I love RPGs. There’s something about making numbers go up and down that attracts me to this genre above others. Despite this, I hate RPGs. There’s something about the lack of diversity in the characters, bad guys and plots that have made this genre stale and unappealing recently.
As I browse the 200 new releases tagged as RPGs in Steam, four things stick out: wearing 100 pounds of armor is no big deal, some people need a second opinion on their awful icons, there are more undead than women, and there are zero black people. And I’m not surprised.
The only pre-made characters I’ve played as recently who remotely represent my race are two — the only two — of the over 100 heroes in Dota 2: a guy who hates magic and a lady who makes you fight her. I don’t even play Dota anymore, and I still default to those two. This isn’t to say that playable black characters don’t exist anywhere, as I don’t tend to play or enjoy the more popular genres. But what I am saying is that they hardly exist in games and don’t exist in RPGs. When they are included, they are often stereotyped, usually as “big black guy” or “comedian” or, my favorite, “slave.”
People of color shouldn’t be included in a game to fulfill a diversity quota, submit to “SJW demands” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) or be the token rap verse of video games. People shouldn’t need to be convinced to make games look like the world around themselves. Yes, this even applies to fantasy worlds, where imaginary elves, dwarves and monsters are seen in troves while people of color are the real fantasy. It makes games more relatable to more people instead of pandering to the ones they already cater to.
Boring, white, scruffy, male protagonists make me not want to pick up a game, but boring baddies make me sorry I ever played the game. Bad guys always want to destroy the world, yet that’s probably the most boring modus operandi that you could come up with for a villain. Literally anything is better than a guy with a dark purple cloak wanting to enslave humanity or destroy the world or summon an ancient demon to do either of those. What’s worse is the ultimate baddies’ motivations, usually not straying far from “ultimate power” or “the good guys picked on me millenia ago” or “because I’m evil, duh.”
Besides being stale, this lack of characterization makes me unable to connect with the villain. He is objectively bad from any viewpoint, including his own, and my motivation to beat his face in never wavers. Half-decent villains should be the heroes of their own storylines, trying to accomplish good ends using questionable or objectionable means or being corrupted by their choices. Maybe the villain is a straight-up hero, unlike what the King of FirstTownLand told you at the end of the tutorial. Honestly, purely evil bad guys are a sign of purely lazy character development.
I’m going to write the story of the next RPG I won’t buy. The game begins in a small town with you, a white or Japanese teenager. One NPC in town, the Old Codger whom everyone tells you not to listen to, regales you about The Prophecy from a thousand years ago. Wouldn’t you know, today is exactly a thousand years later.
Dark clouds threaten the land, and Evil beckons for your podunk town to offer up The Protagonist to subvert The Prophecy. You escape to the Kingdom Next Door, and Evil destroys or enslaves your hometown. You just roll up to The King and tell him Evil is coming. He believes you and warns the other kingdoms, then Evil’s henchmen destroy the kingdom as you and he escape underground. Or he doesn’t believe you, gets his kingdom destroyed, gets killed by Evil who teleports away and then tells you to warn the other kingdoms in his dying breath.
You traverse the land, preferring diversity in monster species over diversity in your own species, until you encounter Evil, who can attack twice per turn. You defeat Evil, but it turns out that person was only possessed by Evil. You traverse some more, find Aerial Transportation and discover the Tree of Life, who tells you that you need to backtrack to find the Sacred Relics, which are hidden in each Kingdom of the Old Alliance that sealed Evil away a thousand years ago. The Tree then tells you The Full Prophecy and why Evil is evil, but it can’t predict if you or Evil wins in the end.
Evil then posts up on the World Map in a Tall, Dark Castle. You gather the Relics, fly within Evil’s Radius of No Return, leave, save game, then reenter. You ascend the tower and eventually use the Relics on Evil. This weakens Evil, who then turns into Evil Phase 2. You beat Phase 2, and then Evil sacrifices himself to summon God of Evil, who wants to destroy the world for some reason or other.
With your Motley Crew, help from the Tree of Life and your Final Sword Ability, you defeat the God of Evil and restore peace to the land. You either marry a princess or disappear in the aftermath, preferring a simpler life. You unlock a Secret Dungeon for New Game Plus. There still haven’t been any black people in this game. Roll unskippable credits.
Sorry for spoiling it for you.