It’s a dangerous endeavor to boot up Elden Ring right now. There’s a short lull in the holiday release season, so it would be very, very easy for me to be lured back to the Lands Between, where I spent over 100 hours mastering katanas and the art of glintstone pebbling things to death from a great distance. In fact, Elden Ring wasted no time reminding me why it will likely be named Game of the Year tomorrow at the Game Awards because the second I loaded in after months of neglect, I almost got myself killed in the dumbest, funniest way. As I was reacclimating myself to the controls, I accidentally aggro’d one of those Ohioan T-rex dogs off-screen and had to quickly remember which button was dodge, then remember the nuances of dodging properly before the thing could eat me to death. There is no equivalent to the chaotic joy that comes with hilarious near-death experiences in this game.
But that joy soured immediately once I got into my true purpose for booting up the game: Elden Ring has added new hairstyles (and a new PVP combat arena, too). My antipathy for Elden Ring’s lack of diverse hairstyles is well noted. And I thought, with this patch, Bandai Namco and the folks at FromSoftware would throw me a nice 4c-style bone so my Astrologer can at least have a decent ’do when she — eventually — takes down the Elden Beast.
But no. There was not. Of the five new hairstyles, not one — not. one. — of them would be found inside an issue of Essence magazine.
That’s heartbreaking. Well, actually, it’s not because it’s merely the latest in a long line of incidents where the video game industry and the entertainment industry at large sometimes like to remind the marginalized that it does not give a shit if you fall outside a specific (white, male, nondisabled, straight) demographic. I can’t even watch the new Bleach anime without cringing at Tite Kubo’s new Black characters.
It’s what makes Days Gone game director John Garvin’s (now deleted) comments on reviews of his aggressively mediocre game so galling.
You think your game reviewed poorly because of its white, male, butt-gazing protagonist even though five of the six Game of the Year nominees feature a predominantly white-passing cast while the game most people are gushing about right now features perhaps the most toxic white male to have ever graced a video game?
Meanwhile, the closest people of color can get to a non-customizable star in a hit video game this year is the orange tabby from Stray.
I think, then, that having one, just one, extra hairstyle for Black people to enjoy isn’t a big ask, you know? That’s what’s so upsetting about Elden Ring. It’s never only about hair. If Black characters aren’t getting to be protagonists, if the Black characters that are included are either shunted to the side or made gross caricatures, the least game makers can do is let me accurately make my own. It’s not all I want, but it’s a great place to start.