If you play video games, you might have noticed that Black avatars have been constantly overlooked when it comes to hair. In fact, for as long as games have existed the hair in video games is often poorly designed for Black characters and not inclusive of gamers of color, with limited options and poor design of hair textures. That’s why Oakland-based artist and UC Santa Cruz assistant professor A.M. Darke began recruiting Black artists for the industry’s first free database of 3D-modeled Black hairstyles, the Open Source Afro Hair Library.
The library, which is currently under development and set for launch on Juneteenth 2023, will be a free, user-friendly, highly curated 3D model database of Black hairstyles and textures and a feminist, anti-racist resource for digital artists and 3D content creators. Armed with more deliberate options for Black hair in video games, it “seeks to address the lack of thoughtful representation of Blackness in games, virtual/augmented reality, and other 3D media” and will lower the barrier for all future creators to “integrate accurate, diverse, and respectful representations of Blackness in digital media”.
Before launching the project, Darke did research into the depiction of Black hair in the space, finding that users must scroll past crude racial stereotypes and misogynistic representations of women. The top 3 results for “Black Hair” on TurboSquid are 1. A horse. 2. Another horse. 3. ‘Long Black Anime Female Hairstyle’ – which is 30% a long black wig, and 70% a hypersexualized 3D model of a young woman with exposed breasts. The results from CGTrader include a bear, a cow, and a beard affixed to a white male character model.
Last Spring, Darke offered fellowships to Black 3D artists, giving them a $1500 stipend to design their own series of Black hair models. The results will be in the database that will change the future of Black representation in video games for good. “I am modeling the Open Source Afro Hair library as an impactful tool similar to other open-source software-based interventions such as Twine, Processing, and Makehuman, but that is explicitly designed to uplift and empower marginalized groups,” Darke wrote on her website. “The use of the term “Afro” in the Hair Library is not just an ethnic description, but a political one, and my vision for the library is that it will be inclusive of all ethnically marginalized hair textures and styles.”