How Forspoken challenges the status quo of RPG Games

Forspoken is a video game about literal Black girl magic.

black female characters

Square Enix's Forspoken game follows Frey Holland, a troubled young lady from New York City who is whisked away to a magical kingdom filled with monsters and mayhem, after stumbling through a magic portal. 

On the other side of the portal, Frey finds herself in Athia, a mystical medieval world that is not without it's own problems. She's now wearing a sentiment armlet, which she nicknames Cuff, and who serves as her companion and guide throughout the game.

Wearing her talking armlet, Frey transverses the often hazardous and harmful realm she now finds herself in, putting her new-found magical abilities to the ultimate life or death test, as she looks for a way back home.

It's also worth noting that Athia is a matriarchy, and Forspoken's key focus is Frey’s personal development and journey in this strange land. The Tantas, an organization of crazed sorceresses who rule and control the kingdom, are Frey's main antagonists in the game. 

Unlike other AAA rpg games, Forspoken is the first game to feature a woman of color with evident Black ancestry as the lead. In a Kotaku article, Square Enix said “We wanted our hero and other characters in Forspoken to be reflective of our diverse audiences and relatable to our players.”

“We decided to model Frey after casting actress Ella Balinska, as we felt she embodied our envisioning of Frey perfectly.”

How exactly does a game like Forspoken shake up the status quo? Well.. It's a high budget fantasy game created in Japan by Square Enix, which features a non-white lead and an almost all-female cast. That alone is an impressive feat when you compare it to the average rpg game on the market.

square enix characters

The centring of a brown-skinned girl in a Japanese role-playing game feels like a breath of fresh air in a video game genre where Black women in video games with fantasy settings are kept to the margins or rendered invisible.

If this statement holds no truth, then name five playable Black female characters from a western or Japanese rpg game, and no, games with character creation don't count, because this is about established characters with a story to tell. Go ahead, post your answer in the comment section.

A study by diamondlobby in 2021, which compiled over 100 games released in the last five years, between 2017 and 2021 revealed that gender wise, 79.2 percent of lead characters in games are male; 54.2 percent of lead characters in games are white, and only 8.3 percent of main characters in games are females of non-white ethnicities.

 only 8.3 percent of main characters in games are females of non-white ethnicities.
In their ethnic portion of the study, their findings revealed that 9.5% of games only have a playable white character, i.e. they have no other ethnic representation. While only 5.3% of games do not have a playable white character.

 As quoted by Dimitra, author of Tolkien, Race and Cultural History from a The Guardian article, she said  "the forces of “good” in Middle-earth are fair-skinned, while forces of “evil” are dark; Orcs are “slant-eyed, swarthy and sallow-skinned”; the “heroes” are all white-skinned."

Which is why a strong female character from an underrepresented ethnicity is an significant and positive step forward, especially considering that many people have yet to see characters that look like them depicted in their favourite rpg games.

If this game is commercially successful or at the very least a cult classic, Forspoken could potentially open similar doors for new IPs from big video game developers, which feature more racially diverse protagonists.

Just as importantly, video game characters like Frey Holland drill into the mind of young people that heroes and legends can come from anywhere. Also new stories can be told and a demographic of gamers who haven't had the opportunity to be heroes, can finally get that chance.

Forspoken is coming out on Playstation 5 and PC on October 11, 2022.

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