5 of the Best Asian Video Game Characters
Written by GeekGirlCon Copy Writer Henry Behrens
In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I thought I’d highlight some of the best Asian video game characters out there, only to realize that the selection isn’t very large. For an industry that was, in a way, birthed by Asian companies like Nintendo and Sony, there’s surprisingly very few Asian characters in major (or even minor) games.
Professor Dimitri Williams of the University of Southern California did a study back in 2009 about, among other things, the representation of different races in video games. He found that while 80.05% of characters in video games are white, only 5.03% are Asian/Pacific Islander. In 2014, Ross Orlando, a graduate from Ithaca University, looked at the top 10 most highly rated games from 2007 to 2012 and found that Asian characters were only 3% of the games’ protagonists. He even found, perhaps surprisingly, that 75% of the games developed in Japan had white protagonists.
The Nielsen Center conducted a more recent study (published March 2015!) showing that Asian-Americans are aware of that lack of representation. As shown below, 49% of Asian-American gamers interviewed said they disagreed either somewhat or strongly that “all races have ample representation/inclusion in video game characters.”There’s no doubt in my mind that bringing wider diversity to games would, in the end, produce a more welcoming environment that creates more interesting and varied games. In the meantime, though, I think the best way to encourage diversity is to purposefully play games that represent what we want to see. So, to that end, here are five of the best Asian characters in games today.
Ada Wong — Resident Evil (1996)Ada is an enigma throughout the ResEvil games and it’s too bad her character is never fully explored. She’s sarcastic, calm, and extremely dangerous. She’s skilled in hand-to-hand combat and weapons from crossbows to knives. The fact that she wears heels throughout all her appearances is a little absurd, but at least she hid a knife in one of them at one point. Her voice actress, Sally Cahill, described Ada as “a totally hip, modern, kickass femme fatale who could handle weapons awesomely.” Ada’s never made into a joke, either at the expense of her gender or race, which is a lovely thing to see.
Ghost — Enter the Matrix (2003)While the game Enter the Matrix is probably best left forgotten, Ghost is a very cool character. Both of the playable characters were people of color, which was a great detail; there’s Niobe, captain of the Logos, and her best mate, Ghost. Ghost is the best gunner in the fleet and was the best hand-to-hand fighter before Neo showed up. The Wachowskis described Ghost as an “ascetic Buddhist killer,” which is seen throughout the game as he calmly and coolly deals with every situation.
Ryo Hazuki — Shenmue (2000)
A serious young man focused on revenge, Ryo is the protagonist of this short series, which is now something of a cult classic. Ryo is a skilled martial artist with a concentration in jujitsu, although he learns moves throughout the games that are rooted in Chinese martial arts. Ryo is a fantastic character because of his determination, which leads him all over the open landscape of the games and pushes him past his original every-man stature.
Chell — Portal (2007)It might be a stretch to identify Chell as Asian-American, since she was specifically designed to have as little backstory or description as possible, but she was modelled after Alésia Glidewell, a Japanese-American voice actress. Very little is known about Chell, except for her stubborn will to live. No matter what GLaDOS and the rest of Aperature Science throws at her, Chell never gives up. In fact, in Portal 2, she never even makes a sound when she’s hurt: she’s that badass.
Faith — Mirror’s Edge (2008)
Faith is the first Asian-American woman to be the main character and protagonist in a video game, which is without a doubt something to be celebrated. She’s the embodiment of smarts, skill, and physical excellence. She’s an independent young woman who battles against the government in charge of her city, becoming a Runner to do so–a member of an illegal underground courier group that uses parkour to escape the City Protection Force in order to deliver sensitive documents. Faith throws herself into danger and conspiracies because of her own experience with the nasty side of things and her determination to bring down the City.
Short list, right? Hopefully you’ll forgive me, but if I missed anyone you think should have been highlighted, tell me in the comments!
Grace Nakamura from the Gabriel Knight games. She’s mainly a sidekick in the first one but she becomes the second playable character in the other games.
Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs. A Chinese-American going undercover in Hong Kong while dealing with his own culture clash outside of work.
There’s also Jade, the protagonist from Beyond Good and Evil, who recently was the subject of a “Positive Female Character in Video Games” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCsu3YPOw50