Black Representation in Games-Is Officer D’arci Stern (Urban Chaos) Problematic?
What if I told you that in 1999 there was a video game that was a 3D action game with an open world/sand box (pre- GTA 3), had you playing as a cop, and this game had a black female protagonist? That game existed and that game was Urban Chaos. Urban Chaos was progressive not just in gameplay but also in character portrayal.
In a post-Tomb raider world Urban Chaos had a woman protagonist who was not over sexualized. In a pre-GTA 3 world, Urban Chaos had driving and combat that felt good and the world felt alive. In a video game industry that was and still is obsessed with sales and playing it safe Urban Chaos had a black female protagonist who doesn’t look white! (I’m looking at you Remember Me). In a pre-2020 “Defund the police” world this game was dealing with the realities of police and gang violence and what that means for the city. THIS GAME HAD NON-VIOLENT OPTIONS TO DEAL WITH BAD GUYS!
This post isn’t about the game Urban Chaos though(obtained for $1.74 of GOG.com, PC), it’s about D’arci Stern. She is a take-no-shit rookie cop, who is cleaning up the streets of Union City from the Wildcats gang (and little does she know so much more!). D’arci curses and fights and wants to be treated like one of the boys. All of the other officers on the force are white, and seemingly Irish? Some cops support D’arci, while others aren’t sure if she is really cop material. The other officers questioning her seem to be doing so based on her being a black women and not based on any real lack of skills. I think it’s important the game deals with those issues. That said, it would have been great to have seen the game spend more time looking into issues of tokenism and the challenges of being the “only one” at a work place. Considering when this game was made, I am impressed that it even alludes to some of those issues.
Stereotype: Strong Black Female- D’arci is conforming to the strong black woman stereotype. She curses like one of the guys and she refuses to show any emotion. She is fearless and given all the hardest assignments.
Strong black female trope involves being emotionless, able to cope with anything, not needing anyone else for help, and being able to do everything for everyone else eagerly. This is problematic because this view of black women is dehumanizing. The pain of the black woman is not felt by society. Their plight is ignored by middle-class white feminism, and the discourse around civil rights injustices and violence is dominated by men. Breonna Taylor’s death would not have garnered the same response as George Floyd’s death. Violence against black women isn’t a pain the nation is willing to deal with or work to stop. But all of that is seemingly OK because the strong black female can provide for her own, wants to work five jobs, and basically be a super hero. Until that same black woman asks for help and then they are framed as welfare queens, whores with too many partners, and drains on society.
The negative portrayal of black women when they seek any kind of social support or welfare is something society needs to change (especially because the largest recipient of welfare are white women…but I digress). Black woman are oppressed in many ways and their pain is real. They are strong because they are forced to be but they deserve to be treated fairly and not expected to be super women all the time.
Stereotype: Female character with “Daddy Issues”- Daddy issues are the short hand way to say a woman is crazy due to her having a father who was bad in some way. It trivializes real experiences of sexual abuse, abandonment, and various other real issues that women face early in life. This trope insinuates that the result of any of these daddy issues is a broken woman who is probably wild in bed and a nightmare to date. None of this is good or factual. It’s incredibly problematic to treat trauma in this way and to mark any women who has experienced trauma as being mentally unwell and hyper sexual. Trauma can lead to real mental health issues and those issues can manifest in some really destructive ways. The idea of “daddy issues" needs to not exist and media needs to stop perpetuating it. Men need to stop abusing women. Sadly, the only time D’arci shows emotion in this game is when the mysterious Roper brings up her dead father. Her emotional well being should not just he tied to one man. It’s an archaic trope that needs to end.
Stereotype: Black Woman with No love interest- On one hand this is positive, a woman in a game not pigeon holed as a girlfriend or wife is significant. Too often in media women are defined by their relationships and who they are sleeping with. Where this trope is frustrating is due to the lack of representation of black women being loved or in love in games media. Black women are often dehumanized and rarely the sought after love interest. This is also another black female protagonist who has to deny her femininity to be accepted and prove she is tough enough for the job.
Stereotype: Cops as Corrupt- I have spoken about my issues with current police behavior but video games have a habit of obsessing over the corrupt cop. While this game does feature a corrupt politician, the police force is truly trying to do what is best. D’arci is a kick ass cop saving the day. The best part… YOU CAN ARREST BAD GUYS WITH OUT KILLING THEM. We can barely do that in real life….
Stereotype: Ethnic Hair- I was mad about D’arci’s hair style for a hot second because it felt almost like pandering at first glance. Upon further reflection I am happy that they gave her a natural hair style and they put some beads in it. They could have straightened her hair and conformed to white standards of beauty and they chose not to. That’s good stuff.
Stereotype: Bad guys are all black: This game subverts the trope that all the villains are minorities by having a diverse cast of villains that are black men, white men, and females. I love that the cast of villains is diverse but it’s a shame that all the female antagonists are suggested to be sex workers.
Stereotype: White Savior (Roper)- Because there is no way a black woman could solve this crazy mystery on her own, a white man has to come out of nowhere and help save the day. In the game D’arci literally says, “why should I listen to you, you came outta nowhere.” Then she listens. It’s a trope that is common in film and it shows up here once again.
Is D’arci Stern Problematic? I don’t think so. Quite the opposite really. She was ahead of her time. I am sad that she hasn’t starred in a game recently. I’d love an HD Remaster of Urban Chaos. She’s a fun character to get to know, and I would love to have more stories told about her.
D’arci Stern is a real stand out character in a gaming landscape with such limited representation of black women. D’arci is an aspirational figure in gaming. D’arci is the type of character who can help normalize the idea of a black woman in a position of power. As always this representation matters so much.
Check out Urban Chaos (PC), It’s great. Thanks for reading. Peace!