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Halo’s Black History Month armor shaders are unintentionally hilarious

Black History Month is that special time when video game companies try to show consumers how inclusive they are with special Black / African themed in-game cosmetics and messages of appreciation for the three or four Black employees they keep on staff at any one time.

In Halo’s case, it’s offering players a special set of armor shaders in colors and patterns typically associated with African art and culture. As a concept, these shaders are totally fine. Individual cosmetics players can use to zhuzh up their armor; cool, I dig it. But the way 343 slapped all these individual pieces together, like a ridiculous Voltron of Blackness, is darkly hilarious in a way I don’t think the company intended.

343 Industries wants you to know it’s Black y’all, and it’s Black y’all, and it’s Blackety Black, and it’s Black y’all. The shaders feature bold green, gold, and maroon colors — which are staples in a lot of African country flags — arranged in patterns reminiscent of kente cloth, a traditional African textile native to West Africa. In short, these armor shaders are Black AF.

Most of the time, video game companies’ attempts to appeal to their Black consumers range from useless to benign. Other times, like what 343 has done here, I’m left… let’s say bewildered.

Campaigns like this are all well and good but are functionally meaningless if the people behind them do not include the people these campaigns are supposed to reach. Looking at the Game Developers Conference’s 2024 industry survey, only 3 percent of the roughly 3,000 surveyed identified as Black.

Table from GDC’s 2024 State of the Industry Survey featuring a breakdown of the 3,000 respondents by race and ethnicity.

Graph: Game Developer’s Conference

Even worse, of the majority of those surveyed with 20 or more years of experience in the industry — the kind of people with the seniority to approve marketing materials like this — only 6 percent were Black men and none were Black women.

Microsoft doesn’t break down its diversity, equity, and inclusion report by sector, so I don’t know how many of its Black employees work at Xbox or any of its game studios. I don’t know if 343 consulted its Black employees on this specific piece of marketing, probably yes, especially since Pierre Hintze — the first Black studio head in Halo franchise history — is Black himself.

But looking at this pains me. It reminds me of that episode in The Boys season 3 when A-Train, the only Black member of The Seven — the show’s take on The Avengers — got a new African-themed super suit in order to court the approval of Black people thereby increasing his own popularity and his handlers’ bottom line.

Corporate needs you to find the difference between these two pictures.

Image: Amazon and Image: 343 Industries

Unlike in The Boys, there’s no malice in what 343 has done here. I wonder if, taken separately, the shaders were deemed appropriate, and someone in the art department slapped them all together to show them all off at once, resulting in what we see here. Or maybe the Black people who possibly did approve of this look all thought it was fine. That happens occasionally: Black people will make art for other Black people that misses the mark — just look at the reviews for The American Society of Magical Negroes. Hell, this could all be an elaborate joke — a Halo-ified version of a popular meme format on Black Twitter where we put a kufi on everyone from The Vision to Ed from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Regardless of the hows or the whys, I certainly laughed.

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