Uncharted is an action-adventure shooter platform game series that follows swashbuckling treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he adventures across the globe, exploring historical legends and battling villainous antagonists. Considered to be one of the greatest video game series of all time, with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End particularly praised for its breath-taking graphics, the seamlessly transitioning cinematic cut-scenes, and the deep and fleshed-out story. It’s a combination that has people describing how the game replicates the experience of watching a high-budget action film, in a world where Hollywood still has a hit-and-miss success with video game adaptations. Needless to say, the series is considered pivotal and a landmark to the video game industry.
The series has faced very light criticism with it having been described as essentially ‘Tomb Raider, but with a male protagonist’, with the obvious point being made that, in an industry often and rightfully scorned for its lack of female representation, the game steals the spotlight from one of video games most famous female characters, Lara Croft.
However, Naughty Dog, the studio behind the series, are releasing a stand-alone expansion game, called Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which feature two previously established female characters: Chloe Frazer, a supporting character in the second and third game of the main series, who serves as The Lost Legacy’s playable protagonist, and Nadine Ross, one of the antagonists of the A Thief’s End.
After watching this video and being overjoyed at a popular game series using two strong female characters of colour, it occurred to me that I couldn’t actually recall another video game which had a South Asian on-screen protagonist (Chloe, is half-Indian, and the game explores her heritage).
South Asians in gaming: sparse representation
A quick Google search confirms this. Fighting games like Street Fighter do have playable avatars like Dhalsim, but he isn’t the protagonist, and a mystic Indian man who can float and stretch his limbs out whilst wearing skulls on his necklace is hardly the epitome of South Asian representation.
Outside of fighting games, it appears that the distinction of the first South Asian protagonist is that of Ajay Ghale of Far Cry 4. However, the character comes from the fictional country of Kyrat (as opposed to the very real country of India), which is said to be near Nepal, which could mean that arguably Kryat is actually part of East Asia rather than South Asia (and indeed, the artwork for Ghale does depict him as more in line with an Oriental appearance). But even if we consider Ghale South Asian, by nature of the game being completely first person, representation is lost, which is also the problem with Symmetra in Overwatch (as well as the fact that she isn’t a protagonist).
The appeal of first-person is the aspect of immersion – you, the player, are the protagonist. A white gamer will not be as aware the character he is playing is of colour and of a South (or East) Asian descent. Representation of minorities is as important for non-minorities as it is for minorities – it’s good for me to see characters like me in media, but I also need white people to realise that people like me can exist as heroes and, indeed, as actual people.
This is particularly relevant with the ongoing debate surrounding whether Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk should have made more of an effort to show the efforts of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, even as background characters. Media has gotten into the habit of depicting Arabic and South Asian individuals as villains and terrorists, and this has an impact on the way people see us, whether they’re aware of it or not.
This is what makes the appearance of Chloe Frazer, who we can easily consider to be video game’s first South Asian protagonist. Not only do we see her but, unlike with Symmetra whose Indian background no one has any reason to care about, Frazer’s Indian heritage is the focus of the story. While it is unlikely Frazer will become a staple for WoC video game protagonists the same way Croft and Samus are, but if the character is done well, she will pave a way. And there’s every chance of that, as Naughty Dog have consistently shown themselves to hit the mark with their characters. Especially with the opportunity here to use a working game mechanic to tell a new story.
New leads for a new era of gaming
A common question from the butthurt male audience is why the DLC didn’t feature Sam Drake (Nathan’s brother featured in A Thief’s End) or Sully, Nathan’s partner instead. Apart from the fact that Sully, who features extremely prominently in the games as the character assisting and travelling with Drake, is not wanting for more on-screen presence, we’ve already seen the relationship and banter between these characters.
While Frazer can easily keep up with the wit of Drake, Ross will be what makes the featured relationship new. Developers have already established that Frazer and Ross are not friends, but are working together out of necessity. Ross doesn’t share the protagonists’ banter – she is depicted as serious and focused. The fresh change in character dynamics, contrasted against Drake and his allies companionship, will encourage players to take more notice of Frazer’s and Ross’ story – and with that their background.
Why make a DLC featuring white men we’ve spent a lot of time with and know, when we can play a DLC with woman of colour and we have absolutely no idea what to expect from their internal conflict, never mind the ones the antagonist offers?
The possibility that Ross or Frazer might end up actually killing the other (it’s substantially more likely Naughty Dog would kill off Ross or Frazer (and if they do, I’m going to say I called it here!) then the Drakes or Sully, and it makes the plot more exciting.
I feel it should also be mentioned that, somewhat disappointingly, both characters are voiced by white actresses. It’s unclear if Frazer was always intended to be of mixed heritage, with her skin being on the very pale end for someone with Indian heritage. In combination with the slightly less HD graphics of the PS3 (which the first three games debuted on before being remastered for PS4), I hadn’t realised Chloe was of colour in the two games she had already appeared in. It wasn’t confirmed her heritage was Indian until the developers mentioned in while making The Lost Legacy, which does make me suspect it wasn’t in fact always the case.
More confusing is Nadine Ross, who’s is noticeably of colour during her first appearance, who is portrayed by white actress Laura Bailey (who has stated that the colour of the character she was to play wasn’t disclosed to her when she auditioned). Both Bailey and Claudia Black have played the characters in the main series, but in any case, the instance of what is essentially brown/blackfacing is the let down in what otherwise is an exciting prospect. The antagonist of The Lost Legacy is Indian and played by actor Usman Ally (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) a Swazi-American actor who spent part of his upbringing in Pakistan.
This just shows that there is still a long way to go, but unfortunate casting aside, we have video game’s first South Asian protagonist. Despite this, I haven’t seen any other media outlet comment on this.
Similar to how the Black Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream American comics and how Jodie Whitaker is the first female actress to play the Doctor, a bigger deal needs to be made.
The game has got the expected whiny backlash from insecure white male gamers who are bemoaning the loss of Nathan Drake as their playable character (ignoring the fact that Drake’s storyline perfectly wrapped up at the end of A Thief’s End, and the character had retired from adventuring).
Media responds to success, and while it shouldn’t have to be our responsibility, the rest of us need to show the industry that yes, we do want more games with representation, both ethnicity wise and gender wise. We need to be louder. The existence of a South Asian female protagonist excites me and, knowing how strong Naughty Dog’s storytelling is, I can’t wait to see how her story unfolds.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is available on the Playstation store and in all major gaming retailers.