by Latonya Pennington

Witch Spring is a series of RPG games created by Korean developer Kiwi Walks. There are currently three games in the series, with a fourth tentatively scheduled for release next year. Each game revolves around a magical female deity living in hiding from human warriors. The humans have labeled the deities as witches. You spend each game training your witch, making her stronger with spells and useful pets as she tries to survive and solve the mystery of the rift between humans and deities.

As someone who has played Witch Spring and Witch Spring 2, I consider these games gems for a few reasons. One is that unlike many mobile games these days, both games can be played without internet and have no ads or in-app purchases. Another reason is that both games feature brown skinned female protagonists, Pieberry and Luna.

While Pieberry is a full-blooded deity with dark brown skin, Luna is a half-blooded deity with light brown skin. Both also have white hair and long ears signifying their deified heritage. Both stories occur parallel to each other in the first two games. Witch Spring stars Pieberry with a supporting role from Luna and Witch Spring 2 stars Luna with a supporting role from Pieberry. In both games, the two witches eventually become good friends.Their friendship is more developed and poignant in Witch Spring 2.

Even though “fantastic racism” isn’t a new plot element in RPGs, the use of it in Pieberry’s and Luna’s stories was interesting to me. Fantastic racism is fictional racism, often applied through the use of a imagined race of people meant to be a metaphor for the oppressed. In the Witch Spring series, fantastic racism is represented by the narrative of deities cast out by warriors and labeled witches.

In their respective games, Pieberry and Luna reclaim their place as deities and aid in the reemergence of the all-powerful deities known as Temple Lords. In addition, they become whole inside through their friendship and restoring their connection with other deities.

Since Witch Spring and Witch Spring 2 were so enjoyable for me, I looked forward to buying Witch Spring 3 until I noticed that Eirudy, the game’s female protagonist, had pale white skin.

At first, I thought this was a new type of half-blood deity. According to Witch Spring‘s Wikia page about the deity characters, some half blooded deities resemble humans others more resemble deities. Since the game’s lore established that anyone with deity heritage usually has brown skin, I looked at Eirudy’s character page for an explanation. The answer I found was not only unexpected, but also made me uncomfortable as a brown skinned person.

In a section describing Eirudy’s appearance, it is stated that she has used magic to hide her long ears and dark skin, giving herself pale white skin to blend in with the humans she lives among. As soon as I read this sentence, I was instantly reminded of how dark skinned people of color around the world are pressured to lighten their skin in order to fit European beauty standards. It’s worth noting that Witch Spring’s fictional countries of Vavelia and Dekarr remind me of Western countries like England  and America due to how their corrupt religious institutions and monarchy taught their warriors to condemn and hunt witches. Not to mention, I can’t recall seeing any brown skinned human NPCs

As an American, I cannot speak with authority on colorism in North or South Korea. Based on the op-eds, blog posts, and discussion threads I saw after typing in “colorism korea”, the issue is a pretty major topic. This makes the reasoning behind Eirudy’s appearance even more disappointing, especially given the compelling narratives of the previous games.

Pieberry and Luna would not have resonated with me as much if they had pale white skin like Eirudy. They would’ve been white female witches in an endless sea of white female witches in fictional worlds. Training two brown skinned girls, creating new spells for them, and fighting corruption made me feel magical and heroic as a brown skinned person. Seeing them reconnect with their deity heritage reminded me of how I learned to reconnect to my Blackness and became empowered from it.

Not only did Eirudy’s physical appearance make me think of colorism, but it also made me think of how white female characters are as much of a default as white male characters. The first two Witch Spring games were the first RPG games where I could play brown skinned female leads who had their own stories.

I don’t expect a video game developer to cater to the needs of one player, but I know I’m not the only one who wants more brown skinned female leads. It’s 2018 and RPGs should do better by their players.

Latonya Pennington is a freelance pop culture critic and RPG enthusiast. They have written pieces for places such as Fireside Fiction, Wear Your Voice magazine, and PRIDE, among others.

Twitter: @TonyaWithAPen.