Source: Generic Gaming (YouTube)

While the topic is very baby’s first discussion on microaggressions, I appreciate the candid and authentic way Marcus and Horatio talk about being “the only ones” in tech. I love the way Horatio changes the cadence of his voice as he extolls the virtue of the pomegrapple—a sure sign of code-switching because no Negro I know would ever eat a pomegrapple unless his grandmama gave it to them first. I know that special voice, I often employ it. Code-switching is a survival tool so personal to the Black experience that it’s surprising to see it deployed in a piece of media that’s not specifically made by us. It’s a Black Easter egg, a gift Watch Dogs 2 gives its Black players to say “we see you.”

Honorable Mention: Wolfenstein: The New Colossus 

I wanted to keep this list free of alternate histories or fantastical racism allegories—not only would it become far too large, but the depictions therein are often gross simplifications or poorly executed, outright offensive stand-ins (looking at you Detroit: Become Human). Wolfenstein: The New Colossus gets a special recommendation for one reason: Grace Walker.

Source: theRadBrad (YouTube)

The New Colossus could have been about Grace Walker. A more ambitious game, one eager to send a message greater than “Nazis are bad,” would have made her its protagonist. Whoever wrote Grace’s character at Bethesda certainly did their homework. From the moment you meet her, you know she’s not with the bullshit. She’s a Foxy Brown-type character, stepping right out of 1970s blaxploitation cinema. Her perfectly moisturized, voluminous afro evokes Angela Davis or Nikki Giovanni, and her backstory recalls the life and times of Assata Shakur. What better way to celebrate Juneteenth than by honoring these Black revolutionaries?

Black women don’t get the best representation in video games for reasons I’m sure I’ll get into as I spend more time at Kotaku. But Grace is a clear, strong image of a Black woman without any of the stereotypes that usually accompany such characters. She’s strong, but shows vulnerability. She’s so angry at what Nazis and racists have done to her and her country that she’s willing to take up arms against them, but so gentle and loving that, in the middle of recounting her horrific story, she whips out a tit to breastfeed her baby.

Image for article titled Four Games That Resonate (And One I Hate) As I Celebrate Juneteenth
Screenshot: theRadBrad (Fair Use)

Grace is a phenomenal character who elevates every scene she’s in. She’s like Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds—the movie isn’t about him, but he commands every moment he’s on-screen such that you never want him off it. Shout the hell out to Grace’s voice actress, Debra Wilson.

By the way: Where Wolfenstein fails for me is that even though it has an entire sequence in which folks walk around an American city wearing Klan robes in broad daylight, the game confines your carnage to Nazi submarines and military bunkers.

Nazis are the perennial video game bad guys, an enemy no one tries to humanize—the boogeymen of history. They’re bad and it’s good to kill them. But an enemy just as repugnant and as prolific as Nazis are white supremacists (hell, Nazism took a fair chunk of its antisemetic policies from America’s Jim Crow laws) yet there aren’t many (any?) games devoted to wiping them off the face of the Earth. I would have loved—loved!—the opportunity to mow down the Klan on main street.

Dishonorable Mention: Detroit: Become Human

“That is a quote from Martin Luther King.”
“That is a quote from Martin Luther King.”
Screenshot: Shirrako (Fair Use)

Damn, I hate this game.

Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing

Juneteenth is our Independence Day, not July 4th, which Black folk generally treat as a day to gather with family, grill, and fight about who made the potato salad. After all, what sense does it make to celebrate America’s independence when our portion of its population wouldn’t be free until almost 100 years later—if you can call living under Jim Crow “free.”

It’s difficult to think about any kind of freedom when Black people are still being hung from trees and shot in the back while fleeing police. The grief and depression is debilitating—like wet snow that doesn’t melt. It settles heavy on the shoulders, calcifies on the bones, until one day you wake up and realize you can’t move. Juneteenth, once ignored, is now on the fast track to national holiday status. And as it grows in the national consciousness, it gives me hope that other long-ignored injustices will finally have their reckoning, too.

Happy Juneteenth y’all.

Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.

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