The twelfth installment of Activision's Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, was released last week for the PS4 and XBox One to generally solid, positive reviews. Though the game didn't exactly reinvent the first person shooter, Polygon hailed it for its expansive breadth of content. And what a wealth of content there is!
Of the many things that you can do in Black Ops 3, one of the most glaring omissions from the game for me and many other gamers of color is the ability to play as a character who vaguely looks like me. Every single one of the 18 potential character models to choose from in Black Ops 3 are various shades of white, ranging from pallid to a weather-worn ruddy.
The reasoning behind Activision's "limited color palette" is probably related to the technology the company used to produce its characters. As is increasingly becoming the case, the game's characters were designed in part using motion capture with two actors the characters are modeled after, Ben Browder and Abby Brammell.
The problem isn't that two white actors were chosen to be the faces of all the game's players, but rather that Activision didn't see fit to branch out with their modifications to the actors' faces.
The impact of being able to design a video game character whose appearance closely approximates a player's unique look is more important than one might think. As a whole, video games still have a long way to go in terms of crafting stories that incorporate a broader array of races, genders, and sexual orientations by default.
Though it's not a perfect solution, more granular character customization allows for people to project themselves into the role of the hero—automatically increasing the amount of positive representation for people like the player. Say you're playing a game where there are no Latina women with speaking roles. By creating a character who visibly reads as Latina, the player can then have a default connection to the game in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Is Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 a bad video game? No! Absolutely not. Race issue aside, its most glaring offense is actually the fact that it's a rather innocuous entry into the franchise. It's not stellar, but it's far from poor. People are going to go out, buy the game, and probably have a pretty fun time playing it.
The thing about black and brown people, though? Sometimes we like to spend our time playing middling-to-average video games too and it'd be nice if we could see ourselves in them more often.