Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fried Chicken, Rap Music, and...Final Fantasy VII?

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.
Yes, blogging community, every black male nerd in some way, or some capacity loves Final Fantasy VII. If they don't now, they will as soon as you set them down in front of this beautiful game. Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix's 64-bit masterpiece of modern escapism, introduced many young black men into the world of Role Playing Games, and the quirky artistic sensibilities of Japanese animation. The futuristic story line, coupled with a cast of bizarre characters, created a fantastic world that still grips the imagination of many gamers today. This game seems to resonate deeply with black gamers especially. I began to notice this as I wandered digital media recently, and saw the type of FFVII inspired fan fiction, art, and music that are cropping up.

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.

Introducing Barret Wallace. Before 1997, young black men rarely had a video game rendering look remotely like them. Granted there were some, Jax from Mortal Kombat, Skate from Streets of Rage, Bishop from any number of Xmen games. But most of these were barely articulate goons with lack luster story lines, and little motivation to do anything but F*** people up. Barret was introduced similarly, with a barrage of localized profanity happily censored with $s and &s, as he berated the protagonist for his nonchalant attitude, spiky hair, and questionable mannerisms. His concept art included a leather jacket (it was the 90s), Timberland style boots, and a chrome gun strapped to a handless arm. No explanation was given to why he had gun strapped to his arm, but he registered in our minds as one complete bad ass.

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.

Final Fantasy VII was a gritty game. The grittiness of the game, and the chiefly urban feel in much of the opening levels crafted a very hip hop feel. Especially late 90 gangsta hip hop which tended to craft fantasies of urban life. You’re assaulted with a harsh world full of seedy characters, graffiti, scantily clad women, and a unique mission to become the catalyst of a revolution against a corrupted government. Young black men like me relished in this environment because it was remote yet familiar.

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.

1 comment:

Jonny Casanova said...

Hey Im a black nerd that doesn't game....can i still be apart of the black nerd group?? I like jazz and art and music and uhhhh...i wear slim clothing. Where do I get the membership card?