Black people have been notoriously underrepresented throughout the course of video gaming history. Take the recently released role playing gamer Outriders, which features only four hairstyles suitable for Black people out of 24 options. Even those lean on tired tropes such as minifros and dreads with inaccurate textures and unkempt patterns. The Oakland-based artist A.M. Darke noticed the same thing while scanning for Black hairstyles on the 3D asset marketplaces CGTrader and TurboSquid, which were replete with stereotypes.
So Darke, who also teaches digital arts at UC Santa Cruz, started recruiting fellow Black artists to create the Open Source Afro Hair Library, the world’s first free database of 3D-modeled Black hairstyles. When it launches on Juneteenth 2023, the resource will offer 3D assets for use in gaming and animation, and serve as a gallery to normalize Blackness in the gaming industry. Each artist will create one character with nine unique hairstyles, over which they have total artistic freedom.
“Artists have forever been working within the limitations of the available technology and pushing them to the limits to meet their creative aesthetic goals,” Darke tells Vice. “The problem is that it’s a lack of imagination, an impoverished view of Blackness. A lot of Black and brown people work on these teams. When making hair like ours gets pushed to the side, it sends a message that not only are you less than, you’re not even going to be considered if we have to spend too much time on you.”
According to H.D. Harris, one of the 3D artists contributing to the library, programming Black hair’s distinctive curls and textures can get difficult, but it’s not an impossible challenge to overcome. Insomniac, a gaming production studio within Sony, was recently praised for Afro-Latino character Miles Morales’s crisp fade, and some Twitter accounts focus specifically on calling out beautifully realized Black coiffures in gaming. But if the TLC vibes in 3D artist Jovan Wilson’s submissions are any indication, virtual Black hairdos may soon become one of gaming’s coolest features.