Black History Month is that special time when video game companies try to show consumers how inclusive they are with special Black / African themed in-game cosmetics and messages of appreciation for the three or four Black employees they keep on staff at any one time.
In Halo’s case, it’s offering players a special set of armor shaders in colors and patterns typically associated with African art and culture. As a concept, these shaders are totally fine. Individual cosmetics players can use to zhuzh up their armor; cool, I dig it. But the way 343 slapped all these individual pieces together, like a ridiculous Voltron of Blackness, is darkly hilarious in a way I don’t think the company intended.
Most of the time, video game companies’ attempts to appeal to their Black consumers range from useless to benign. Other times, like what 343 has done here, I’m left… let’s say bewildered.
Even worse, of the majority of those surveyed with 20 or more years of experience in the industry — the kind of people with the seniority to approve marketing materials like this — only 6 percent were Black men and none were Black women.
But looking at this pains me. It reminds me of that episode in The Boys season 3 when A-Train, the only Black member of The Seven — the show’s take on The Avengers — got a new African-themed super suit in order to court the approval of Black people thereby increasing his own popularity and his handlers’ bottom line.
Unlike in The Boys, there’s no malice in what 343 has done here. I wonder if, taken separately, the shaders were deemed appropriate, and someone in the art department slapped them all together to show them all off at once, resulting in what we see here. Or maybe the Black people who possibly did approve of this look all thought it was fine. That happens occasionally: Black people will make art for other Black people that misses the mark — just look at the reviews for The American Society of Magical Negroes. Hell, this could all be an elaborate joke — a Halo-ified version of a popular meme format on Black Twitter where we put a kufi on everyone from The Vision to Ed from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Regardless of the hows or the whys, I certainly laughed.