I wasn't sure that I was going to write about the race of Remember Me's heroine because I wasn't sure there'd be anything to write about. And after having played the game, I can say that Nilin's ethnic make-up plays no part in the world-building of the new Capcom adventure.
I’ve written before about how I’d love video games to get more inclusive with character creation and the pool of developers. I've written about how it’d be great if the industry could tap into black history and cultural expressions to create different kinds of worlds and sagas. Last year, I praised Assassin's Creed III: Liberation for finding ways to weave in the racial dynamics of 18th Century into America into its gameplay mechanics and narrative. To me, the way that the writers and developers at Ubisoft Sofia spliced in reflections on slavery, bi-racial heritage and gender difference into their PlayStation Vita game marked a high point of how to handle the complex subject matter of racial inequalities in a video game.
Remember Me doesn’t do any of that. And I’m okay with it.
When I first saw shots of the game’s main character Nilin, I just assumed that the game's creators at Dontnod were going the ethnically ambigious route. You know, like Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Squint your eyes and she could be from any number of backgrounds. It wasn't until I saw a few Tweets about Nilin being black that I started to really believe she had some African diaspora in her background.
However, no effort is made to try to inject any kind of cultural specificity or tropes into Nilin. There’s no effort made to make her sound like someone’s idea of what a black woman sounds like. And while there are haves and have-nots in Remember Me, Nilin doesn't automatically belong to the underclass because she's a brown person. What drives her is what would drive any protagonist: wanting to uncover her past and a compulsion to do what’s right. That's significant.
It’s an argument that I’ve been making for a while privately and professionally: nothing changes—or has to change—if the character saving the world is a brown, red, yellow or black person. Or a woman. Sure, developers can choose to make it matter.
It can be great when the fact that a game character is of color or female does matter to the content of the game, as with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. That instance is one where the game is made better by choosing to incorporate research and a desire to try and communicate the experience of something other than a square-jawed white guy. But, Remember Me represents the other end of my spectrum of desire: the simple basic yearning for different kinds of faces.
Opinions are varied with regard to the quality of Remember Me. But you can’t deny that Nilin is already different than the Master Chiefs or Nathan Drakes of the video game universe simply by how she looks. And that difference is magnetic; it makes you wonder about the game she’s the face of and the world she operates in. And that magnetism? It’s not all that hard to achieve. All you need to do is to make a Nilin or an Aveline or a Lee Everett in the first place.