13 Worst Cases of Whitewashing in Video games


The likes of “whitewashing” isn't a new thing, it’s been prevalent in Hollywood since the arrival of movies and it's still a major problem today as evident in recent film productions such as Gods of Egypt and Ghost in the shell, which cast white actors in place of people of colour, but the movie industry isn't the only medium with a race problem.

Let's look at video games which are guilty of erasing characters of colour from their narratives.


The video game industry doesn't stray far from it's Hollywood cousin and even though the paradigm is shifting, there's still racial diversity issues which have yet to be addressed or improved upon. The lack of black women in fighting games or Microsoft rejecting Fable Dev's idea to put black women on the Fable 3 cover are two prime examples.

Video games still have a race problem. This isn't a secret and unfortunately the likes of whitewashing isn't off limits to game devs and even modders who want to change a character's design and erase their colour and racial identity. Let's look at video games which are guilty of erasing characters of colour from their narratives.




Vanessa Lewis - Virtual Fighter 5 (2006)

Virtual fighter Vanessa whitewashing

We start of with the most blatant and well known evidence of whitewashing in video games, bar none. Vanessa Lewis debuted in the original Virtual Fighter 4 as one of the new playable characters in the series. She wasn't given a origin but you didn't have to look twice at her to know she was black. 

Somewhere along the way Sega AM2 though it would be a good idea to lighten Vanessa's skin tone in Virtual Fighter 5 for reasons unknown, a slap in the face to fans who shared Vanessa's original skin tone. She no longer had the undeniably black complexion which made her unique but was instead given a totally ambiguous look. 

Although you could revert Vanessa's skin tone back to it's original state by using the game's customization mode it was too late, the damage was done. Vanessa's new voice actor didn't fit well with the VF4 inspired Vanessa. For a game company that was among one of the first to create an authentic black female fighter, this was nothing short of disappointing.




Prince - The Prince of Persia (2008)

prince of persia whitewashing

The progression of the protagonist throughout the Prince of Persia video game series indicates a ceaseless white-washing of the Persian inspired storyline. In the 2008 game, the main character has been given a literal reverse tan.

Although our hero is surrounded by exotic elements and was clearly portrayed as Persian in previous games, his 2008 interpretation was a clear step away from the previously ethnic cultured noble and came complete with a emo jaggy haircut. To top it off, even the voice actor behind the prince gave him an all-american red, white and blue accent.




Isabela - Dragon Age 2 (2010)


dragon age 2 whitewashing

If you never played Dragon Age 2 and only saw promotional art for the game, you'd be easily mistaken into thinking that Isabela was a white woman and not a person of colour.
Isabela is said to come from a land known as Rivaini. Those born with Rivaini heritage are said to have dark and tanned skin tones.

Unfortunately EA's promos for the game would have you think otherwise, as a paler Isabela was promoted to the masses in anticipation of the Action-roleplaying game in 2010, although her in-game skin colour is still of a darker shade. Not only was Isabela a victim of whitewashing by the developers but also the game modding community.

Not too soon after the game's release, a mod was created called "More Attractive Isabela," which altered Isabela's complexion making her pale as day along with giving the female pirate blonde hair. While this exact mode is no longer around, many similar mods have appeared in it's place.




World of World Craft (2014)

world of warcraft whitewashing

Blizzard released their Warlords of Draenor expansion pack for World of Warcraft in 2014, which updated majority of characters with an all new high-resolution graphical enhancement for in-game models, only that wasn't the only thing it did. The update was more or so an Ethnic cleansing if you will.

This update got rid of dark skinned humans, whitewashing the lot of them. The darkest skin tone available for humans is now tanned brown at best. Blizzard claimed it was a bug but have yet to fix this issue despite many fans complaints on the official WoW forums in recent years. Black characters and other poc were erased from the game just like that.



Jade - Mortal Kombat (2011)


whitewashing in video games

The representation of women of colour, especially black females have been poor and pretty much lacklustre in fighting games. So when a dark skinned women like Jade is introduced it's pretty refreshing to witness, only until the moment the creators decide to whitewash her.

Jade primitively had dark skin in the earlier iterations of Mortal Kombat but the 2011 MK title changed this, and her skin tone was dramatically lightened in the promotional art of the game. Another women of colour in the series Tanya almost suffered the same fate in Mortal Kombat X, fortunately the developers backtracked on their decision.




Rude - Final Fantasy: Crisis Core (2007)


Final Fantasy VII rude

Final Fantasy VII's Rude is another character who's skin tone was unnecessarily changed. In the original game he could probably pass for a light skinned black man and at one point some fans felt he was no doubt a black Final Fantasy character. This all changed with Advent Children where he was given a somewhat less tanned appearance.

Several years later in the 2007 PSP Square Enix game Crisis Core, Rude was looking rather pale and had lost his tan altogether. One of the main things which made Rude stand out as a character was lost in transition and apart of the character's identity tarnished.



Delsin Rowe - Infamous: Second Son (2014)

Infamous Second Son Delsin

If you haven't played Infamous: Second Son then you probably wouldn't know that the main character of the game is of Native American heritage, just by looking at him. Turns out he didn't always resemble a cookie cutter beanie wearing hipster dudebro. In his original concept artwork, Delson in fact looked more akin to an Native American.

He had long flowing hair and a bandana instead of the beanie, another notable detail was his brown skin which was pretty much absent on the current Delson. Although the urban style was still present, shown by the layered outfit and earphones. This was all done away with in the final game.




B.Orchid - Killer Instinct (2013)

Killer Instinct Black Orchid

Killer Instinct's Black Orchid is yet another woman of colour in fighting games that has been whitewashed and she probably won't be the last. In the original Killer Instinct games on Nintendo, Orchid was tanned and sort of resembled Janet Jackson, but like many ambiguous female characters, she too was victim to the whitewashing epidemic.

In 2013's Killer Instinct, Black Orchid was one of the characters bought back to life in the reboot, she was given a major redesign overhaul in comparison to the many other characters, which did away with her previously tanned skin and Ethnic facial features from the second game, B.Orchid was now a pale Tibetan woman.




Lisa Hamilton - Dead or Alive 5 (2012)

Dead or alive 5 Lisa Whitewashing

The racial diversity issues in Temco's Dead or Alive series isn't new, it's a game that features mainly female fighters from all over the globe, yet since it's debut in 1996 the game has only included one darkskin woman of colour, Lisa Hamilton. A character who was already racially ambiguous to begin with gets the whitewashed treatment.

In Dead or Alive 5 a new 'lighting system' was used to enhanced the character's looks from previous games, but the developers went overboard with Lisa, lightening her skin tone beyond comparison. It was so bad that even Itagaki, Lisa's original designer was calling out Temco for whitewashing the character, calling it discrimination by colour.
occur


Rufus - Street Fighter IV (2009)
Street Fighter King Cobra

Rufus wasn't always a White American biker, in his concept art the character was originally going to be an slender Black American martial artist called King Cobra. For some odd reason midway through development, Capcom decided to whitewash the character, erasing every aspect of what made him originally great.

Street Fighter is known for it's stereotypical characters but if Capcom had introduced and make King Cobra an official Street Fighter character then at least we could give them credit for trying in regards to making less offensive characters and more refreshing character designs. It appears as if Sean had been whitewashed in Street Fighter V too.




Boogie - Jet Set Radio Future (2002)

Jet Set Radio Future Boogie

Boogie got a redesign in the 2002 sequel to Jet Set Radio, a redesign that slightly diminished her blackness, a redesign that wasn't necessary needed in the first place. Jet Set Radio Future got rid of her dark brown hair and replaced it with bleached blonde locks, there was never a explanation as to why Sega went ahead with this decision either.



Lucretia Suikoden V (2006)


suikoden whitewashing

The Suikoden series is held in high regard for it's non-stereotypical black Jrpg characters. In Suikoden 3 the Karaya tribe look to be inspired by African culture, and Alia who is from the same tribe is evidently a black woman. However in Suikoden V there's Lucretia, who's purportedly from the same Karaya clan but is significantly lighter-skinned.




Beyond two Souls (2015)


beyond two souls whitewashing

In 2015 Quantic Dream came under fire for whitewashing some of it's background characters in the remastered PlayStation 4 version. If you compare the PS3 and PS4 versions you'll find that some of the middle-eastern characters in Beyond's third chapter of the game have notably lighter looking skin.

29 comments:

  1. Damn Sega made Vanessa so light in Virtual Fighter 5, almost as light as Beyonce, you can barely tell its the same character.

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    1. They butchered Vanessa :(

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    2. The Vanessa bleaching is atrocious. She was straight up gorgeous in Virtual Fighter 4.

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    3. Did Sega/AM2 ever say why they drastically changed Vanessa from Serena Williams to Vanessa Williams? I actually liked how strong she looked in VF4

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  2. Thanks for creating this article, some of these were new to me. I feel Whitewashing characters is catering to racism. Just look at when CJ was first revealed as the main character in GTA San Andreas or when certain people found out Sheva was going to be Chris' partner in Resident Evil 5.


    I feel many prejudiced focus groups don't like Dark skinned characters in games and the developers cave in and this is the result.

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    Replies
    1. You should look around for the old Neogaf thread about GTA San Andreas and how people felt. It's...something

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  3. When even the former designer of a character let's rip and calls out whitewashing you know something's up. What Temco allowed Team Ninja to do with Lisa is terrible, Lisa's like the only black/Afro-Latin girl in the game and they lighten her skin. I'm glad Tomonobu Itagaki called them out.

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    1. True, Lisa's American though.

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    2. Only in Dead or Alive 5, in the earlier games Lisa wasn't from the USA. It makes sense too because of her Alias is La mariposa and Itagaki himself said that the "real Lisa is Latin" in a facebook post. still I personally don't mind that Lisa is American in Doa5.

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  4. Vanessa's change was the absolute worst in terms of representation. Here we have a great character, decent move set and popular enough to be mained in one of gaming's premiere fighting series...only to be shown that her shade isn't good enough for the sequel. The message Sega sent in this instance was pretty gross and impossible to miss. Disappointing.

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  5. Jade is really fucked up. Like, REALLY fucked up. To think Tanya was ALMOST gonna be white in Mortal Kombat X.

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  6. So glad I wasn't the only one that noticed Square Enix whitewashed Rude to oblivion. Compare the Final Fantasy VII ps1 model to Crisis Core and Before Crisis.

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    1. I used to find Rude so handsome in Final Fantasy 7, can't believe they did him like that.

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    2. I really hope Rude's tan returns in the FF7 remake and he isn't pale.

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  7. VF5 Vanessa is one of the bigger embarrassments to come out of a Japanese game company.

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  8. The underlying problem goes beyond games to the whole "the darker you are, the uglier you are" - which is a goddamned shame, because it's not true.

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    1. Yeah, it's just a reflection of the wider media and cultural pressures and notions that place whiteness above all else in terms of attraction, which is stupid.

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  9. These changes are really a shame and totally unacceptable. Another aspect of it is the lack of options to make ACTUAL BLACK PEOPLE in games. It's frustrating.

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  10. These kinds of changes are awful and send a terrible message. I wasn't even aware of most of these - not being a fighting games player - and I feel bad just being unaware of such stuff. If there was ever a real and sensible reason to boycott certain games or push for constructive change this is it.

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  11. Respect for Itagaki just rose a million percent. Fuck Temco and Team Ninja guys for whitewashing.

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    Replies
    1. Dude made like 4 DoA games and the only African American character ever included was some goofball/bufoon meant for comic relief. Let's not pretend like Itagaki is some angel of diversity.

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    2. Right, but the series never had a black female character until Lisa, and that took like four games to happen.

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  12. The sad thing is whitewashing seem to often happen carelessly in video games. WayForward was also guilty of it and only modified their sprites when they realised the backlash wouldn't calm down. At least they did something about it.

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  13. I can't believe Whitewashing is still happening, that Beyond Two Souls comparison from ps3 to ps4 in 2015 is just.. Wow. You'd thought that game developers would use more common sense in these moments.

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  14. The video game industry still has a lot of growing up to do.

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  15. Ugh this is so shameful, I totally hated what they did to Jade in Mortal Kombat 9, but I'm so glad Tanya and Jacqui was playable Mortal Kombat 10.

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  16. Delsin was definitely whitewashed in Infamous Second son, from his facial features to his pale skin and low cheek bones, nothing like a full blooded native American. Besides we know the actor isn't Native either.

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  17. Oh wow, that's how Rufus was orignally suppose to look in Street Fighter IV? What crackpipe was Capcom smoking when they changed his appearance?

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    Replies
    1. I would really like to know the same thing. Yoshinori Ono still has the chance to bring him back in Street Fighter 5, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

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