Shadow of War’s captain Baranor stands out by fitting in

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Warad, a child from the southern lands of Middle-Earth, is taken from his family and sent north as a hostage of peace. Adopted by one of the principal families of the country, he takes on a new name — Baranor — and rises through the ranks of the Gondorian army to become second-in-command of one of its principal fortresses. One of the few men capable of keeping the forces of darkness at bay. With that background, you’d be forgiven for believing that Baranor is the main character of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. He isn’t, initially. He’s a prominent NPC in the campaign (even fighting alongside you in some missions), a player skin, and finally, in DLC campaign Desolation of Mordor, he’s the starring character.

This growth is impressive, not just because he’s a cool character, but because Baranor is a playable black man. Someone who, in many other fantasy games, wouldn’t exist.

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I’m young enough to say that I grew up with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. As a lanky black kid with a love for overpowered loadouts, Aragorn was my hero. He didn’t just get one sword, like most of the fantasy heroes I had seen up to that point. He got two swords (even if one was broken). And a bow! He was tall, and noble, and extremely cool, so I made the natural choice to play every CRPG for the next decade as a dual-wielding ranger.

However, no matter how much I admired Viggo Mortensen’s stubbled portrayal of the prophesied king, I was also incredibly aware that I couldn’t be him. My hair doesn’t grow the right way. The shadow on my face isn’t the right shape. My eyes don’t have the same, piercing color. No matter how many times I swung a pretend sword in the mirror, it was the details that let me down. That made me feel that vast gap between who I wanted to be, and who I unfortunately was. The only people that looked like me in the Lord of the Rings universe were turban-wearing savages riding elephants in The Return of the King, to be cut down in a PG-13 spectacle of fire and carnage.

Image from The One Wiki to Rule Them All

I had to scramble for heroes in nerdy media. Tying not to wince at characters like Winston Zeddemore, who started out as an Air Force Major before being reduced to an everyman comic relief taxi driver, became a constant, almost invisible task. I’d flinch at a disappointing black character— the first guy to die, the blatant comic relief, the exoticized supporting stereotypes embodied by Morgan Freeman’s character in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves — and move on, searching for the aspirational figures my friends (who weren’t of color) had in abundance.

All of that said, booting up Middle-Earth: Shadow of War in a recent Steam Free Weekend, I had no idea how deeply I’d be affected by seeing Baranor in the Skin Selection screen.

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I had already spent a pleasant hour playing as the default character of Talion, levelling up and ignoring the main storyline (as is ancient open-world gaming custom). Equipping the skin of a notable black man violently recontextualized my actions. I wasn’t just hunting down orcs as the period fantasy equivalent of Batman. I was a black guy, in the Lord of the Rings universe, double-jumping across Minas Ithil, exploding heads with impunity. Terrifying my enemies with ancient powers beyond recognition and weapons plucked from the cold, severed hands of their leaders, just as Tolkien always intended.

Meeting my dignified namesake in the course of the game’s story only increased the odd sense of pride I felt growing in my chest.

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Baranor is honorable, but self-aware. He knows that efforts to save Minas Ithil, which is under siege by orcs, are likely fruitless, and while he may wish to save the city, he also has limits about the actions he will take to accomplish this goal. He’s respected by his peers, and honored by his soldiers. Most importantly, his existence is never questioned. There’s never a sly line from a nearby guard, hinting that Baranor was originally born in another country. You won’t even hear Baranor’s original Haradian birth name, Warad, until you play the DLC. You’ll go tens of hours before discovering that Baranor isn’t a Gondorian native, and when it is revealed, Talion reacts with surprise.

Baranor is such a natural part of the world that a complex, lore-filled explanation of how a black man ends up in Gondor and becomes one of its military leaders isn’t necessary. He stands out as a positive depiction of a person of color in a fantasy universe by simply fitting in (even when there are two of him on screen).

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He also looks brilliant in every uniform in the game, which I feel the need to mention before describing how Monolith’s intentional, inclusive, and subversive approach to the Lord of the Rings canon is best displayed in Baranor’s DLC campaign, the Desolation of Mordor.

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The Desolation of Mordor is structured as a score-based roguelike. Your goal is to kill orc captains and take over outposts as quickly as possible, to earn the money necessary to take over a fortress far behind Eastern enemy lines. Unlike Talion in Shadow of War, Baranor is a normal man. With no wraith powers or corrupting rings to call upon, Baranor makes do with a grappling hook, glider, transforming crossbow, and unfolding shield, making combat and navigation distinct from the main game.

Where Talion is a blunt instrument, wading into battle with supernatural abilities, Baranor is a finely-honed dagger. Using this variety of colorful gadgets and recruitable mercenaries, he juggles long-range engagements with frontline fighting, smashing through enemy guards with his shield and chopping nearby orcs in half by using his grappling hook as a whipping cyclone of death. Your outfit and weapons can be modified with upgrades pulled from dead captains, providing ample reason to seek them out despite Baranor’s mortal weakness. Battles carry tangible stakes. If Baranor dies, your gear upgrades and campaign progress are retained, but the outposts you conquered, weapon modifications you found, and mercenaries you recruited, are reset.

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The DLC finds Baranor cut from his ties to Gondor. On his journey into the Eastern lands to recruit mercenaries and take the fight to Mordor behind enemy lines, his chosen compatriots are eaten by sand worms within the first thirty seconds of the two-hour scenario. The worms are…large.

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Empty-handed except for some gadgets and his natural skill, Baranor attempts to recruit mercenaries, only to find them led by his long-lost brother, Serka. I hated Serka. He’s the exact stereotype I found myself flinching at in other works. A posturing, greedy man of color, performing for an audience both inside and out of the screen.

And then I kept playing.

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It turns out Serka was forced to adapt to his surroundings, just as Baranor adapted to the gentler environs of Gondor. Finding that gold, wits, muscle, and a reputation, were the only obstacles to death in the desert, Serka fought his way to the top of the mercenary ranks. Then, he stayed there, with a regular supply of funds, and an ‘unkillable’ reputation bolstered by that same performance I initially reacted against.

Serka is a complex character who truly cares about Baranor, and his men, whose edges wear away when exposed to the heroism of his brother. As he shows his true colors and loyalty to Baranor, he’s deposed—and the caring root of his theatrical bravado is made apparent by the blatant selfishness of his successor.

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To make a short story shorter, you save Serka, share some tender moments, and accomplish your objective, with the suggestion that your adventures capturing Sauron’s fortresses behind enemy lines continue. An exciting prospect considering the speedy, high-flying navigation, the variety of tactical and brutal combat, and the strength of the characters seen within the brief running time.

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Monolith has been criticized for its approach to Lord of the Rings lore. Shelob the spider having a sexy human form in Shadow of War is only the tip of a contentious iceberg, for some fans. However, in the unfolding character of Serka, I can see a microcosm of the studio’s wider goals with the Middle-Earth series to date.

The bounds of the Lord of the Rings canon — what it’s saying, how it can say it, who it can represent — isn’t set in stone by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s defined by us, the creators of today, through the choices we make when given one of the most influential and successful licenses of all time. To uphold the status quo, or to hold it to the light, and chart a new path forward.

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I love my precious, greedy trash son, and his noble, unquestionably cool brother. In Serka, I see the defying of simple classifications and characterizations. In Baranor, I finally have the fantasy hero I always wanted. The hero I needed.

Thanks to Monolith’s choices, that kid swinging a sword in the mirror so many years ago is Baranor—and they are cool as hell.

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83 Comments

  1. Umama says:

    Glad to see you back as I thought your Frostpunk review was well written. (RPS seems to have an opening now with Adam gone…just saying)

    Articles like this help us all understand why inclusivity and diversity in media are important. As a gay man I was thrilled that I could make my Sim gay and that my Dragon Age hero could romance another man. (As much as I tried I couldn’t make Geralt gay.)

    I am also a white man, though, so it is not like it is difficult to find representation of those aspects of myself in media.

  2. Bradamantium says:

    Excellent write-up! Seeing you talk up Baranor on Twitter has made this an eventual must-buy for me, when I’d been planning on skipping it entirely. Kind of a shame that actual cool stuff like this (the diversity of both Baranor himself and the Desolation of Mordor campaign with its gameplay departures) is lost under discussion of the game’s terribad mtx garbage.

    I experienced something similar playing Battlefront II last week, elated to discover that its free campaign expansion contained a nice little mother/daughter story after God of War had me lamenting the dearth of such narratives. Wish AAAs doing good work could spend less time missing the mark on business models and more time putting forward the positive steps they’re taking.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      You’ll be happy to hear that they turned off the ability to spend real-life money on orcs in Shadow of War a while back then, and there’s a patch coming soon that is going to remove the option entirely, even with in-game currency. It really was just a daft tacked-on feature that skips the single most interesting part of the game: Fighting (and sometimes losing to) procedurally generated orcs and trying to recruit them.

  3. uggron says:

    This is a pretty cool article, I wonder who wrote this?

    Xalavier?!? Holy hell that’s a cool name. I’m probably going to name my next RPG character that.

    • batraz says:

      Yes, peculiar name indeed. Sounds like one of those made-up french-like (or indian-like sometimes) names African-americans tend to use : Xavier or Javier is an actual name of course, ascending from basque word “etxeberri” i.e. “casa nova” or “maison neuve”. But the inserted -la- doesn’t make any morphological sense : my guess would be Xalavier is a pen name for some mysterious character whose identity has yet to remain a secret.

  4. yabonn says:

    Hello, Monolith people, proudly Slacking the article to each other! :>

  5. Zorgulon says:

    That was a really interesting article! I have to say I’d written the game off in my mind after sexy Shelob and the orc-purchasing fiasco, but this actually makes me keen to play it!

  6. clockworkrat says:

    Good read, and it’s nice to hear a different perspective on the series.

  7. Awkward_Seppuku says:

    Why does he carry two swords? Does he tend to lose them?

  8. MrBehemoth says:

    This is really cool, and my white ass was really happy to read it, but I cannot and will not sanction sexy Shelob. She’s a big, old, hungry spider. Not a spider goddess, or a spider themed witch, or an enchanted spider. She’s a literal spider.

    I wish I could, but I just can’t.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      Why not? It makes as much sense as a child-hostage in a quasi-feudal society being elevated by merit to a high rank in the army.

      Meanwhile a fellowship of four different races couldn’t walk anywhere in Middle-Earth without crossing the territory of people who would question, threaten or seize them, as would be expected.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Even the most casual student of history could tell you that far, far stranger things have happened in real life. Feudal societies specifically often had more social mobility than you’d think. Assuming you did, in fact, think.

        • CaidKean says:

          Yeah, there’s a lot more mixing of culture in history than certain groups like to pretend.

          For example one of Swedens most famous authors named Selma Lagerlöf was in fact descended from a 16th century Persian by the birth name of Abdollah Esfahani, later rechristened as Thure Spahandelin.

          He encountered a Swedish traveler in Persia and decided to accompany him to Sweden, he fell in love with Sweden and decided to settle down and eventually he was introduced to the King which lead to him becoming a crown equerry of King Gustavus Adolphus.

          TLDR: Several significant Swedish celebrities are descended from a 16th century man who traveled all the way from Persia to Sweden and converted to Christianity.

          I know it’s not exactly what we’re talking about but I figured it was a good example as any of surprising mixing of cultures and races even far longer ago than many people, especially those of certain political persuasions, like to pretend.

      • iucounu says:

        For about 250 years the Ottoman Empire used to take Christian children as slaves, from the lands they conquered, convert them to Islam, and induct them into the Janissaries, an elite infantry corps loyal to, and sworn to protect, the Sultan.

        They became so important that they were, quite often, running the place. Sokollu Mehmed Pasha was a Bosnian Orthodox Christian who was taken as a child, made a Janissary, and ended up as Grand Vizier under Suleiman the Magnificent.

        So, yeah, it’s entirely plausible.

    • Horg says:

      They are right on the line of tolerance with human form Shelob, as she’s the daughter of Ungoliant, a creature of vague origin from the void beyond Arda. Ungoliant took the form of a great spider, growing to enormous proportions when allied with Morgoth, and helped to work against the Valar for a time until she betrayed him. After being driven off, she bred with the great spiders of Nan Dungortheb to create her children, of which Shelob is the last still alive.

      So, not just a giant spider, but half…..something else, that can change form and has a strong will of its own. Giving her the ability to change form isn’t the really contentious issue, though, it’s her ‘plotting from the shadows’ fan fiction. In the main cannon Shelob isn’t particularly developed as an entity, primarily just occupies her lair on the border of Mordor, and is tolerated by Sauron as she makes a good border guard despite eating his orcs. Gollum has an interaction with her when he leaves Mordor after being captured, promising to lure someone worth eating back to her webs, but that’s about the extent of her official interaction with the wider world. Implying Shelob is a great power in her own right with a hidden agenda is a huge departure from the Shelob of the books. It feels like Monolith decided to write her as a corrupted lesser Maia, which isn’t a theme out of place in middle earth, but it’s quite a jarring departure from the Shelob we knew.

      • Imperialist says:

        Id have preferred they simply depicted her as a sort of siren. Using her lady form to attract prey…and then turning them into snacks.

  9. ChiefOfBeef says:

    I’m glad that the author gets such enjoyment out of the Baranor character and his brother. I am perplexed that they get similar enjoyment out of the skin colour.

    There are settings and places where representation matters, this isn’t one of them. This is because where representation does matter, it’s not because of the personal feelings of a demographic of the audience, but for the sake of truth, believability and integrity. So constantly being told on a loop that representation matters because of the feelings of people, just leaves me dumb-founded.

    There’s almost no productive argument that can be had with the people that do this and they feel the same way about anyone who disagrees with them. Let them write fiction that suits their tastes then, but when they change existing and beloved works, it’s not a good enough excuse to say ‘but this isn’t canon’ as they have done regarding every blunder in Monolith’s Middle-Earth games.

    Fictional worlds have to be believable and Baranor belongs in the same dumpster fire as succubi-Shelob.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      Take it from someone who has spent countless hours studying Tolkien, and who wrote a honours degree dissertation on Tolkien’s mythos, that Baranor is not at all contentious and quite plausible within the fiction, unlike sexy Shelob.

      I’m not even gonna touch than nonsense you said about representation though! “Feelings don’t matter,” he says!

      • TheOx129 says:

        I was about to say, there are significant chunks of the Middle-Earth Legendarium that aren’t exactly fleshed out and/or set in stone. If anything, the exact opposite is true: Tolkien showed that he had the tendency to constantly revisit and rework ideas over the course of his life.

    • There says:

      “Fictional worlds have to be believable”

      I’ve never understood how some people can state and believe such an obvious fallacy.

      Fictional worlds don’t have to mimic a certain historical reality, especially when historical accounts have often erased certain people’s presence and misrepresented their lives BTW, to be believable. This is *not* what makes a story believable and this is absolutely not how writers, scenarists,… who write fiction think.

      • Archonsod says:

        Who said anything about it needing to mimic a historical reality? That’s not really what Tolkien was doing to begin with. All it means is that it needs to stay internally consistent, which means adhering to some extent to what’s already known and established within the setting.

        • ChiefOfBeef says:

          What he said.

          All fiction, with no exception made to fantasy and science-fiction(though for some reason people believe the point of these genres is to have sub-par standards), is best enjoyed when the reader is able to take it seriously because it adhere to it’s own rules. If you say ‘Candyman’ in a mirror enough times and he does not appear to murder someone until they are dead, just to serve a story purpose where everyone believes the protagonist is crazy, it’s bull when he’s appeared every single time up to that point, even if it takes him a while.

    • Zorgulon says:

      “This is because where representation does matter, it’s not because of the personal feelings of a demographic of the audience, but for the sake of truth, believability and integrity.”

      Ah yes, the objective values of “truth, believability and integrity” of a fictional world. That have nothing at all to do with the “personal feelings of a demographic of the audience”.

      The idea that Baranor’s state position is somehow impossible in “quasi-feudal” Middle Earth is a curious one, as I’m not sure that skin-colour based racism is a particular feature of that world. Indeed it wasn’t really a feature of the actual feudal middle ages of our world. This is you projecting your own personal ideas onto a fantasy world and declaring them “truth”.

      Personally, I find the author’s interpetation of Baranor’s “truth, believability and integrity” far more interesting than yours. But then I suppose I am a member of a demographic of the audience.

      • Archonsod says:

        Gondor and the Haradrim have been fighting since the Second Age. You don’t really need to bring skin colour up to find an objection to the notion Gondor would put a Haradrim hostage in charge of defending one of their strongholds. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s impossible, but it would be something exceptional which requires something a little more extraordinary than the rather mundane reasoning given in the character’s backstory.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “There are settings and places where representation matters, this isn’t one of them. This is because where representation does matter, it’s not because of the personal feelings of a demographic of the audience, but for the sake of truth, believability and integrity.”

      You appear to be appealing to, not your personal feelings on this, but some objective standard of ‘truth, believability and integrity’.
      I ask you to truly appeal to truth, believability and integrity. Take a stand based on what is true: YOU do not like black representation in Tolkien and YOU just want us to think there are principles behind your dislike of (as you say above) ‘token pandering’.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      It’s entirely within the lore.
      But the fact the author takes so much joy in this troubles me somewhat.
      I get there are rascist people and nasty experiences in RL but he seems really fixated on this skin-color thing like it’s a fundamental part of his identity.
      Well I don’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m a mixed person, thanks God there’s Obama and Meghan for representation.

      • batraz says:

        Same here; think this is a case of “good” racism, and I fail to see how it differs from the “bad” one. Doesn’t bother me much if it can comfort anyone, but it’s not logically sound.

      • shde2e says:

        From what I understood, he fixated so much on it because it greatly helped him identify with the character, so much so that it surprised even him.

  10. Plok says:

    A lovely heartfelt piece. I’ve warmed a little to this game now. I might even purchase it…once all that naughty microtransaction stuff is entirely expunged.

  11. Aramis says:

    I just registered to praise the quality of the writing in this piece. This is why I read RPS.

  12. morganjah says:

    I’m just tired of all the people who look like me being slaughtered by the heroes in Lord of the Rings.

  13. cpt_freakout says:

    What a lovely article, thank you very much for sharing this.

  14. s3agl3 says:

    This article put me off. This doesn’t seem right because the author thinks of every character by the colour of their skin.
    “However, no matter how much I admired Viggo Mortensen’s stubbled portrayal of the prophesied king, I was also incredibly aware that I couldn’t be him. My hair doesn’t grow the right way. The shadow on my face isn’t the right shape.”
    “I had to scramble for heroes in nerdy media.”

    As long as the characters good I don’t care what colour they are… because it should be about relating to their CHARACTER not their RACE. That is why I can relate to many heroes and heroines of all races.

    • Sin Vega says:

      That is why I can relate to many heroes and heroines of all races.

      Wow! Aren’t you amazing! Now if everyone on earth can just be more like you, we’ll solve racism AND sexism for good.

    • Jeremy says:

      I think I can understand where you’re coming from, and I don’t want to assume your ethnicity so I’ll speak from my own perspective as a white male to counterpoint what you’re saying.

      I have the luxury of enjoying characters for what they are, without considering their skin color, because 8 times out of 10, the character is white, and 6 times out of 10, a white male. And this is just in the last 3 to 5 years. Before that, I was represented 99 times out of 100. I had a million different ways to identify with all of the heroes or characters in a game, movie, or tv show, because they were mostly white men, while the villains were “other”. This might seem silly on the face of it, but when you’re not white, historically you’ve been represented as a villain, an enemy, or an imbecile, and that’s something that is easy to take for granted as a white guy. Sure, there are also white villains, white enemies, and white imbeciles… but they weren’t our only options, there was nuance to it. And deep down we *know* it’s important… that’s why so many people freaked out when a woman and a black man were at the center of a new Star Wars story. The most vocal opponents couched it under the terms of political correctness, or even worse, canonicity. If the only way we can accept that a non-white is a hero, is as a result of back room machinations and political movements, then what we’re really saying is “non-whites aren’t worth being heroes”. So many people(ie, white people) think it’s exhausting to have to make room for others, but imagine how exhausting it must be to live in a world where there is no room for you, and to have to fight for it.

      • Hoot says:

        Regarding the Star Wars point I believe many people freaked out because it was called Solo: A Star Wars Story and from what I read (I’ve yet to see the movie so take this with a pinch of salt) it spent more time turning itself into a agenda driven study on inclusion than being a male power fantasy which, to be honest, that’s what the character of Han Solo is and is all about.

        When you call your movie Solo and don’t provide that, don’t be surprised when your fans are unhappy.

        EDIT:- I just realised you never named the Star Wars movie. Rogue One was awesome. So were the two official Star Wars movies. I just know Solo has been lambasted in the press and thought that’s what you were on about. Genuinely had no idea people took issue with the other movies.

        • Jeremy says:

          Ahhh, yeah, I didn’t clarify that well enough. I meant the new mainline Star Wars trilogy. Haven’t seen Solo either, and haven’t heard of any issues with that one so far beyond a slightly weak overall story.

  15. RogerioFM says:

    Yes, let’s praise an incredibly generic and boring character for the fact he is black, what a low bar.

    • phlebas says:

      Did you read the opening paragraph of the article? It doesn’t make him sound incredibly generic and boring.

      • shde2e says:

        The only generic and boring SoW character I can think of is Talion, the original PC (I forgot pretty much all the other ones).

        These guys actually seem interesting, with sympathetic characters.

  16. Preciousgollum says:

    “The bounds of the Lord of the Rings canon — what it’s saying, how it can say it, who it can represent — isn’t set in stone by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s defined by us, the creators of today, through the choices we make when given one of the most influential and successful licenses of all time.”

    I can see a few trains of thought here.

    1.That ‘The death of the author’ theory is in full swing.
    2. That the license is considered the most valuable property, and that it is malleable (see point 1).
    3. That, perhaps with the co-operation of publishers, some enthusiasts feel the need for shared social ownership of, revamping and updating old IP into new products & statements, rather than revisiting old products or preserving the idea of an older product or IP.

    I do have a few issues with this interpretation. Firstly, that, if I take the example of Superman, both our need for gritty, and DC desire to cater to it, has created Dour-man, a hero that sucks the joy out of Super-man. Updating to modern wants has not made for a better Superman (although some would argue that gritty reboot is resonating with them, but that is more because sometimes we like to bathe ourselves in shame & guilt).

    The other issue is that seeing an IP as a ‘franchise property’ can end up as a giant middle-finger against the original creators, hence why in comic books and other publishing industries, you basically sell away ownership of your IP in order to get it published – e.g the creators of Superman.

    THEN: How can people usefully interpret something new in an old work, if the work itself is considered redundant?

    For example, I’ve began interpreting A Christmas Carol to be on the failures of the state towards the poor, rather than the direct ‘fault of Scrooge’. The idea that a story is about or is the fault of ‘one person’ leaves an unresolved feeling with the story.

    How would somebody notice or be able to argue this if, as has been the case for as long as I can remember, A Christmas Carol IS being continually adapted for a modern audience, with the answer bring that it was all Scrooge’s fault. We lose social commentary in favour of a fable about hounding the moderately wealthy to feel guilty until they give (which still leaves intact state-power of the rich).

    In terms of Shadow of Mordor… well it is basically ‘The Crow’ in middle-earth. A Revenge fantasy, and one that would seemingly be at odds with the spirit of Tolkien”s works.

    You know what I will never be? Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or an Asian Parkour lady. Nor will I ever be as attractive as Vigo Mortenson OR Nathan Fillion. Or Gollum.

    My favourite Tekken fighter is Lei Wulong, and my favourite LOTR character is Gollum (Book first, film second)… at least I think it is. I also like playing as Kangaroos and Dinosaurs in Tekken.

    As far as I am aware, I really don’t need my characters to look like me in any way.

    The final point I would like to make is that I do not think it should be so easy for a big publisher to jettison the stink of systems like loot box design, in exchange for receiving praise about ‘inclusiveness’, because it makes people forget about the original issue with the product – and any forgetfulness on the part of the consumer is an invitation for the publisher to come back and try in-game monetization again and again.

  17. Preciousgollum says:

    In summary to earlier post:

    Having a representative character that appeals to the author is, I can imagine, a nice experience, but one must be careful when translating that feeling of excitement into commanding observations regrading franchise legacy & management.

  18. TheBookThief says:

    Lovely article here. Bit of odd focus on skin tone personal relations, but outside of that the summarization of why Baranor and Serka are awesome is spot on. I do hope the success of this DLC leads to a fleshing out of the lesser explored areas of Middle Earth. Hopefully eventually we can get a full on three or four way war/battle between Orcs, Easternlings/Haradrim, Your mercenaries, and the wild life.

  19. Dogahn says:

    Hello Mr. Nelson. I hope to see more of you around here.

  20. jozinho says:

    This was a pleasure to read, and I commend your courage in sharing such a deeply personal experience

  21. Nolenthar says:

    Great article, thanks. I am surprised that a main character’s skin colour matters so much to the author, as I can easily relate to characters that look nothing like me (and admittedly, only in RPG where I can create my own character will I sometime try to make it vaguely look like me), but it is to be said that as a white dude, I am obviously represented by >90% of all movies/TV series/video games main character and hence, I cannot possibly understand how frustrating underrepresentation would feel.

    • Beefenstein says:

      We need a controlled trial where we have a mixed ethnicity control group growing up with current media, another matched mixed ethnicity group growing up with whitewashed media, and yet another growing up who only see leading roles played by non-white actors. It would be interesting to see if the white members of the third group were affected by the lack of representation in comparison to the first two.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I think we need better representation in the media rather than experiments on children, though I take it your idea is to prove the negative effects of a poor representation to those who doubt its importance?

  22. Hoot says:

    TL;DR – Black guy is happy he got to play as a main character in a game who is a black guy.

    2 things.

    1) How is there anything wrong with this?
    2) However, why is this gaming news?

    Point 2 stands because it’s hardly a big deal. Shepard in ME can be black if you want. Any character in Skyrim and other RPGs where you create your own character can be black. Pallegina in PoE is black. Eli Vance is black. Going back to Mass Effect, Anderson is black (and also, in my opinion, one of the coolest characters in the game, probably partly because I’ve always liked Keith David as an actor). OK, you can’t play as many of those people, so maybe I get it, but even so it seems like weak justification for lengthy article that mentions little about the actual game.

    I mean sure, there’s far more white characters in games than black characters. Is this because game companies usually have more white people working for them than black people? Same deal for women? Usually there are more dudes than gals working for games companies? I don’t know the answers to these questions but in general you write what you know, right? Unless I was setting out to write a character who was black, if I wrote something there likely wouldn’t be any black characters simply because I don’t know any black people. Maybe a lot of game writers grew up in predominantly white neighbourhoods and don’t have a lot of experience to draw on in writing characters of different backgrounds?

    I read a lot of comments on RPS and articles like this bring out the worst in some people, which is sad. Especially people who are confused about what being a racist/sexist/etc actually is.

    • popej says:

      “2) However, why is this gaming news?”

      It isn’t. What’s your point?

      • Hoot says:

        RPS is a gaming news website. If that isn’t abundantly obvious to you then I can’t really say any more about it.

        • phlebas says:

          Oh, RPS is more than that. Always has been and hopefully always will be.

          “RPS is about PC gaming. Lovely, delicious, strange and compelling PC gaming. It’s written by a gathering of Britain’s top games critics, and aims to cover everything from the latest breaking stories about the biggest releases to esoterica from the format’s most obscure peninsulas. Our philosophy is that AAA and indie are just as likely to produce fascinating games worthy of our time and coverage, and give all extremes equal prominence.

          We also believe that opinions are vital and wonderful, eschewing confused notions of ‘objectivity’ in favour of flavoured, nuanced and intelligent views and comment, whether it be raised eyebrows or furrowed brows at corporate claims, or exploding, delighted hearts at gaming wonders. ”

          link to rockpapershotgun.com

        • Foridin says:

          Except it’s not, it’s a gaming website. “Reviews, Previews, Subjectivity ” People come here because they enjoy getting articles that aren’t just press releases and reviews. While I read most of what this site publishes, what sticks with me and keeps me coming back aren’t the reviews or the previews, it’s stuff like the articles about weird dating sims. The Sunday Papers pointing me towards other interesting articles. Analysis of the assumptions behind 4X games.

          If you can’t handle opinion pieces, maybe you should go to literally any other gaming website, and stop trying to kill what makes this one unique?

          • Hoot says:

            Or, I could voice my opinion which while possibly different is not automatically invalid. I had no problem with the piece, beyond it being too long for what it was and a tad boring.

            But hey, if you can’t handle different opinions to your own maybe you should avoid comment sections?

  23. phlebas says:

    Excellent, passionate piece, both as an appreciation of SoW and an opening salvo on broader issues. Thanks for sharing your thinking!

  24. popej says:

    Enjoyable read, thanks for this.

  25. Eldragon says:

    This whole article comes off as “This character is only cool because they are black”. If you had not pointed it out, I would not have noticed. Assassins Creed Origins character is black; and no one cares. Its a good story. You reduced an otherwise cool character into a token black guy.

    This growth is impressive, not just because he’s a cool character, but because Baranor is a playable black man. Someone who, in many other fantasy games, wouldn’t exist.

    “Why are you applying your American standards on race to a eastern Europeans? Not every culture is your culture, Keep your imperialism to yourself.” See what I did there?

  26. dsch says:

    Leftist critiques of pseudo-progressive positions no longer allowed on RPS. Apparently you can’t question the dogma that feeling validation from identifying with fictional characters is a good thing.

    • njursten says:

      How about being happy that there is a game with an interesting character that shares your skin colour, which almost never happens? Is that fine?

  27. Lakshmi says:

    This is a wonderful article, thank you. I love RPS & posts like this are why. I’m always here for more thoughtful words about representation please!

  28. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Hm I could kinda see how Shelob takes a human form but she’s never portrayed as that powerful in the lore, just some minor beast spawn compared to spirits like Ungoliant or Sauron for that matter.
    Having dark-skinned people makes sense here in this game, I just thought we were over the virtue-signaling Witcher-trashing already. Those devs aren’t rascist or insensitive and most of the playerbase isn’t.
    Journalists should really get over baiting these dividing “identity” topics already same thing with the royal wedding recently. Anchors from German “ZDF” were particularly cringeworthy.

  29. gi_ty says:

    This was a particularly excellent piece! It really helped me understand the perspective of why we need our heroes to not only be aspirational moral characters but to also resemble the viewer. I can certainly have empathy for needing that kind of validation especially in your formative early teens. Having representation in media is a cultural way of telling younger kids (who may be a major minority depending on geographic region) that they belong. There is a reason that new generations are getting ever more accepting of racial differences (despite what it seems like sometimes demographic research shows this). A large component of this is driven by representation in media. Its not going to change the mind of hardly any adults most of them are too hardened in their opinions but for kids who grow up without overt influences in the other direction it has shown to be a great success.

    • batraz says:

      When I was a teen, I wanted to stand out mostly, not to fit in, as I hoped to be better than the next man. I failed of course, but it was fun trying, and most of my friends tried it too. Like the poet once said, the times they are-a changing.

  30. fuggles says:

    Whilst a good article, I wanted to be a ninja turtle and a transforming jet when I was growing up. I am not sure what it says about either of us that you aspired to be something similar and I wanted to be different to ourselves when playing.

    • Preciousgollum says:

      Yes.

      Aren’t the Ninja Turtles White-Green though?

      Is a green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle a ‘person of colour’?

      When Oroku Saki aka The Shredder is voiced by Black Man James Avery ‘Uncle Phil’ from Fresh Prince, and nobody notices, what does this all mean!?

      Does it do Asian representations an injustice via the fact that an Asian person was not hired for the role, or does it do the Black Man injustice by people not noticing?

      We could accept the theory that everyone currently on Earth could be traced back to a ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, who was probably a Black woman living in Africa, and that we are all technically biologically related to each other. As a result, are we not like brothers and sisters arguing about who’s drawings get to feature on the fridge that is media?

      Alternatively, I’d really like not to think about it too often, but my brothers and sisters of the Web keep reminding me about how they look that bit different to me, and how it matters. Yeah, I get it, you look different and wonder whether we have the same ‘daddy’ or not. If you are a man, then yes… Y chromosomial Adam… but then we could be brothers from different ‘mothers’.

      ‘Race’ is like a bogus shorthand for phenotyping, in which case, I don’t see many people with poor eyesight, a squint, streaks of grey hair and slight patches of vitiligo being repesented positively on TV… especially people with long hair and a beard. When are those people going to be properly represented on TV with all their natural or heroic glory?

      ‘Role-modeling’ is a euphemism for society keeping people nurtured by TV, In effort to forget the horror that large numbers of us live in a nature comprised of cities or suburbs… the likes of which are the trappings of a post-industrialised world. In parts of the world, the very air you breathe IS a poisonous fume. It is as if Tolkien was trying to say something… but what!?

      Eh, at least we can play as differently coloured characters.

      • fuggles says:

        As time went by Donatello became a darker green which was odd. I first noticed it on swimming Donatello….

        Shredder’s voice was awesome.

  31. KidWithKnife says:

    Great piece, I really dug it. Thanks for publishing something positive from the progressive end of things, I think too often we get caught up scolding people and don’t spend enough time appreciating when people get something right.

  32. Lawbringer says:

    As a white male, I often feel like diversity is shoehorned in clumsily and yet I feel self conscious about criticising it out of fear of being branded racist/sexist.

    This, on the other hand, sounds like just my cup of tea: you are able to enjoy it because you identify with the character more. I am able to enjoy it because his race is simply not an issue in the story – he simply is black, and that’s all there is to it. No forced diversity element that he has to prove he’s as good as everyone else. Just gets on with his own story.

    Nicely written, too. Thanks for allowing us a little glimpse into your world there.

  33. Ham Solo says:

    Why would anyone play this ripoff? They’re just trying to get a more progressive audience, to milk some more money out of people with their predatory monetization scheme.

  34. Yukisuna says:

    I’ve been sitting on the fence when it comes to the dlc in this game. I never get around to picking it up again because it’s such a commitment if you want to get anywhere.

    Your story is touching to read although i feel like i have no right to speak up on the topic due to my own skin colour. I never felt like the skin colour of the characters i play made any significant impact on the experience for me, but then again for all i know, as you point out, that may just be me getting brain washed by always seeing strong, white personalities on the screen.

    Either way i was already interested in Baranor’s story due to the roguelike death thing. I think this article is enough to have me take another look. Thanks!

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