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Forspoken developer raises eyebrows for describing game’s Black protagonist as having “hip-hoppy” walk

todayApril 12, 2022 2

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Square Enix has come under fire for describing Forspoken protagonist Frey Holland, who is Black, as having a “hip-hoppy kind of walk”.

The comment was made during a recent preview session attended by Eurogamer, and was part of a section dedicated to the game’s performance capture.

Other descriptors of Forspoken’s main character seen to be negative Black stereotypes have also been criticised, such as a mention of Holland as being “an orphan” and “very angry”.

The comments above were made by BAFTA-nominated performance director Tom Keegan, who is overseeing performance capture on Forspoken.

Keegan said the following, which we have transcribed in full below for context:

“I think this is really a story about tribe and family. And when I’m first starting a project I think really deeply about the big themes – what are they and how do they relate to my own life? And then I ask the actors to do the same.

“When I first got together with Ella [Balinska, Frey Holland’s performance capture artist] we sat in my living room and we just talked about family – about our mothers and fathers, when they were there and when they weren’t there. And I think this is really Frey’s journey in Athia in Forspoken.

“She’s a transactional New Yorker, she’s an orphan, she’s very angry. And her purpose in life is really to figure out the puzzle of who she is. When you become 21 something happens where you really want your own identity. And when she finds herself going to a portal to this land – Athia – it’s like she is confronted by that. She’s confronted by ‘who am I?’. And this culture clash that’s set up between her character Frey and this land is wonderful – it’s really fun.

“Frey has [sentient bracelet] Cuff – Jonathan Cake plays a wonderful straight man to Ella. Ella should really do comedy – she’s got a wicked sense of comedy – I think it’s a really fun pair I think players will get a really big kick out of.

“One thing we really worked on with Ella was the walk – the character’s walk. She has this kind of hip-hoppy kind of walk, and Ella herself is very athletic. Performance capture is very much a physical medium as well as vocal medium, and so in addition to finding the walk for every character, and Ella’s character, it was finding the voices for those characters. Luminous really gave us a lot of leeway to work with the script and for actors to really bring something personal to each of their characters. So with the gameplay Luminous has been working on, I really can’t wait to see how all this turns out.”

There was criticism too of comments by lead writers Allison Rymer and Todd Stashwick, who said Frey had “fallen through [the] cracks of society” until she was “on the verge of prison”.

Journalists who attended the preview session noted the lack of Black developers present.

In response, Square Enix provided Eurogamer with the following statement:

“Our writers and VO talent were also instrumental to the development of Frey’s character,” a Square Enix spokesperson said, “and Ella Balinska has also been fantastic to work with – she immediately connected with Frey as a character and has been incredibly passionate about getting her portrayal in the game right, providing invaluable feedback throughout the motion and VO capture process.

“Additionally, we worked closely with a number of consultants from BIPOC backgrounds to help portray Frey’s character and tell the story from her perspective. Our supporting cast also features several women of colour, so we’re incredibly excited for players to experience the full story of Forspoken next year.”

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