Blacked Out: African American Characters In Fighting Games

I've often lamented the stereotypes that exist in African-American comic book characters. Most of them, in my limited experience, are either super suave, super strong, a sidekick, have electrical powers (because black people have "dat juice"), or are super smart (which I find to be really patronizing).

However, I've never really explored the African-American experience in my favorite video game genre. So today's post will discuss African-American characters in fighting games. I'll list them in no particular order. Some will not appear on this list for several reasons. I might not have heard of them. I might not have ever played with them. Or the character in question might be black, but not African American, like Elena and Dudley from Street Fighter III, and Christie and Eddy from the Tekken series.

Like films, there are a few stereotypes, mostly revolving around the "black muscle" who acts as a sidekick to the hero or a henchmen to the villain. The primary fighting styles of most black characters in fighting games are Boxing and Muay Thai. I'm not sure why that is.

To date, no major fighting game has ever used an African-American character as either the main protagonist or primary antagonist.


Balrog – To my knowledge, he is the first African-American fighting game character. With Mike Tyson being the character's obvious inspiration, you'd think that Balrog's storyline might have evolved over the last few years (as Tyson's real life story would provide a lot of deep and interesting content). However, when Balrog was introduced in Street Fighter II in 1991, he was simply a meat-headed henchmen of Shadaloo. And today, in 2015...he's a meat-headed henchmen of Shadaloo. As far as fighting mechanics go, he is also the first character to only use one set of extremities and be effective in combat. (Update: I have recently discovered an African-American fighter named Mike from Street Fighter I, making him the first black fighting game character, not Balrog)



Jackson "Jax" Briggs – Debuting in Mortal Kombat II, Jax is the musclebound member of a special ops unit who has entered the tournament to save his partner Sonya Blade. While not a boxer, a major component of his fighting style revolves around his arms. Depending on if you follow the 2011 reboot or the MK III storyline, Jax's arms were metallically retrofitted either out of necessity to save his life or as upgrades in the fight against all the crazy creatures of Outworld. Either way, Jax is the first African-American fighting game character to act as a good guy. When he is given a daughter in MKX, it definitely helps to deepen his story a bit. But neither Jax or his daughter completely shed the "black muscle" stereotype.



*Bruce Irvin – In Tekken's Bruce Irvin, we have a kid who loses his family to gang violence and is forced to survive and fight on the streets as a result. He ends up becoming the partner of Lei Wulong after joining the "police force" as an adult. On his way to investigate Kazuya Mishima, his plane explodes and crashes. Bruce survives, but loses his memories. Rather than kill him, Kazuya hires him as his bodyguard, which has been Bruce's role ever since. So Bruce and Balrog share similarities in that they both serve as the "black muscle" to their villainous leaders. Sighs.



TJ Combo – Um...no. Just...no.










Zack – To hear Tecmo tell it, Dead or Alive's only black male entry is based off of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. I'm more inclined to think that the character was created first, then given a real-life person to make parallels to. (I'm okay with that, by the way.) In the story of DOA, Zack is a DJ looking to boost his popularity by competing in the first tournament. Known for his flamboyant outfits and personality, Zack is the only black character that I can think of that fits the mold of the joke character in fighting games (Like Street Fighter's Dan Hibiki and Fatal Fury's Joe Hagashi). He only competes in the tournaments thereafter in order to provide for his extravagant lifestyle, never actually winning the tournament, but always being there to claim the prize money. He secures enough capital to create an island named after himself, and has somehow formed a relationship of sorts with aliens. Though he's a bit weird, I can honestly say that Zack is most certainly not a one-dimensional black stereotype.

Seth – In Seth, we have another African-American character who is partnered with a female member (Vanessa) of an elite military-style organization the same way that Jax is partnered with Sonya Blade. On the surface, it would appear that he's another "black muscle" stereotype, with the creators going so far as to say they were looking to create a "powerful...big, dark, middle-aged man" (SNK). However, a closer look reveals a more professional and more polished character. His fighting style isn't about overwhelming you with slow, powerful attacks. Seth uses range, counter attacks, and patience to methodically wear down his opponents, something that's very rare in African-American characters because it shows a sense of intellect. This is to be appreciated, especially since The King of Fighters is my favorite fighting game franchise. I wish there was more story to him, but that's a problem that most fighting games have.


Lisa Hamilton – Lisa first debuted on the roster of DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball (the fighting game equivalent to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issues). The story of DOA has her constantly switching careers. She's been a scientist, a sales exec, and a stockbroker. This, in my experience, could be seen as an accurate portrayal of the many independent black women who value success in the workplace above all else. From a gameplay prospective, she is a grappler, a fighting game archetype that is historically dominated by men. She is the only black wrestler, that I can think of, in fighting games. Also, Lisa take on a lucha libre persona. I'm not sure why or how relevant this is to her story, but I figured it's worth noting only to establish that she is not Hispanic, but an African-American woman who puts on a Luchadora outfit.


OTHER ENTRIES: 

Vanessa Lewis – From Virtua Fighter. Not much here. Like Bruce Irvin, her family is killed when she was young, she becomes a bodyguard as an adult, and she uses a realistic form of Muay Thai as a fighting style.

Jacqui Briggs – From Mortal Kombat X. Daughter of Jax Briggs. I'd like to see her grow outside of her debut before I create an analysis of her. So far, it seems she's doomed to play the sidekick role to Cassie Cage.

Raven – From Tekken. I'm not sure if he's African-American. A Tekken bio credits his birthplace as Canada. A digital magazine called VentureBeat is quoted as saying Raven might be the only African-American ninja in fighting game history. I'm not sure about any of it. Either way, he doesn't have much of a story to tell. I will update accordingly, should the need arise.

Black Orchid – From Killer Instinct. I'm not sure if she's African-American. If so, I will update accordingly.


*Note: Bruce Irvin holds a world record for surviving plane crashes in fighting games.

Aaron David Harris' Top 50 All Time Fighting Game Themes

Every fighting game franchise has an identity that makes it distinguishable from its competitors. A huge component of that identity is the game’s soundtrack. Fighting game themes come in all styles and flavors. Street Fighter has the benefit of being able to reinvent its iconic themes over a long period of time. The Soul series soundtracks have always been epic and orchestral, while Skullgirls and the Marvel vs. Capcom series often use more modern, grooving tracks.

Below is my official, definitive list for the Top 50 All Time Fighting Game Themes. Like all lists, I’m certain there will be disagreements. My hope is that, regardless of ranking, I have chosen tracks that are dear to all lovers of the fighting game genre. For numbers 25-1, I provide descriptions and brief analysis.

As a heads up, here are the following game franchises that will not appear on this list: Mortal Kombat, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Skullgirls, Power Stone, Rival Schools/Project Justice, Plasma Sword.

Enjoy.

50. Zangief (Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter)

49. Ultimate Rugal (Capcom vs. SNK II)

48. Still Green (The King of Fighters XI)

47. Hyrule (Super Smash Bros. Melee)

46. Kazuya Boss Theme (Tekken 2)

45. Poke Floats (Super Smash Bros. Melee)

44. Rolento (Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold)

43. Morrigan (Darkstalkers 1)

42. Bloody (The King of Fighters 97/98)

41. Sakura (Street Fighter 4)

39. Jin Saotome (Marvel v. Capcom 1)

38. Fountain of Dreams - (Super Smash Bros.)

37. Cool Jam (The King of Fighters 98)

36. Under the Star of Destiny (Soul Calibur II)

35. London Stage (Capcom vs. SNK II)

34. Cammy Theme (Street Fighter II HD Remix)

33. Sagat (Street Fighter 4)

32. Hwoarang (Tekken 3)

31. Zangief (Street Fighter II HD Remix)

30. Astaroth (Soul Calibur II)

29. Guile (Street Fighter II/Street Fighter 4)

28. Wolfgang Krauser’s Dies Irae 

27. Spider-Man (all Marvel vs. Capcom)

26. Final Bison (Street Fighter Alpha 3)

25. In Spite Of One's Age (KOF 98) - This theme belongs to The Masters' Team, a squad comprised of the patriarchs of the major fighting styles in the game’s franchise. The song feels effortless, like the performance of a master.

24. I Wanna Take You For A Ride (MVC 2) - What kind of fighting game music aficionado would I be if this track wasn’t on the list? Say what you want about the lyrics (which basically amounts to saying seven words over and over again) but that cool sax and bass create a festive, party feel that can make any former player glow with nostalgia.

23. No More Swingin' (SFA3) - The third installment of the Street Fighter Alpha series was unique in that it completely changed the soundtrack from the iconic SF II editions into new, techno-rock tunes. Appropriately created for Guy, this song feels like a track for a classic beat-em up game like Final Fight.

22. Gen Theme (SFA2 Gold) - Weird, grim, almost ethereal organ. Oddly enough, the tune is befitting of a master assassin of his caliber.

21. Dan Theme (MSH vs SF) - I think it’s difficult to come up with a memorable theme song that fits a joke persona designed to be the worst character in his respective game. I’m not a big fan of Dan’s SFA themes, but this one perfectly captures his bravado and false sense of confidence.

20. Dee Jay Theme (SSF II) - Dee Jay’s theme is the epitome of fun and syncopation. It gets in your shoulders and your feet. When the opening hook drops, it's hard not to smile as big and as wide as the character this song was made for. His original version and his HD remix are my favorite renditions.

19. The Deep (Omega Red Theme) - Both The COTA and the MSH vs. SF versions are great. I’m a sucker for a really good bass track. It grooves with a vengeance. It feels unstoppable.

18. Cammy Theme (SF 4) - There are several version of Cammy’s theme that I could have picked here. And even though I’m not happy with the techno direction of SF 4's overall Soundtrack, I think Cammy’s entry is a perfect balance of tough, unstoppable girl power.

17. Clock Tower (MVC 2) - Any MVC 2 player will immediately recognize this pleasant, grooving track as the theme of the first stage you play in the Arcade Mode. Jazz music has a special kind of structure and finesse that’s very hard to pull of in fighting games. MVC 2 set the standard on how to do it, and Clock Tower is one of the best examples.

16. Brave Sword, Braver Soul (SC II) - If this were a list of best fighting game albums, Soul Calibur II would be number one and there wouldn’t even be a close second. The entire album’s goal is to tell you an epic tale of souls and swords. This track epitomizes that, with its complex orchestral riffs and japanese three-string guitars.

15. Mustard for Geese/Geese Ni Shouyuu - Geese is one of my favorite characters in all of fighting games. There are a lot of renditions of his theme. “Mustard” is a great track because it’s a blend of both European and Japanese influences, which is exactly what Geese is. “Ni Shouyuu” is a rock remix that almost make him feel like a good guy, with just a touch of menace.

14. Street Wise Asura Remix (Tekken 5) - This is probably the funnest track in all of Tekken. Listen to it all the way through. It drives like a roller coaster at a dangerous amusement park in Japan. And that bass guitar, as my students would say, is simply the truth. It’s also a great workout song.

13. Vega (SFV) - Not only is Vega’s theme the first elegant theme in the genre’s history, it’s also the most enduring. This version is fresh, traditional, and dangerously festive while maintaining its Spanish regality.

12. Ken Theme (SF II HD) - I have no problem admitting that this isn’t one of my personal favorites. However, no one can deny its longevity and iconic sound. In a way, it’s almost a little brother to Ryu’s. I’m sure people will want this highest (if so, go make your own list).

11. Akashi no Saxophone 2 (KOF 97/98) - Every instrument is perfect. Guitars. Organ. Drums. Bass. It’s the perfect blend. It either feels like Iori Yagami is taking us to church or it feels like the opening to an 80’s anime.

10. M. Bison Theme (SF 2) - An iconic boss track. Thousands of controllers were thrown at television screens across the world in the 80s and 90s when it was time to deal with the insanely cheap boss known as M. Bison. The original is great. I personally think the tribute version is better.

9. Training Room (MVC 2) - After “I Wanna Take You For A Ride”, this song is one of the most memorable themes of the game. The bass, the syncopation, and the horns made it fun to spend countless hours honing your moves and practicing your combos.

8. Raise Thy Sword (SC II) - If there was ever a time to use a fighting game/battlefield metaphor, this would be the best track to do it with. Of all the instruments, I love the drums (in particular, the snare and timpani).

7. Karin Theme (SFV) - Considering that Street Fighter V is a newer game, I’m almost shocked at how hard I fell for this song, especially since I didn’t care for Karin’s previous themes at all. What can I say? It’s my kind of song. It grooves with horns and bass and drums. There’s also a unique blend of elegance and fun that is very hard to pull off in fighting games.

6. Mad Fantasy (KOF 98) - Quite possibly best sub-boss theme of all time. Its brilliant mixture of childlike xylophone pops and orchestra maturity create a very menacing and dark tune.

5. Forest Law Theme (Tekken 3) - One of my all time favorites. Slick. Epic. Very inspirational. As an obvious nod to Bruce Lee, there’s no shame in making funny faces and doing a few Jeet Kune Do hops while listening.

4. Groan (Shin Akuma Theme SFA 3) - The ultimate boss theme. Powerful. Intimidating. Demoralizing. Get ready to have your face handed to you by the cheapest, dirtiest, most infuriating boss you’ll ever come across.

3. Character Select (SF II) - Before you can fight any matches, you must select your character. Every good fighting game has a memorable character select theme, and you won’t find one more iconic that smooth tune from Street Fighter II.

2. Peach’s Castle (Super Smash Bros. Melee) - Mario’s theme is arguably the most recognizable theme in video games. Translating it into a fighting game theme, I think, is an underappreciated feat.

1. Ryu’s Theme - There’s not a lot I need to say to defend my case here. Pick just about any version you want. All of them provide the same experience. Epic. Motivational. The standard for what a fighting game song should do.

Creator's Corner: Writing Guides Are Like Relationship Guides

One of the most aggravating things about being in a relationship is having to deal with other people's advice. Everyone has an opinion about "how to treat your man" or "how to treat your woman". By nature, relationships are very private, singular experiences. However, for reasons I'll never understand, people always want to diagnose relationships by way of comparative analysis.

The interesting thing that I've found is that people who often give relationship advice aren't actually in a relationship. So when they offer their opinion on yours, they're not even comparing it to something they have. Friends, family, and so-called experts offer up their advice based on what they've seen, experienced, or made up in their heads. They compare your relationship to an imaginary version of a perfect relationship. It sounds incredibly stupid and dangerous, but many smart, otherwise practical individuals follow through with that kind of advice all the time, sometimes to their detriment. 

Taking advantage of humanity's insatiable desire to figure out the male/female relationship complex is one of the oldest methods of making a living. It's how Steve Harvey transformed his brand from comedian to relationship expert, which is still hard for me to believe on some level. But he's not the only one.  Browse any bookstore, digital or traditional, and you'll always be able to find several books on dating, sex, marriage, courtship, etc. A lot of them are drenched with sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications, particularly about how the mind of the opposite sex works. 

As a writer, I find that the vast majority of writing guides often do the same thing. Both types of guides often dole out hard and fast rules on topics that are very subjective. Like relationship guides, writing guides are designed to capitalize on the aspiring writer's desperation for success. They hit you titles like "How To Write A Novel In 60 Days" or "Writing The Perfect Query Letter" and "The Ultimate Guide To Writing Great Characters" and "25 Steps To Becoming A Best-Seller."

The reason why titles are crafted this way is because these "experts" want to present their guide as a simple formula that solves a complex problem, as if buying a book for $20.00 at your local bookstore is the only thing you need to do in order to find a publisher, become a bestseller, win a bunch of awards, get a movie adaptation, and make lots of cash.

Now this isn't to say that all writing guides are bad. That's not what I'm saying at all. I own a couple of writing guides. One of my favorites is 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias. I've been reading it since the start of my writing career. I find a lot of what's in the book applicable not only to fiction, but to film, television, and even non-fiction. 

Conversely, I recently purchased Writing Monsters by Philip Athans and I was incredibly disappointed because, for whatever reason, I couldn't connect with advice or find any application to what I write. This isn't a referendum on Athans. I'm sure he is a fine writer. The book just didn't work for me. 

And that's my point. 

Just because someone has what you want -- or is doing something that you want to do -- doesn't mean that they're the right person to instruct you on how to do it.

What funny about both writing careers and relationships is that I rarely see advice from people who do them successfully. Obviously, you have exceptions like Stephen King's On Writing guide. However, most of the writing guides populating Amazon and Barnes & Noble are written by authors I've never heard of. I'm not saying that those authors aren't successful in their own right. What I am saying is that a lot of the really great writers you admire don't typically produce writing guides, in part, because their too busy managing their own careers. They're too busy doing what works for them. Even when asked how to become a great writer, they'll tell you what works for them, while stressing that there are multiple ways to become a successful writer.

In my experience, relationship advice comes from single people, people who have been divorced, or people whose relationship statuses are in a constant state of instability. A lot what they offer are based on ideas they have or things they would have done differently in their previous relationships. This isn't to say that what they have to offer is invalid. All I'm saying is, like writing guides, you have to consider the source and never take what anyone says as an absolute. 

Most of my married friends aren't the ones offering advice about relationships because they're too busy focusing on each other to offer advice to others. Marriage is a blessing. But it's not always easy. I don't want to master relationships. I don't want to "master" women. I want to be successful with one woman. I want to master the one relationship that I'm in, something that I anticipate I'll spend the rest of my life proudly attempting to do.

It's the same with writing. There are no rules. There are no guides. Figure out what works for you.