Many will agree that gender representation in fighting games became popular in the early 90s with Street Fighter 2's upward spiral in the fighting game industry and it's introduction of Chun Li, the first playable female character to appear in a 1-on-1 fighting game.
Since then this has inspired many other fighting games to feature pretty yet strong women in their games.Unfortunately while this opened the door for a number of nationalities from around the world, black woman wouldn't be as well represented as their male counterparts or neighbouring countries.
Elena (Street Fighter)
Street Fighter's first black character was an African American boxer called Mike who appeared in the original Street Fighter game, but it wasn't until eleven years later that the series would introduce it's first playable black female character into the mix, a Kenyan princess from East Africa.
However, they were not first game developers to throw a sister into the mix, that title actually belongs to Shaq Fu, a 2D fighting game released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Super Nintendo on October 28, 1994.
Grace (Fighting Vipers)
A year later SEGA AM2 were the second game company to add a black woman to their game Fighting Vipers in 1995, two years before Street Fighter III's arcade release. Grace from Fighting Vipers was the first black woman in a 3D fighter and she looked amazing.
Many other popular fighting game franchises have followed suit including Tekken, Mortal Kombat and the Virtual Fighter series but none come close to capturing the essence and likeness of a black woman like Shaq Fu and Fighting Vipers.
Many of these games have made the black girl on their roster ambiguous which leads to heavy debate on said character's ethnicity and race, an issue not possible with Voodoo and Grace. A popular and unfortunate tropes seen in fighting games is to make their only black female character as light and ambiguous as possible
Unlike Grace from Fighting Vipers whose character design and ethnicity isn't questionable in the slightest. Another tropes is to give these girls white hair and very pale skin in contrast to their real life counterparts.
Vanessa Lewis (Virtual Fighter)
Which at this point made her appear even more ambiguous than her initial debut in Virtual Fighter 4. In Virtual Fighter 5 Vanessa Lewis returned with her long flowing white hair but now also a rather pale complexion.
If you were to ask me or any person with a keen eye what Vanessa's racial makeup was in VF4, the majority of responses you would get is that she's black, I would myself would tell you she was black and would be confident enough not to use quotation marks.
Now, I'm not sure what possessed Sega AM2 to exceedingly alter the skin tone of this character. Neither can I fathom what would possess them to think they could get away with such a thing in this day and age.
The latest update to the game Virtual Fighter 5 released on June 6th 2012 yet since that time, we couldn't find one article from any of the major video game entertainment sites that commented on this drastic change.
Vanessa's whitewashing is quite disturbing and Sega AM2 never had an issue using a dark skinned female in their previous fighting game. Of course, trends were different back in the 90s. Black woman in particular, of all shades could be seen in films, television and music.
Today, the trends are rather different; black woman don't have nearly the presence they had in the 90s. Dark skinned woman in particular are nearly extinct on television and in film.
According to tvtropes.org Vanessa Lewis and other characters like Tekken's Christie Monteiro and Lisa Hamiltion from the Dead or Alive series would fall into the group of "black but not too black."
This trope is something that the whole world should be familiar with: that is, the media's trend of hiring ethnicities of lighter hues in order for them to be more marketable and relatable.
In Virtual Fighter 4 Vanessa was not only dark skin but also rather muscular and voluptuous, which was fitting to the game, given her grappling fighting style. For Virtual Fighter 5, in addition to dramatically lightening her skin tone, Sega AM2 also toned down her muscle mass, giving her a delicate looking body.
This would make VF5 the first fighting game (and perhaps any other game genre) to encourage skin bleaching. Now obviously Sega AM2 doesn't bear the blunt of the practice of skin bleaching.
Skin Bleaching has become a profitable business way before any video game, as it is blatantly supported and publicized in most parts of the world, especially African and Asian countries.
Today, 3D fighting games are common and while VF5 doesn't recreate the wheel in terms of gameplay. by bleaching Vanessa's complexion, Sega AM2 set the trend in video games that would further harm the image of dark skinned women and that's a terrible thing.
Lisa Hamilton (Dead or Alive)
Which leads us onto another character, Lisa a.k.a Mariposa is one of our favourite Dead or Alive characters, she was described by Tomobu Itagaki as a "gift to the American fans". It made sense that he would do this as while the DOA series was frowned upon in Japan, it was favourable in America.
Light skin is part of the traditionalistic Japanese notion of beauty; It's why Geisha coat their faces white, what about those insane Japanese woman who use to tan their complexion and bleach their hair, Ganguros?
They were actually rebelling against the Japanese regulation of beauty. There's no denying that the females of Dead or Alive, aside from their large boobs, are created on a rather traditional Japanese standard of beauty.
When Itagaki included Lisa in the Dead or Alive series, he bucked the trend somewhat, she still looked like a DOA girl with similar proportions and facial makeup but had dark skin. It made her stand out. Which in turn ignited a large discussion as to whether Lisa was black. a discussion that is still happening to this day.
However, Itagaki didn't really have an idea for the character, so when Lisa was inducted into the main series she unwittingly became the most impressive and fascinating character in the series.
She was a magnificent scientist who worked at DOATEC and was actually accountable for erasing Hayate's memories and creating Alpha-152 but she eventually left the company and became a luchador wrestler who used elements of Capoeira.
She also enjoys surfboarding, was the Captain of her college volleyball team and acts as an undercover agent. Yet despite all of this, she's an extremely good-hearted woman, able to befriend even the most cold hearted assassins. She's easily one of the most intriguing characters in DOA.
However, Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo's Team Ninja, TN was then acquired by Koei and the leadership of the team was given to Yosuke Hayashi. What's more, DOA had been reusing the same character models since Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
A new DOA with brand new character models was essential, but with a new team what would this mean for the characters? Hayashi openly stated that making the girls look "lighter and softer skinned" was a prime concern of his and for certain our worst fears were realized.
What's more it will without doubt make the continuous "Is Lisa Black" discussion even more of a muddle. No matter what you believe, there's nothing to justify changing a character's design so drastically. The indisputable fact is that she is far paler in DOA5 than she was in early DOA games.
Christie monteiro (Tekken 4)
Namco bought in Christie Monteiro as the replacement to Eddy Gordo in Tekken 4. From Tekken 4 to Tekken 5 she went through a noticeable transformation which made her look more ambiguous, but this was fixed in Tekken 6. Christie is the first Afro-Brazilian female fighter in video games.
Like her male counterpart she uses capoeira and was a clone of Eddy until later in the series, when she was given several exclusive moves to use in her arsenal.
Tanya (Mortal Kombat)
Tanya made her debut in the fourth instalment of the Mortal Kombat series, she was dubbed an 'Edenian' but anyone with common sense would know she was Mortal Kombat's first black female character. Unless you count Jade, another woman of color in the series.
In Mortal Kombat 4 she looked pretty innocent looking but don't be fool by appearances, Tanya is bad to bone and not one be messed with. Which is why we were glad to see her return amidst the potential whitewashing in Mortal Kombat X.
Jacqui Briggs (Mortal Kombat)
The daughter of Jax Briggs and Earthrealm's first African American female character Jacqui Briggs made her debut in Mortal Kombat X. Like her father, Jacqui has cybernetic arms. She's also a skilled boxer who isn't afraid to get down and dirty, able to knock out a grown man with her bare fists.
Maya (Killer Instinct)
In 2014 Maya from the Killer Instinct series was brought back in their latest instalment to join the Season 2 cast, complete with a new makeover, she looked noticeably "blacker", donning thick lips, long dreadlocks and a rather tanned complexion.
Now again, like majority of black woman in gaming she comes across as ambiguous so it's hard to slap a label on her but the noticeable yet minor features could say otherwise.
Laura Matsuda (Street Fighter)
Again like many Japanese video game developers, Capcom played it safe by making Laura significantly lighter than her brother Sean in Street Fighter V. The issues with Laura's skin tone in SFV is that there isn't enough dark skin women in fighting games, period. Still we've taken a liking to the Brazilian diva.
Another woman whose ethnicity is often queried is C.Viper in Street Fighter IV. Early concept art leads many people to believe that C.Viper was originally suppose to be black. C.Viper's skin is noticeably darker than the other female characters and her concept art only adds fuel to the fire. Overall it's been speculated that's she's mixed-race or Latina.
There's so much potential in creating the idea black female with a unique and interesting fighting style that young black females who play these games can identify with, only the idea hasn't been tapped into or taken into consideration as of yet.
The strong black "sassy" curvacious woman with brown/dark skin and strong African features has yet to be conceived, the closest we got to this was Vanessa in Virtual Fighter 4 and look how that turned out.
Misty Knight would be a perfect example of what we're looking for, only not with any bionically enhanced features. Not that there's anything wrong with light skin but we've had a ton of light skinned and ambiguous characters, isn't it time to step outside the comfort zone?