Much like gender and sexual representation, race has become a very "tropey" subject in video games. Different races of people fall into very stereotypical roles, and to a noticeable degree. It seems that no group of people is the exception when it comes to assigning roles and characteristics that aim to delineate a race in essence, For this post, I'll focus on a trope based around African Americans. It's known as the "Voodoo/mysticism trope", and portrays African Americans as practitioners of voodoo or strange magic, often putting them in shaman or witch doctor roles. This trope can be observed in World of Warcraft (2004), Diablo 3 (2012), and Hearthstone (2014), games all developed by Blizzard Entertainment, as well as in Minecraft (2011), albeit in a very different sense. These games give insight into one of the societal perspectives in which we view African Americans, and put them into these ill-contrived tropes.
World of Warcraft is host to many different races, and players have the freedom to choose from any one of those races in their journey to form guilds, travel the world, and complete quests. Along their way, players may encounter the Darkspears, a race of trolls who are witch doctors and practice voodoo. Their leader, Vol’Jin, is given a Jamaican-esque dialect, which implies an African American ethnicity. Sen’Jin, the father of Vol’Jin, is given a similar dialect, which can be gleaned from Hearthstone (2014) when his card is placed on the field. Diablo 3 is perhaps a bit more controversial in regards to this trope. Though there is a collection of classes to choose from, players can’t experience similar freedom when it comes to choosing their race. Apparently, the only way a player may choose a dark-skinned avatar is if they opt into the Witch Doctor class, which speaks for itself in terms of how it supports the trope. Why Blizzard has it this way is unknown, though it would be interesting to hear their reasoning behind this design choice.
I mentioned that this trope can be found in Minecraft, though technically speaking, it is not the design of the developers, but rather a product of the community. I just felt that this example fit the trope so very precisely that it might be worth mentioning just to give further support to the prevalence of the stereotype. On YouTube, a group known as the Yogscast produces daily Minecraft videos. They’ve created quite a number of Minecraft-related series, their most popular one being the “Shadow of Israphel”. This almost completely scripted series follows the journey of a spaceman and a dwarf (played by Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane respectively. They are the founders of the Yogscast). The two set out to put a stop to a great evil that threatens the land of Minecraftia (the canonical name given to the world of Minecraft in general). In their quest, they meet a wide collection of interesting yet usually bizarre characters. At one point, they come across an African American woman by the name of Madame Nubescu, who makes use of strange voodoo magic to tell the future of the two heroes. While it is true that this character is purely the creation of the Yogscast, and has absolutely nothing to do with the developers at Mojang, I think it perfectly encapsulates what this trope says about African Americans. And does it matter if the trope was fostered by consumers as opposed to developers? Either way, it demonstrates a cultural perspective society has of African Americans.
It’s fascinating how such small details can leave large implications about a group of people, and help to develop a false image of them as a result of these implications. Though none of the games I discussed were necessarily offensive, perhaps maybe with the exception of Diablo 3, they demonstrate a perspective we've developed of African Americans that isolates them. Voodoo magic is portrayed as a strange study, of which little is known to the majority of society. It is therefore viewed as something to avoid due to its ambiguous nature. So by placing African Americans in the role of shamans and witch doctors, as masters of this mysterious magic, it synonymizes the race with the art. In other words, it defines African Americans as a mysterious, alien race, which serves to “other” them. It implies that they are different from us and should be avoided, just like voodoo.