I'm writing fantasy stories in different worlds which do not share any history with our own. I was thinking I wanted to move away from the classic 'all white cast' scenario in most games, by picking one of the groups of people and making them a different skin tone.
I had originally thought this would be easy, in a completely different fantasy world with it's own culture there is no reason I can't pick any random skin tone and give it to a group of people, beyond ensuring they live in right geographic location (ie closeness to the equator) for that tone to have evolved. However, when I actually tried to pick a group of people I ran into the issue that I could see someone making claims that a group is racist or that my game has unfortunate racial implications even though the group was created without consideration for race and any race is effectively an afterthought on my part. It puts me in the awkward situation of feeling it's 'safer' to have no diversity then have diversity that someone can complain about how it's used.
To give an example the story where it came up involves one group (group A) being invaded by another (group B). The protagonist is actually jumping between two versions of the timeline, one a generation in the future, so we can see in the future that group B successful conquered group A and is now ruling over the part of the world. How good a ruler group B is over group A depends on who you ask. The first part of the plot seem a clear cut attempt to stop group B from invading in the 'past' timeline. As time goes on it will be learned that the real problem is both sides are being manipulated into conflict by a third party who will be the real villains of the story.
The story has some parallels to the colonization of the Americas, including a preaching of something like manifest-destiny and the fact that diseases spread by the new contact between the races will take more lives then the actual war took, though in this case the diseases ravished both groups about equally. As such I'm afraid that if I don't keep everyone the same race it will bring up claims that I'm misrepresenting colonization or other claims of unfortunate implications. This seems true regardless of which race I make group A or group B.
To give another, less extreme, example I have a different story with two groups in something of a cold war with each other. The Kingdom has a strong central leadership, a very strong military presence, and rules over a larger area; while the republic has a weak central goverment and only militias, but is more technically advanced and owns more fertile lands. Originally the kingdom is depicted as bad guys due to the kings apparent warmongering, but later on both sides are shown to be guilty of questionable decisions and neither side clearly in the right or the wrong. As in the other story there is a bigger villain that plays a role in later parts of the story.
In this case I'm less apprehensive about assigning a race to one group or the other, since neither side seems, in my mind, to fit as directly into one racial stereotype or have as direct a parallel to something that is always going to be bound associated to racial discussion like colonization has. Still I worry about depicting battle between two racial groups (war will be declared during the story) is always going to be a problem.
The countries will not contain a mixture of different races, limited transportaiton technology and other world building reasons mean each group will be made up almost exclusively of one phenotype. Likewise since these are video games I can't realistically do a blending of skin tones across a nation (with southern being darker then northern). I can do a sharp contrast of one group a different race then the other or nothing at all just due to technically difficulties of doing something more subtle.
So my question is, can/should I try to add some racial diversity by having the different groups be different races? Or should I error on the side of caution and just say both groups lived on the same longitudinal line and thus are roughly the same skin tone (possibly with some other differences between the groups like general height or hair color which I think are safer to write)
If it can be safe to have my existing groups different skin tones then how do I do it in a way that prevents people from reading implication into the choice of race when I'm honestly willing to assign any skin tone to either group and wouldn't be changing their characterization? Should I just not worry about it, pick a race at random for each groups, and ignore the fact that some people will always find ways to be offended in what is written?