Video games are always moving forward, with improvements in graphical fidelity, expanded maps, and new ideas about gameplay. But character creation has comparatively lagged behind: Options are still pretty limited for creating characters of color, particularly for creating Black characters. And a huge component is a lack of Black hairstyles and textures. A new video essay from Kinda Funny Games host and producer Blessing Adeoye Jr., highlights the limited nature of Black hairstyles in video games — even as video game development leaps forward in other areas.
In “We Need To Fix Black Hair in Video Games,” Adeoye points to the prevalence of afros and cornrows in Black character designs. “Kudos to game devs for actually including cornrows, a hair style that can be dated back over 3,000 years to sub-Saharan Africa” he says. “My one question though, is who is this dude with cornrows that every single video game developer seemingly knows?”
Video game character designs often hew to western beauty standards, erasing the range of Black hairstyles — and often the existence of Black characters at all. This lack of inclusivity is exhausting for players seeking to play an RPG or sim with a character that actually looks like them. It’s just another place in which Black hairstyles are seen as out of place, and is an extension of real life discrimination. Workplaces and schools — among many other places — have codified rules around what type of hair is “appropriate.” It wasn’t until 2022 that Congress passed the Crown Act, banning hair-related discrimination.
Some of last year’s best-selling games, including Elden Ring and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, had limited character creation options, with both limited skin color options and hairstyles. (Polygon’s reporting also pointed out that in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, selecting a curly hair style meant that the character often could not wear hats.)
Modders have stepped in to remediate the lack of Black hairstyles in games, particularly in The Sims 4. Though the game was initially released with a limited palette of hairstyles, modders stepped in to create a variety of looks, including natural and protective styles, with fun colors and accessories, and a range of hair textures and curl patterns. As Adeoye points out in his reporting, even celebrities like Keke Palmer have played modded versions of The Sims 4 in order to create characters that actually look like them.
In the video essay, Adeoye also interviews Del Walker, a senior character artist for Naughty Dog, about his work and how he approaches designing hair for Black characters. He points out a few games that have gotten it right, including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But the industry still has a long way to go.
“Just don’t treat Black hair like an afterthought,” Walker told Adeoye. “It’s an entire spectrum and a realm, and it’s so much untapped cool stuff happening.”