Aight, so boom. I’ve been a reoccurring guest repping Black Nerd Problems on the New Blerd Order podcast talking about nerdy shit with a whole panel of lovely Black folks. The host, Vince Taylor, was setting up for the broadcast and mentioned Street Fighter 6. I’ve been having a good time playing it, but Vince hadn’t really had the chance to dive in yet. The biggest deterrent for him was the create a player option. “I’m not a big fan of the create custom character feature. Man, lemme just be Ryu and get busy in these streets.” If you listened closely, you could hear church organs going off, cause I immediately started preaching the gospel of having a create custom character or create a character option in video games. For Vince, he didn’t like being caught up in all the options for creating a player, but for me, that’s where I thrive.
When Nali, New Blerd Order‘s gaming expert, stated that she always creates a male character when she’s playing online, I remembered how our gamer/graphic artist Anissa did the same thing. When you are male presenting online, it leaves less of a chance to hear folks letting N-bombs fly or harass you. For me, my go to has always been creating a dark-skinned Black woman as a character. I’ve done it for so many years without thinking about that when I did think about it I remembered it was for one reason as a teen back in 2003, however, as an adult in 2023, the reason had changed.
Where It All Started
If I remember correctly, the first game I ever did a create a character in was back in September 2000 when Tony Hawk 2 came out. I had always been a big fan of skateboarding especially since I couldn’t ever do it. Black features and aesthetics weren’t much of a thing, but I did the best with what I had. My character was rocking spikey blonde hair, a silver shirt, and baggy jeans. My create a character looked like the employee of the month in any Hot Topic in the 2000’s. He ain’t really look like me, but I could make him Black, so you couldn’t tell me shit. That was me/my alter ego out there grinding up a storm on rails and showing out on vert ramps. Now, when WWF: Wrestlemania 2000/WWF: No Mercy dropped? That’s where I really honed my create a character skills. To this day, I am still a wrestling fan, and in my younger years, I was deep in it baby. I love wrestling, and now this game was allowing me the ability to create myself as a wrestler? Let’s fucking go. I made whatever that game had as clothing options and colors work. I was Vincent Van Gogh going the fuck off in the create a wrestler feature.
The game didn’t have timberlands? No problem, I’m taking Generic Boots #5, making the shoes laces lighter, then swapping the base color of the boots to that classic Timberland brown/yellow/yudda color, and finally, covering up the top of the boots with boot cut jeans so that the laces are covered and what the viewer sees are wrestling boots that have now been transformed into Timberlands. My reader, I was Victor Frankenstein when it came to creating. I went so far to have my character look like me that I couldn’t stop there. I started creating my friends in high school as well. My friend Phil was with me as I asked Jermaine Diaz in the hallway, “Hey man, how much do you weigh?” Jermaine looked me dead in the windows of my soul and said, “Omar, are you making a create custom character of me in a video game?” The no came so fast and instinctively out of my mouth that he had to know I was lying but he told me anyway. “How the fuck did he guess that of all things from that question alone?!” The very next day Phil came over and saw that I found a way to have our created characters in the opening of the video game. I am telling you I was a fucking professional, man. There weren’t many Black wrestlers in this game, but now all my Black and Brown friends I created took this shit over.
WWF: No Mercy was the first time I created a girl character. I created my high school girlfriend at the time (she didn’t live in Canada), her friends, and my other female friends. It wasn’t until after I beat Tony Hawk’s Underground in 2003 that I would create another female character. I had already beaten the game as “myself” and rarely was a game so good that I wanted to play the story mode all over again. T.H.U.G. was tho, so I figured, I’ll just go through it as a woman this time. Man, I wish I had a picture but she looked so much cooler than my guy. All I remember about her looks was that she had a backpack, dark blue jeans, a red tank, and for some reason, playing as her was just so much more fun. I think a big reason for that fun was seeing a Black girl killing all these tricks. It just looked and even felt so different I loved it.
Where It Started Up Again
It wasn’t until 2018 that I found myself getting back into gaming consistently. I got a PS4 and had a lot to catch up on; the biggest was being able to play online against folks. The biggest pain in my heart was going to Game Stop and the cashier telling me, “Yah, this game has couch co-op.” Fam, 18 years ago, it was just co-op. Now, they specify being able to play together under the same roof as couch-co-op? Bast damn, man just call me grandpa and let me go on with my day! Regardless, I was down to change with the times. The biggest reason I got a PS4 was because of wanting to play Spider-Man. That game changed me, but it was Uncharted: Lost Legacy that changed my life. Seeing Chloe Frazier, an Indian woman born in Australia, and Nadine Ross, a South African woman, coming together for (to me) the best chapter of the Uncharted series.
Yall don’t understand, man. Seeing Chloe Frazier doing all the shit that Nathan Drake did hit so different. My life was changed watching Chloe fight, parkour, and climb while having a sniper rifle strapped to her back. Nadine Ross tossing folks off ledges, out windows, and being fed up with Chloe until their bonding changed that. This was my shit, man. Seeing these two women get down on this whole adventure was thrilling. This game gave me the same feeling I had playing with the female character I created in Tony Hawk’s Underground except that feeling was even stronger because women were already the sole focus of the series. Now, I’ve obviously played games with female leads prior to Lost Legacy, but the game is just a standout fave. I dunno if folks feel it’s underrated, but I most certainly do and loved seeing these two characters get it out the mud.
I think it was here that I made the conscious choice that if a game gives me the option to create a character, then I didn’t always need to create myself first. Instead, my default would be to create a dark-skinned Black woman to play as. Co-Founder and friend, William Evans, is in the same boat as I am with this as well. He usually creates a Black woman protagonist to play through games with. I remember when we got Red Dead Redemption 2, and I told him about my character, he said, “Oh yeah, man, I made my created player a Black woman, fam. Playing as a dark-skinned Black woman gunslinger? It ain’t even a question.” [Quick funny story. When Will and I both got Cyberpunk 2077, I spent a good 5 minutes with him in chat complaining about how these gorilla mech arms were nice, but they ruined the aesthetic lewk for the nails I had, so I had to switch it back. I could hear the stare through the screen as Will typed “…Yeah, I didn’t have that problem.”]
I’ve created different versions of the same character throughout the years depending on whatever the game called for. The only constant being that I always name her Bell Banshee. Like Barbie, but for video games, she’s held multiple roles, titles, and jobs. She’s been a skateboarder, mercenary, crime fighter, professional wrestler, and everything in-between. Here’s a look back at some of her iterations over the years.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Saints Row (2020)
Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)
And Then It Hit Me
Right in the middle of talking to everyone about Street Fighter 6‘s create a player before we went live, I get hit with another realization of why I always make my create a player a Black woman. For the past seven years, I had been naming each of my created characters Bell Banshee. I’ve always loved the lore behind Banshees, these spirits whose wails herald a death (usually of a family member). And Bell… well, Bell was the nickname my father called my mother. It was short for Isabelle, her name. Whenever I create a character, I always give them the name Bell Banshee as an homage to my mom. However, when it comes to the attitude and personality traits of my created characters. They tend to stem from personality traits of my sister, Kece.
My sister is the oldest of my siblings, then my brother Travis, and me. Growing up, I thought my brother was the coolest guy in the world. My sister was the responsible one, adventurous, loving, and organized but the main thing my sister is? She’s the fucking Kingpin we all answer too. It was always funny to me the fact that no matter how wild my brother would be, at the end of the day, when my sister holds out her hand, we both goin’ kiss the ring. I have only ever been on my sister’s bad side twice in my life. Oh my god, when Kece mad? I don’t want any of that smoke. None. I put the campfire out. One time I had to be a proxy for someone she was mad at. I knew that Kece was in the wrong on this one and as she stared me down while I pled the case, I had to keep telling myself in my head not to break because I was in the right. She like 5’1, but her stare game makes her seem like she 6’6.
Being older, I now know that being the eldest sibling is a thankless job; a lot of the things you do for your younger siblings they may not even be aware of. Kece told me a story once about when she and Travis were younger and started at a new school. My sister got called into the nurse’s office and sees my brother with his shirt dirty. The nurse says the boys were horsing around with him and he got hurt. Kece asks if the other boys got in trouble, to which the nurse replies, “No, because it’s just boys being boys.” Kece then takes my brother back to the black top and tells him, “It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything. Just point to who did this to you.” My brother does as he’s told and next thing he sees is Kece on top of that boy with her hands full of blonde hair while introducing the kid’s face to the ground. Repeatedly. The scariest part of the story to me isn’t what she did to protect her brother. It’s that she had no fear, because she knew the boy wouldn’t tell an adult because then it’d be admitting he got beat up by a girl.
That’s who Kece is. She’s also the sister that would drive down to take me Trick or Treating each year. The one who took me to stay at her college and then helped me get into that same college years later. The one that would come down and look after me when our mother was in the hospital going through an episode. She is the one who spent ten years overseas and then came home because she wanted to see the family her younger brother was starting and not miss anymore years away from her youngest brother. When Mom would tell the story about how I started walking, Mom would say that I was sitting down, then suddenly decided to use the wall and the couch to pull myself up, and start walking. It was as if I had decided that this crawling shit was for the broke boys.
One day, when I was retelling the story in passing, Kece stopped me and said, “Yeah, you pulled yourself up because you were walking to me. I had my arms out and was telling you to come to me.” Mom came out the kitchen agreeing and was surprised that I was surprised. It was ironic because, as a baby, I’d follow Kece around so much that she’d put me at the end of the hall, then go to her room, and close her door. I’d crawl to her door, sit, and wait till she opened it to let me in again. So, it’s only fitting that of course she was the reason I even took my first steps.
All of which is to say, now, in 2023, as I play with my created character Belle Banshee in Street Fighter 6 I do so knowing her name is an homage to my mom and her personality is an homage to my sister. Obviously, they look nothing alike and nor do they need to. I think the important thing is that for me, subconsciously at least, these characters have been a way of keeping my mom in mind and not to take my sister still being here or always being there for me for granted.