Black Names In Video Games #1: Iris

Discussions about racial representation in gaming send racists into a foaming frenzy. No black people in a video 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 rather than continuing to lament black exclusion, I’m going to celebrate 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’s our first Black Names In a Video Game entrant: Iris.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers!

Factfile: Iris

  • Name: Iris
  • Age: Unknown, some sources suggest 10-12
  • Occupation: Opelucid Gym leader (Pokémon White), Pokemon League Champion (Pokemon Black 2/White 2)
  • Bio: Iris is one of the first black characters to feature in the Pokémon series (alongside Lenora who also features in Gen 5). It may have taken nearly 20 years to do this but I’m glad it happened and I’m glad her role was so dominant in the games: 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?

The anime

In the anime, Iris follows Ash and, later, Cilan on his Unova journey. The tropes are perhaps more prominent in the anime, unfortunately. Iris swings from vines, she’s considered a “wild girl” portrayed as bossy. But ultimately, she wants to be a Dragon Master in the same way Ash wants to be a Pokémon Master and she knows her stuff, in spite of her defeats. She learns from her mistakes and becomes stronger throughout the series.

Later on, she demonstrates dragon telepathy which helps her catch a Gible. Yes, you read that correctly. 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. I stan!

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