For years, I've been a fierce opponent to black stereotypes. For most of my young life, I tried my hardest to become the antithesis to stereotypical black behavior. I was anti-basketball, refused to listen to hip-hop, only ate fried chicken from the comfort of my home, and was an advent gamer of everything that wasn't Madden. Unfortunately, I discovered that as I tried to drive a wedge between societal perceptions and me, I was quickly developing another one. Now, in 2012, there is a new stereotype for black men.
This week I posted on Facebook asking this same questions and here are some of the responses my fellow black gamers gave to me.
"It's because the black characters always keep it real in those FF worlds. Barrett was the first time I saw "%&#$&" as part of the text in a Final Fantasy game. And since they do voice acting now I don't think they'll ever get that close to swearing again."
"I think it has something to do with Barret's patois: so edgy and urban..."
"I blame you and your brother. Never dabbled in a FF game until I started hanging out with you two."
There is something resonating with this game and my generation.
Looking back, I realize that Barret was an amalgamation of many archetypal "black" characters in Japanese media. Violent, jive talking, hooligans who enjoy cigar smoking, drinking, and are shockingly one-dimensional. But what separated Barret from the rest was a level of depth. Barret's reveals, like many of FFVII's beautifully written characters, nuances that are subtle and make sense within the given circumstances. We find he loves his adopted daughter, and is a strong father figure. He is a fierce environmentalist. He is one of the most honorable and loyal characters in the game. He was even reduced to a gurgling puddle at the sight of newborn chicks. Seeing an African American character rendered as a good guy, and not some goon helped black gamers connect to this very Japanese story.
As “black nerd” is increasing coming toward the forefront of America's collective perspective, so to certain stereotypes associating themselves with said nerds. The Black nerd is a term encompassing a grand scope of blacks, as diverse as the culture itself. However on the topic of Final Fantasy, in my experience, we remain a united front. Final Fantasy VII was a great game, and a gateway to a huge world of equally beautiful time wasters.