Sunshine Post: D’arci Stern (Opinion)

At least they did it before the millennium?

Played on: PlayStation, Dreamcast, Microsoft Windows, PSP-E1000, PlayStation 3

Genre: Action-adventure game

Developer: Mucky Foot Productions, My Little Planet Ltd

Publisher: Square Enix Europe, Eidos Interactive, Square Enix, My Little Planet Ltd

Release: 30-Nov-1999

Mini-Series Archive: Typhoon Gal

The Aim of the Game

There are hundreds of places across the internet for gamers to wallow in the misery that is representation and diversity in the world of video games. This is a valid complaint, and representation needs to be better for sure, but what this mini-series is going to strive to be is a source of information for people looking for the times when the industry has done well.

Because honestly, I can find hundreds of negative reviews of games at the click of a button where the only female character’s whole personality is ‘love interest of protagonist’, LGBTQ+ representation is slotted in as a joke reference, and people of colour written out as soon as the ‘quota’ has been filled.

The world (and industry) can be miserable enough without my adding to it, so let’s get going on Sunshine Post #2 – At least they did it before the millennium.

Sooooo… When Do You Think The First Black Female Protagonist Of A Video Game Was?

I have to admit, the answer to the question above shocked me. I was vaguely aware that the first black video game character graced our screens in a heavily pixelated basketball game long before I was born (Atari’s Basketball 1979 for the Atari 800 for those interested, Heavyweight Champ tries to claim the title I know but the graphics are in grey so they can say anything). Character is a strong word for any figure from games of this era, but yes the large pixels are coded into various shades of peach, brown, and black.

I was also aware that it took a while for black characters to begin to appear outside of sports and beat’em up games. Even today a lot of black characters are trapped in stereotyped roles in the world of video games.

Despite knowing all this, I was not prepared for the knowledge that a black female protagonist did not appear in the world of video games until 1999 when an often-forgotten title called ‘Urban Chaos’ was released and officer D’arci Stern graced our monitors.

A foray into Union City (which is badly voice-acted New York)

D’arci Stern is a rookie police officer in Union City police department. She is not overly-sexualised, she is tough, clever, and honestly a pioneering character for the time. She spends the majority of the game, seemingly single-handedly, dealing with the Wildcats gang and other offenders of the law. With some help from a strange vigilante.

I enjoy that the game has non-violent options to deal with the ‘bad guys’. It makes you feel as if you are truly playing as a cop and not just a lunatic with a gun and uniform (although looking at America through social media twenty years later it seems as if being a lunatic is a requirement to get a uniform in the first place).

It lends more humanity to Stern than most game characters of this era had.

While the issue of historic racism on the force isn’t addressed in full (Urban Chaos was made in 1999, the game designers probably felt they were being edgy enough already), it is alluded to. Stern is the only woman on the force. All of her co-workers are older white men. Many of them express their (unasked for) opinions that Stern is unsuitable to be a police officer, and this has nothing to do with her (already proven) abilities.

There is no doubt in this game that you are playing as a black woman trying to prove her skills to white men despite the fact that her skills had no reason to be called into question in the first place. And would not have been if she had just fit the pre-existing mold.

Stereotyping of yester-year

I don’t believe that D’arci Stern is a problematic character in the least, I think she was ahead of her time. She shouldn’t have been, but she was. Ignoring the strange cryptic opening of the trailer below, you really get a sense of who D’arci is in the later scenes.

I like that she has a natural hairstyle. I like that she is strong in the face of adversity. Does she lean towards the ‘Strong Black Woman’ stereotype that can lead to the harmful dehumanisation of black women in real life?

...A little. But at least it makes sense here. Stern is a police officer, not a cashier or a florist. A strong woman is likely to gravitate towards a dangerous job.

Overall I would say that while a character like Stern was long overdue in the world of gaming, I am glad that Mucky Foot Productions did her justice when they did eventually get around to it.

Play this game if…

  • You have a method of playing it

  • You are interested in playing a game with a pioneering lead

  • You want to hear the almost offensively bad New York background noise of Union City

  • You can endure the older graphics.

The first image has been adapted from the free wallpaper available here

All other images were taken from the press kit here

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