This article contains light spoilers for Elden Ring, we warned ye Tarnished.
Omitting colors from your wardrobe, cosplaying characters, or “not caring” about what you wear — these particular daily choices may seem throwaway to some, but in reality, these eloquent threads of thought weave the very fabric of your style. Fashion is one of the purest forms of self expression, and we use it to communicate information at every moment. That’s why I’ve been so blasé with the portrayal of dress in major games recently: it’s drab! Overpriced cosmetic microtransactions are the norm for shooters like Fortnite and Valorant, and big budget action-adventures have similar-looking, safe designs desperate to appear cool to the stereotypical gamer. It’s all vapid and familiar. “Where is the swag?” you may ask yourself. “Where is that elusive, exclusive drip?”
Don’t worry, I have the answer. After spending over 60 hours traveling throughout the Lands Between, slaying beasts and donning their fits, I’ve found that Elden Ring is an almost utopic microcosm of flair and taste that parallels the real-world concept of fashion. From audacious garbs to specialized and expressive character builds, Elden Ring fosters a flexible freedom of self that most games do not. Although miserably, it also continues the industry-wide trend of unfairly treating Black people like a trivial afterthought.
Walking around in Elden Ring, you find fleeting, translucent phantoms that serve as active memories of other players. Yesterday I saw a ghost that was head to toe in a crusty, pimple-like suit of bloody barnacles. This armor of asymmetrical, leaking lesions is the type of outfit you’d see everyone wearing in a nightmare blunt rotation moments before you have a panic attack. I later realized this Omen armor set comes from a freak with the misfortune of being called “the loathsome Dung Eater.”
Although I would never wear that zit fit, I have to give it credit for being so deeply weird that it’s invigorating. Today’s cosmetics are always pristine, awkwardly sexy, or calculated brand collaborations. Recent purchasable examples include Halo Infinite‘s regressively faint armor and palette swaps, the uncomfortable character costumes for women in Street Fighter V, and Marvel’s Doctor Strange arriving in Fortnite right before the launch of his new movie. It’s remarkable when something so hard on the eyes is wearable in a game, and I’d love to see eccentricity gradually become a pillar for in-game fashion.
Soulsborne games are known for hiding plot points within item descriptions, letting players seek out the world’s details in obscure ways. That method of hands-off storytelling generates a fundamental ambiguity and invites players to fill the unknown gaps with their own fiction. Since Elden Ring is saturated with peerless outfits, props, and weapons that you can mix and match, your aesthetic can serve as the foundation for substantial stories as well.
My character, Dot, started out as a Hero — the dripless class — but has ended up with a style I’m really digging. She’s adorned herself with frayed charcoal wizard robes that are laced with dusty gold and host to scattered red crystals. Dot’s strength is maxed out, so she carries a colossal greatsword reminiscent of Berserk’s Guts. She also doesn’t know a drop of magic, so I visualize her backstory as a failed wizard whose cloak curled over with darkness when she was banished for magical malpractice. Lost in The Lands Between and unable to cast magic, she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to swordplay. Eventually, she came to wield the largest sword and challenge the very spellcasters who condemned her. She still wears the wizard robes expressly for the drip — it’s always about fashion over function.
I’ve gone through many costume swaps with Dot, and it’s fun to watch her story evolve in unison with her clothing and build choices. She’s transformed from a tattered warrior to a humble aristocrat to a dark, hulking, and magic-less wizard hellbent on revenge. Just like fashion in the real world, I’ll never be completely satisfied with her style, but Elden Ring‘s breadth of costumes and charitable respec mean I can perpetually switch it up until I become Elden Lord.
Elden Ring understands the appeal of cosmetics and fashion, as well as why players are so infatuated with those concepts — a fact that makes its unnecessary shortcomings all the more perplexing. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they can have such a robust character creator yet one of the most despairingly weak options for Black people in a game, especially in 2022.
Elden Ring has no Black hairstyles — well, it technically has one “afro,” as The Verge’s Ash Parrish points out, but it is such a flimsy and melancholic attempt at one that I will not be calling it an afro. This is dumbfounding because its character creator is so malleable that people have managed to squeeze out eerily accurate versions of Human Shrek, emo Kermit, and this thing, but it cannot create locks, curls, flat tops, twists, puffs, braids, fades, waves, or cornrows. Looking at all of these options, one has to assume the developers valued potential character gags over accurate traits for people with dark skin. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I’ve written about being Black in games a lot. And while I’ve seen slight changes over the years, they have been at the speed of ancient and neglected 24-hour diner molasses. I feel like a broken record at this point. I’m sick of having this conversation, and I’m deeply saddened that Elden Ring, one of my favorite games, is guilty of this, too. Just make Black hair better. Hire people to consult with and program it. Period. How is it that Black people always get the short end of the stick with this?
Elden Ring holds such a large plot of my mental real estate, and I love how fashion and self expression are at the core of its fantastical adventures. Its unapologetic peculiarity is a breath of fresh air from the pristine plastic fumes of fashion in larger games. From its character creator to the neverending secrets around each in-game corner, it’s such an expansive game. So it still leaves me thinking: why are Black people always left behind?