. However, Nintendo certainly has been slow to change on certain issues (Wi-Fi, DLC, Account Systems, hardware, etc). They’re by no means the most dynamic developer out there, despite revolutionizing the industry many times over. One issue that they seem to be trailing behind is that of racial representation in video games.
Let’s think for a moment: How many non-white Nintendo characters can you think of? How many characters of color? I can think of two: Doc Lewis from Punch-out, and maybe Ganondorf.
What gives Nintendo? Two characters out of hundreds, neither of whom are playable and one of which is a villain. There may be some characters in the Fzero universe, but who knows the characters outside Captain Falcon from Fzero? So we’re essentially left with zero, and there are certainly no protagonist who are non-white.
Another concerning issue comes from their lack of customization to include non-white players. For example, the recent Animal Crossing allows players to customize nearly every aspect of their character and city. One feature lacking is the ability to change or choose your characters skin tone. Gamers of colored have asked “Why can’t my character’s skin color match my own”?
It’s only recently that Nintendo has allowed players to choose between male and female, so why has an option for skin tone been missing from most games? Mii’s skin can be darkened or lightened, so why not in game? This isn’t isolated to Animal Crossing either, as games like Pokemon lack this ability as well.
Reasons Given for the lack of diversity:
“Most of Nintendo’s characters were created in the NES days, non-white characters would be more difficult to distinguish”
This excuse may have worked when Nintendo was first developing for arcades, but certainly the NES was powerful enough distinguish non-white characters. As I mentioned, Doc Lewis and several of the punch-out casts were characters of color, so it was certainly possible. Even McKids featured a non-white playable character. Is Nintendo really unable to do what McKids can? Regardless, Nintendo has had 20+ more years to make more characaters, and with expanding universes like the Zelda universe there’s no reason why Nintendo can’t create more diverse characters.
“Japan isn’t as diverse as we are”
I understand that Nintendo is a Japanese company, and racial diversity isn’t as big of a concern in Japan as is it here, but being one of the foremost worldwide gaming developers Nintendo has to consider a wider audience. Being a Japanese company hasn’t stop other developers from creating characters of color. Likewise, Nintendo’s mascot is an Italian plumber- I don’t think they’re letting region dictate their characters.
So there you have it. While I am singling out Nintendo, this issue goes far beyond the big N. Characters of color have traditionally been very underrepresented, and often misrepresented, in video games. Varying studies have been done on the representation of race in video games, and they hardly even come out too positive. As the video game industry progresses, it’s important that we demand diverse and interesting characters. Children who are non-white need positive heroes and protagonist just as much as their white peers.