Ethnicity Change of Established Character Spawns Controversy in Gaming Community


Photo Credit: Batman Arkham Videos

Harley Quinn in official reveal trailer for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

More than five years after the massively popular video game Batman: Arkham Knight and eleven after the original hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Studios is back with a highly anticipated continuation of the Arkham Franchise. But this game is not centered around the Dark Knight, who was seemingly killed during Arkham Knight. Rocksteady’s new game, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, stars four of the most recognizable members of DC’s Rogues Gallery: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, and Captain Boomerang. It’s the depiction of Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, that has generated controversy in the gaming community after the release of the cinematic reveal trailer.

The founder of Rocksteady Studios, Sefton Hill, recently confirmed in an interview that Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is set in the established Arkham universe. Hill went on to say that the game would continue plot threads and characters last seen in Arkham Knight. Normally this would be cause for celebration in the game community, as some fans were bitterly disappointed with Batman’s apparent death at the end of Arkham Knight. But one thing about the new release has irritated some fans: the change in Deadshot’s ethnicity.

Left: Deadshot in Arkham City (2011); Right: Deadshot in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League (2022). (Photo Credit: Arkham Wiki)

Deadshot landed on the scene of 2011’s Batman: Arkham City as a side villain. Deadshot appeared again in the prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, as one of eight assassins sent by Joker to kill the Batman. Throughout both, Deadshot’s mocap actor and game model were Caucasian males. However, in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Deadshot’s character model became an African-American male. This is not the first time Deadshot’s ethnicity has deviated from his roots. In Zack Snyder’s 2016 Suicide Squad film, Deadshot was played by popular African-American actor Will Smith. 

Will Smith portrayed Deadshot in the 2016 movie version of Suicide Squad. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros./Everett)

Some in the gaming community, such as commenters on One Angry Gamer, are angered by what they see as Rocksteady’s efforts to “pander to the BLM crowd who want to defund the police and riot across America.” Others welcome the change and believe it may be a first step in adding diversity to the franchise. Keiran Rao ‘23 said, “Race is a complicated issue and gaming companies are trying to do something, however sometimes it doesn’t work out.” Gavin Bermudez ‘23 had a more optimistic take, remarking that “gaming is a massive mainstream platform which can promote greater racial representation as well as support more open-minded and accepting perspectives upon all types of people of various backgrounds.” 

With the Bay Area now in quarantine for the foreseeable future, many students at SHC have more time for leisure activities, such as video games. In fact, it is a fair assumption that the majority of students play video games of some kind. With such a large crop of gamers, it is critical that they feel welcomed and included in the character rosters of games. Although she spends a lot of time practicing ballet, Anna McFarlane ‘23 is also a summertime gamer and commented that she would welcome the change of a character’s race as long as it did not cause the character to fall into racial stereotypes. To students at SHC, it seems the inclusion of an African-American main character in a premier game shows that the world may finally be moving towards equal representation.

Most are aware of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and far too many others. Rocksteady Studios may indeed be trying to increase its sales to the Black community by showing support towards the BLM movement, especially because people of color aren’t generally included in video games, in the same way that they are often not fully fleshed out characters in other media. The Arkham games have consistently struggled with bringing in characters of color. Only two such characters, Lucius Fox and Aaron Cash have recurring roles in the franchise. In this sense, the addition of a central character of color seems to be a welcome theme that will break the largely monochromatic mold of Rocksteady Studios. Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is set to be released in 2022 for Microsoft Windows, Xbox series X, and PlayStation 5.