In the first of our Black Names In Video Games series, where we look at black characters in gaming, we check out Iris, the Dragon Master-in-training.
It’s a topic that sends racists into a foaming frenzy: racial representation in gaming. No black people in this game? “Well, they weren’t around in medieval times; it wouldn’t be realistic to feature them.” But dragons and wizards are acceptable? And so it goes on. But instead of lamenting black exclusion, we’re going to showcase the representation we’ve had thus far. There will be stereotypes to consider in the early days but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, here is our first Black Names In a Video Game participant – Iris.
WARNING: This post contains anime SPOILERS!
- Name: Iris
- Age: Unknown, some sources suggest 10-12
- Occupation: Opelucid Gym leader (Pokemon White), Pokemon League Champion (Pokemon Black2/White 2)
- Bio: Iris is the first black character to feature in the Pokemon series. Yes, her hair is big but it neither defines her character nor is it used as a comedic crutch. And people don’t ask to touch her hair every 5 minutes. It may have taken nearly 20 years to do all this but we’re glad it happened. Iris is a gym leader in Pokémon White (oh, the irony) and the League Champion in the sequels. That’s quite a glow up. What’s more, she’s also a Dragon master-in-training and follows in the footsteps of Lance and Clair as a Dragon-type trainer, who were Champions and final gym leaders respectively. This feels like an inadvertent middle finger to those racist fantasy geeks, huh?
In the anime, Iris follows Ash and, later, Cilan on his Unova journey. Is it a little off that she swings from vines and is considered a wild girl? Probably. And that she’s bossy, a common black girl trope? Perhaps, but I think that’s more aligned with every girl that meets Ash (Misty blew her gasket quite a few times). But ultimately, she wants to be a Dragon Master in the same way Ash wants to be a Pokémon Master. She knows her stuff and despite her defeats, she learns from them and becomes stronger. Later in the Best Wishes series, she demonstrates dragon telepathy which helps her catch a Gible. Dragon. Telepathy. How amazing is that? Move over, Daenerys Targaryen.
So how does Iris hold up? Well, away from the questionable wild girl characterisation of the anime, she’s awesome. She can read the minds of Dragon Pokémon and in the games, she becomes a Gym Leader and then a Champion. We stan!