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Video games still need better Black hairstyle options


Video games are always moving forward, with improvements in graphics fidelity, expanded maps, and new ideas about gameplay. But character creation has been relatively lagging: the options are still quite limited for creating colored characters, especially for creating black ones. And a big part is a lack of black hairstyles and textures. A new video essay from Kinda Funny Games host and producer Blessing Adeoye Jr. highlights the limited nature of black hairstyles in video games – even as video game development takes a leap forward in other areas.

In “We Need To Fix Black Hair in Video Games”, Adeoye points out the prevalence of afros and cornrows in black character designs. “Kudos to game developers for actually incorporating cornrows, a hairstyle that dates back over 3,000 years to sub-Saharan Africa,” he says. “My only question, though, is who is this guy with cornrows that every video game developer seemingly knows?”

Video game character designs often take western beauty standards into account, erasing the range of black hairstyles – and often the very existence of black characters. This lack of inclusiveness is exhausting for players who want to play an RPG or sim with a character that really resembles them. It’s just another place where black haircuts are considered out of place, and is an extension of real life discrimination. Workplaces and schools – among many other places – have codified rules about what type of hair is “appropriate.” It wasn’t until 2022 that Congress passed the Crown Act, which prohibits hair-related discrimination.

Some of last year’s best selling games including Elder ring And Pokémon Scarlet And purple, had limited character creation options, with limited skin tone options as well as hairstyles. (Polygon’s reporting also pointed out that in Pokémon Scarlet And purpleselecting a curly hairstyle often meant the character couldn’t wear hats.)

Modders have stepped in to remedy the lack of black hairstyles in games, particularly in The Sims 4. While the game was initially released with a limited palette of hairstyles, modders stepped in to create a variety of looks, including natural and protective styles, with fun colors and accessories, and a range of hair textures and curl patterns. As Adeoye points out in his coverage, even celebrities love it Keke Palmer has played modified versions of The Sims 4 to create characters that really look like them.

In the video essay, Adeoye also interviews Del Walker, a senior character artist for Naughty Dog, about his work and how he approaches hair design for black characters. He points out a few games that have done well, including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But the industry still has a long way to go.

“Just don’t treat black hair like an afterthought,” Walker told Adeoye. “It’s a whole spectrum and a realm, and there’s so much untapped cool stuff happening.”

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