While the gaming industry has seen record sales during the pandemic – valued at US$175 billion last year – minority representation in the space has lagged behind its explosive growth. A 2021 survey by the International Game Developers Association found that only 4% of game developers in the United States identify as black.
“We saw the highest numbers ever for respondents who felt diversity was important, but 74% said there was not equal treatment and opportunities for everyone within of our industry,” the survey said.
Due to a lack of representation within the industry, black video game protagonists from major studios are few and far between. And when black characters are portrayed, their portrayals are often stereotyped — for example, only being included as characters who are athletes or sidekicks to white protagonists. “In film, there have historically been three roles in which you see black characters: Black as Violent, Black as Sidekick, Black as Helper. This has also been true in video games,” said Kishonna Gray, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an interview with Tech Crunch.
HYPEBEAST spoke with neil jones, Keisha Howard and Kang Gaming for more information on the experience of black creatives working in the games industry and the changes they want to see in the industry in the future. A freelance 3D artist and game developer from Detroit, Jones is the creator of a popular game called Aerial_Knight which is inspired by, among other things, his hometown. Howard, a self-proclaimed “geek culture enthusiast,” is the founder of Sugar Gamers, an organization that champions underrepresented demographics in tech and gaming. And Kang Gaming worked as a professional game streamer for over six years, starting his career on YouTube before branching out to Twitch.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the gaming industry?
Neil Jones: I’ve always wanted to make games. I started out wanting to be an engineer, but I was terrible at coding when I started. I took a 3D art course in college and it turned out that I was really good at it, so I made it my core skill and learned other skills at as I grew up.
Keisha Howard: It never occurred to me that I could have a career in gambling until the housing crisis of 2008. The economy crashed while I was working in luxury real estate. By chance, I met a diverse group of women playing games in Chicago. I founded the Sugar Gamers community in 2009.
Kang Gaming: After the birth of my son, I had some free time while staying at home, so I decided to go. I went out, bought a cheap mic and camera, and started making YouTube videos. From there, I moved on to creating live content.
According to the International Game Developers Association, only 4% of American game developers identify as black. Why are there so few black creatives in the gaming industry?
Jones: This is because of many historical reasons as well as racial bias in the hiring process. A few years ago that number was only 2%, so we’re growing, but nothing can really make up for the time and the people we’ve lost who should have filled those roles in the first place. When you don’t have black lead characters in games, it’s a direct result of no black people in higher roles that make black people a priority.
Howard: In my experience over the past 12+ years, there’s a serious pipeline issue that starts with how black people are socialized when we’re younger and where the representation sits in Games. Growing up, we didn’t have a super cool tech, geek, gaming personality representing the many opportunities in space. Without socialization or representation, many African Americans grow up encouraged to pursue other types of careers. The game is not considered “serious” or expansive.
The control of access routes to industry has also been severe and blocked. These types of obstacles have led many black creatives to burn out quickly and become discouraged from continuing.
Kang: I think there’s still a lot of stigma in the black community around gaming. Many of our parents and grandparents thought it was, at best, a waste of time or, at worst, detrimental. So a lot of us didn’t really get into gaming as much as our white peers, except for the random games that people were playing, like sports games or fighting games. This is likely directly related to the low number of black people in tech.
Many black video game developers, artists, and gamers have formed peer networks for support and access to resources, such as job opportunities and career counseling. What advice do you have for black creators new to the industry looking for community?
Jones: In this space, 10 people exercising the same profession will tell you 10 different stories. All that matters is that you believe in yourself and make the choices that are right for you. There are so many communities out there supporting us like Blacks in Gaming and Black Voices in Gaming. I highly recommend checking them out and connecting with them.
Howard: Collaboration is imperative. Teamwork really makes the dream work. Also, an understanding that continuous self-directed learning is a requirement. Regardless of the DEI issues the gaming industry is facing, it remains highly competitive. Being resilient in the face of rejection and other challenges that will inevitably arise is essential.
How can the games industry become more inclusive for black creators? What changes need to be made?
Jones: This is a very big question because there is so much lost time that can never be made up for. On the contrary, raising awareness is a good starting point. create studios in black cities and make hiring black developers a priority – not just in February, but year-round.
Howard: Capital to further enrich and develop black creators and other marginalized groups is vital. There also needs to be a deconstruction and review of the data that investors in this space have used to determine metrics for success. Additionally, intentional support from studios like Glow Up Games and Brass Lion Entertainment, [among] other independent studios.
Kang: We need to highlight black creators more. In this context, protecting black creators from abuse and harassment must be a priority.
What do you hope to see in terms of visibility within the gaming industry over the next few years?
Jones: Just more black faces working in the industry. I think that would solve a lot of problems over time.
Howard: While I love streamers, cosplayers, and professional gamers, I’d love to see the gaming industry add more exposure to game developers – the artists, narrative designers, and audio programmers who actually bring these games to life. for all of us.
Kang: That just seeing black people will become the norm. The featured black creator or black character in a game will not be considered “political” by some people.
Interviews have been lightly edited for brevity.