Bangalore – Apex Legends
Bangalore, aka Anita Williams, is the certified badass of the Apex Legends crew. She’s a soldier, not a show-off, and while her kit isn’t that flashy, it proves that the basics still hit hard. From playing mind games with the smokescreen to running laps around your enemies before bombarding them from space, Bangalore is a formidable opponent and a great choice for the Apex games.
Beyond the arena, Williams isn’t just a decorated military veteran, but also someone dedicated to her family. The in-game lore reveals she’s fighting for something real, for the family that raised her to be the fighter she is, which helps make her one of the most admirable Legends out there. Plus, one of the best things about her character design is that they gave her an accurate modern Black hairstyle. It’s a small detail, but it’s something that gets butchered in most games. Someone needs to tip Bangalore’s barber, because the fade is way too clean.
Elena – Street Fighter
In a series so based on throwing hands, Elena stands out because… she never actually needs to throw any. She’s the only character that utilizes the unique Afro-Brazilian dance-fighting style of Capoeira to clobber her opponents, and it’s built around exclusively using kicks, acrobatics, and healing. It’s a super cool style, a graceful kinetic performance that requires both intense physicality and rhythmic skill to master. It makes Elena one of the more fun characters to both play as and watch in a tournament, since her moveset offers a sense fluidity and finesse that other characters don’t possess.
A princess from a tribe in Kenya, who loves friends, music, and fighting, Elena debuted in Street Fighter III: New Generation back in 1997 as the first playable Black woman in the series, and, at the time, one of the only Black women in video games at all. If you’re ever looking for a solid main in an older Street Fighter game, Elena’s your girl. She might not carry the most clout in the Street Fighter world, but that doesn’t mean she won’t backflip, bait a heal, and send a flying foot to your enemy’s face with lightning speed and a smile.
Sgt. Avery Johnson – Halo
Avery Johnson is the ultimate hype man, the king of inspirational speeches. With just a few words, he can get anyone pumped up to blast some aliens and save planet Earth.
Johnson is funny, sure, but he’s more than just token comic relief — his raw tenacity and go-getter attitude serves as a beacon for humanity in its darkest hours. Throughout the series, he’s been a bastion of wisdom, grit and perseverance — and inspired others to that same standard. Master Chief wouldn’t be the legend he is without Johnson’s guidance and his classic action hero puns.
Lola – Afterparty
Even though she’s trapped in Hell, Lola stays a sharp-witted smartypants in overalls who doesn’t have time for anyone’s BS. Before she ended up down below she was an activist fighting for good in the world, and her passion carries over into the Underworld. Afterparty is a game powered by conversations and characters, and Lola’s perspective always makes situations more interesting, and it was a nice touch to have Lola able to go off about social justice throughout the game.
It’s such a change of pace from older black characters, who either didn’t have their own personality, or suffered from one that was based entirely around cringe-worthy stereotypes. Lola is thought out, well-rounded. She oozes sarcasm and quips, she’s unafraid calls people out when it’s necessary, and the plans she comes up with are ingenious. She might not always be the nicest to other characters, but she doesn’t need to be – she is literally in Hell, after all.
The first time you meet Grace, she has a gun pointed at famed Nazi-killer Billy J. Blazkowicz’s face and asks, “Just who the f*ck are you, white boy?” In a series about overthrowing Nazis and klansmen, it would have been easy to paint the same worldview onto all of Wolfenstein’s characters — but Walker’s perspective is a fresh one. Bombate’s story in The New Order some of the difficulties that black men face the world over, but Grace’s experience as a Black woman in America is a vastly different one.
One of the few survivors of the nuclear attack on New York’s few survivors of an atom bomb attack, Grace’s role as a tough-as-nails Resistance leader is one that requires a delicate balance of camaraderie and no-nonsense hardass-ed-ness, a combination absolutely nailed by voice actress Deborah Wilson’s impassioned performance.
Carl “CJ” Johnson – GTA: San Andreas
Although Grand Theft Auto often exaggerates real-world social issues for comedic value, it’s still a series that gives the player no choice but to acknowledge those issues head-on. In 2004’s GTA San Andreas, Carl “CJ” Johnson is at the center of it all, confronting all the hot-button social issues of both the mid-2000s and its early 90’s LA setting.
CJ is one of the most mild-mannered protagonists of the Grand Theft Auto series, but he and his crew are full of Black personalities that carry the game. Writer Mark Jordan, better known as DJ Pooh – who in addition to writing San Andreas also penned the first Friday movie and produced records with everyone from LL Cool J to Tupac – did a great job crafting dialogue that was true to both the madcap style of the GTA series and accurate to Black culture of the time. Jordan’s work made San Andreas feel like one of the first interactive experiences fully dedicated to Black culture. While the antics CJ and his crew got up to were often over-the-top, San Andreas still delivered thoughtful social commentary and criticism smartly packed in Rockstar’s signature blend of comedy and action.
LifeLine – Apex Legends
Ajay Che, better known as Lifeline, is a combat medic, and a support Legend who’s easily one of the MVPs of the Apex games. Since the launch of Apex Legends, her kit has been one of the most useful (not to mention coolest) loadouts in the game: sporting a shielded and shortened revive time, a mobile healing drone, and a whole lot of charisma. Support mains everywhere rejoiced over Lifeline, because even though her skills are utility-oriented, Lifeline is still on an equal tier with the rest of the legends. She doesn’t play into the docile support archetype, a skilled Lifeline player can go in and solo-carry while making sure her squad is feeling A-Okay.
As a character, Lifeline has dedicated her time to helping others ever since she found out her family were war profiteers – pity more folks in the real world don’t follow her example.
Cere Junda – Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Fallen Order tells a bit of a darker Star Wars story than we’re used to, and Cere is one of the main reasons that Respawn pulls it off. Cere is one of the survivors of Order 66, and that survival came at a price that she carries with her throughout the game. Considering that you can count all the Black people in Star Wars on one hand, it’s great to see the first Jedi that’s also a Black woman be such a strong, complex character.
Part of that is thanks to another great performance by Deborah Wilson. Full of passion and regret, Wilson brings a welcome layer of gravitas to her character’s arc. Cere is a trooper (not a storm one!). She’s someone who confronts her murky past so that she can move past it, and continue doing everything she can to unite Jedi and fight the growing forces of the Empire.
Clementine – TellTale’s The Walking Dead
Clementine is basically everyone’s video game daughter – it feels like it was just yesterday we were cutting her hair and teaching her how to shoot a zombie. In reality, though, it’s been almost eight years since The Walking Dead Season 1 dropped and we got introduced to one of the most charming and dynamic zombie-fighting duos ever – even if it was short-lived.
Sure, the first season of Walking Dead falls into the popular gaming category of “middle-aged dad protagonist caring for a child,” but Clementine’s growth throughout the later seasons made her the star of an entire series. She had to make a truly twisted decision at the end of Season 1, continue surviving and then raise a child. She has gone through so much, and we’ve been able to see her develop her skills from amateur to pro. It’s a powerful feat to achieve in an industry full of characters who don’t look like her, especially given the fact that she isn’t relegated to a supporting role or prone to any uncomfortable stereotypes. It’s rare that you get to see a Black protagonist get the chance to be so vulnerable and real in a game – we definitely need more of that.
These are, of course, just some of our favorite Black characters throughout gaming – what are yours? Let us know in the comments, and if you want to help make our gaming community a more colorful place, consider donating to a charity like Black Girls Code, Games for Change, or the National Society of Black Engineers.
Funké Joseph is a Freelance Writer for IGN who wants Birdo in Smash Ultimate. Please make it happen, and also follow him on Twitter.