In a Nintendo Direct livestream for Splatoon 2, Nintendo introduced a new female duo named Pearl and Marina. But while most are glad about their inclusion in the game some have taken issue with the way that Marina, who is a dark-skinned woman of colour, has been portrayed.
Marina becomes the latest high profile Nintendo Switch game to feature a dark-skinned female character, with fighting game ARMS introducing Twintelle.
Splatoon 2: Why Nintendo is Catching Flak for Marina’s Portrayal
In Splatoon 2, Pearl and Marina are two of the coolest popstars on the scene. In a new trailer, the duo can be seen rocking out during a Splatfest event under their group name ‘Off the Hook’, pumping up the crowd and playing for their adoring fans. Like the in-game crowd, which features many non-white characters, many non-white fans in real life are enthusing about the duo too (myself included).
Marina in particular has seen an outpouring of love, with fanart (like that embedded below) already being made of the dark-skinned performer. Nintendo has often caught flak for its representation (or rather the lack thereof) of dark-skinned characters in its games, with ARMS‘ Twintelle being another rare example, and many are delighted to see Marina’s star power shine. Fans are also excited to see dark-skinned fans cosplay Marina as well.
But others are less enthusiastic, pointing to Marina’s clothing and her heritage as cause for concern. Marina is an Octoling, with the squid, Inkling, characters of the Splatoon universe having been at war with the Octarians for quite some time. The argument from some is that Octarians have been portrayed as evil in the inky title and that making Marina an Octoling too is troubling.
marina is so ?? cute?? help?? pic.twitter.com/JHZa1BaXCd
— ♡ Milk ♡ (@Milkcubusss) July 6, 2017
Marina being an Octoling does offer a lot of opportunity for interesting lore developments – why would Marina want to perform for Inklings? And can the groups we brought together through music? However, the implication that the main portrayal of a dark-skinned character in Splatoon 2 comes from a group that has traditionally been portrayed as the bad guys isn’t a good look.
Marina’s style has also been called out. While Pearl wears a white dress with an oversized zip running down the front, a relatively modest look, Marina’s is more revealing. She rocks a short, striped skirt and a black, (leather?), bikini-style top. Like Twintelle, she is more sexualised than the other, fairer-skinned characters in the game and unnecessarily so.
Although I am enthusiastic about Off the Hook’s inclusion in the game, I won’t dismiss the concerns brought up by other Splatoon 2 fans. Dark-skinned black women being hypersexualised and portrayed as antagonists is a common trope in media and it wouldn’t be surprising if Nintendo had fallen back on those in its attempts at being inclusive.
— Sami Briggs ⚡ (@SmaiART) July 6, 2017
However, I’d also argue that this says a lot about the quantity of non-white representation that Nintendo has offered over the years as much as it does about the quality. Marina and Twintelle’s style would be much less of an issue if there were other, high profile dark-skinned female characters in Nintendo games and if these were represented in less revealing outfits and were just as ‘modest’ as their pale-skinned peers.
It should be noted that Splatoon 2, like the first Splatoon, will allow players to customize their characters’ skin tone, including making their Inklings black. This is important as it means that Marina will not be the only representation of a dark-skinned character in the game. But some may argue that the prominence of Marina means that Nintendo should take extra care in considering how she is portrayed.
Likewise, if Pearl was an Octoling alongside Marina then Marina’s status as an Octarian wouldn’t stand out as much. The fact that Marina is an Octoling may be an unfortunate coincidence but it would look less like a malicious act or a portrayal based on subconsciously held anti-black beliefs if both were Octarian women.
Nintendo has made plenty of missteps regarding race in the past, including Animal Crossing: New Leaf only allowing characters to have darker skin tones if they got a tan or wore a mask. As the company steadily tries do better by its playerbase, being inclusive in terms of race and ethnicity, it may well make more missteps like this. But as this Splatoon 2 controversy makes clear, fans will be less inclined to let Nintendo off the hook in future.
[UPDATE – We have updated the post to reflect the fact that Splatoon 2 allows players to customize the skin tone of their characters.]
Splatoon 2 will be released on July 21 on Nintendo Switch.
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