Tag Archives: diversity

Minorities In Game Development Still Don’t Have The Support They Need

The New York Times profiled six minority game developers today on their experiences in the industry. Their anecdotes are both illuminating and depressing.

As a fan, I know how discouraging it can be not to see yourself reflected in the media that you love. A story I often tell is that until I saw Shawn dating Angela on Boy Meets World, the idea that a black woman and a white man could be in a romantic relationship together never crossed my mind. As a young person with no real-life examples to draw on, it seemed like an impossibility.

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In video games, the situation is more dire. I see black characters in games infrequently, and black women even less. On top of that, when I point out these discrepancies of representation, what I hear from the culture at large is that they shouldn’t be important to me.

The developers featured in the Times story, headlined “Fear, Anxiety and Hope: What It Means to Be a Minority in Gaming,” are using their games to try to create change for minority gamers. But they are not immune to that lack of support and visibility.

Davionne Gooden told the Times that he started making games shortly after getting his first laptop in the fifth grade. His game, featuring an all-black cast, is about a woman in a coma battling her nightmares. He said that he is hopeful, though he also points out that the issues that he seeks to tackle in his game—the experiences of marginalized people and mental health—are ones white creators rarely think about.

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“I’m an optimist,” Gooden said. “I hope that things will eventually be better as a whole.”

Similarly, Mitu Khandakar, a professor at the NYU Games Center, told the Times: “If you’re a young person of color playing games, you don’t really see yourself represented. That kind of instills in you this sense that maybe I don’t really belong.”

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The feeling of not belonging certainly applies to Dietrich Squinkifer, or Squinky, who said that they burned out at their job at Walking Dead developer Telltale Games after being vocal about issues of race, sex and gender got them labeled as a “troublemaker” at their job. That kind of pushback was not just a facet of their place of employment Squinky told the Times that the threat of harassment from the larger community of gamers is ever looming.

“I think that’s part of the reason a lot of my focus in my work has gone more toward more experimentality, installation and performance art, following more of an art world tradition,” Squinky said. “I am to some degree scared of creating something that will get popular enough within the video game world community that it does receive that kind of backlash.”

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The rejection from the community at large is part of why Julian Cordero does not call himself a gamer, despite being a person who develops video games. His game, made with fellow developer Sebastián Valbuena, is called Despelote, and is about playing pickup games of soccer in city parks in the developers’ hometown of Quito, Ecuador.

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“With Despelote, Mr. Cordero is trying to use soccer to reject the competitiveness of gaming, which he believes engenders the misogyny and consumerism that have been endemic to the culture,” reads the article.

Reading all these quotes can make it easy to give up hope. It’s hard to struggle, even harder when you feel that you are alone. But to round out these interviews, the Times spoke to Aziza Brown, founder of Dynamik Focus, an esports team. She says that she finds the support she needs in real-life communities.

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“I had a talk with a woman in gaming, where I was like, please come to the offline communities, come to other places, because once the anonymous barrier is gone, you can see the person to their face, you can confront them, that behavior stops,” she said.

Source: Kotaku.com

There’s A Latinx Void At The Heart Of Video Games

A still from Life Is Strange 2
Image: Square Enix

I have been in mourning. Loss has followed me for weeks now, and I have not been able to give it a name.

It’s been almost two weeks since the twin shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The former, in particular, has troubled me, as its formless tragedy has taken on the shape of reported news: How the suspected shooter had both reportedly written a manifesto and confessed to the police that he was specifically targeting Mexicans, echoing white nationalist rhetoric. How he killed 22 people, including Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died protecting their infant son. How that son was then used for a brazen photo opportunity with a smiling president.

I’m Latin-American, alive during a moment in American history where hostility towards people of my ethnic background is being stoked, encouraged, permitted. Where men seek to gun down people like me, and the government rounds us up, indifferent to the point that they regularly apprehend citizens. In the wake of a staggering hate crime against Latinx people, it’s hard not to go numb. Just shut down, you know? I try to keep moving, to not let that numbness take over. Art helps. It may seem foolish to talk about entertainment during a moment of crisis, but one of art’s many functions is to help process real human pain and tragedy, to help individuals sort themselves out as they find a way to move forward.

Latinx art abounds: I found music I could listen to, books I could read, movies I could watch as I put myself back together to face the world and do my part. Here’s what messes me up: I didn’t know where to look for that in video games.

It’s not that there aren’t spaces, people working towards making video games a more distinctly diverse place. There’s the Game Developers of Color Expo, the Indie Game Developers Association’s Latinx In Gaming special interest group; there are podcasts and fan communities for people involved in this medium to find each other. Latinx folks are out there.

Yet the video games that have broken into the wider public consciousness—in the biggest games and the biggest studios—do not seem to care all that much. On its biggest stages, the games industry still hasn’t quite figured out what it means by words like “inclusion” or “diversity.” Executives tout initiatives built around the idea that “video games are for everyone,” but it’s a marketer’s idea of “everyone”: amorphous, anodyne, and cold, akin to visiting EPCOT and calling it a world tour.

Image: Disney

In the games industry’s endless quest to appeal to everyone, to not turn away a single customer—hateful ones included—it hasn’t really welcomed anyone. Called them by name and made them feel at home. If Disney, an entertainment company that is nothing if not ruthless in pursuing universal hits, can produce Coco, Black Panther, and Bao—each an authentic expression of specific cultures filtered through the lens of fiction—it’s baffling that big-budget games have barely tried.

Playing a video game often means I have to leave my identity at the door, or give up on the part of me that cares about hearing Spanish on the train, about knowing where to get an empanadilla or recognizing Bad Bunny booming out someone’s window. Instead, I must become something neutral: Guardian, Warden, Champion, Soldier. Of what? Damned if I know.

It’s true that mainstream, big budget video games have improved by leaps and bounds in the kinds of people they depict. Their sci-fi futures are diverse; Anthem, Destiny, and Warframe are full of brown faces, with art styles that heavily reference cultures from around the world. Call of Duty games have quietly depicted some of the most diverse casts in blockbuster games, sometimes allowing players to choose between a male or female protagonist and including characters from all kinds of backgrounds. Play a big release like Days Gone and, although the protagonist is white, you’ll find a world populated by people of color, like Manny the mechanic, nurse Addison Walker, or your former partner Rikki Patil.

These are good things, but being present is not the same as being seen. This is what people mean when they say diverse games are nice, but diverse studios are better. It’s more important to have games made by people from different backgrounds who are empowered to make decisions that are felt in finished games.

Image: Electronic Arts

This is usually the part of an essay like this where the writer calls for an industry to “do better,” but I am not convinced that anything better will be done. I’ve written about this before, but to be Latinx in America is to be ignored. You are perpetually a talking point in someone else’s argument: Right-wing hysteria over migrants. Left-wing lust for votes. White opinions about the authenticity of a restaurant. Semi-regular debates over the service industry. Video games are not immune to this deep-seated ignorance.

It can fuck you up. Make you want to check out. Why care about a video game industry that doesn’t care about me? Or support other people like me?

I feel for the bold independent developers from marginalized communities, the queer, brown, neuroatypical creators laboring in the shadow of video games as a corporate monolith, working to prove that the medium is not limited by its biggest and loudest voices. And then I also feel for the Latinx folks who play games and have to figure out every day how to navigate a world where dipshits might yell at them for speaking Spanish. I feel for the Latinx people who, in the wake of the biggest hate crime to specifically target us, had to watch as the national media erased us from the story, turning it into another in a long list of scuffles the President has had with the public. There aren’t many places to look if you want some semblance of hope. Even fewer if you look to video games.

Like I said, I have been mourning.

Do not misunderstand. I do not need video games to merely adopt the trappings of my world. To go no further than providing a perfunctory reminder of who I am. To add a character my shade of brown to Overwatch, or to infuse soundtracks with Latin trap. What I ask is something simpler: just tell me why I shouldn’t leave.

Source: Kotaku.com

Introduce Your Kid to More Diverse YouTube Game Streamers

Screenshot: GamingWithKev/YouTube

One of our readers emailed us with an interesting problem: He’s the father of three boys, ages 6, 10, and 12, and they love watching gaming streamers on YouTube, but all the gamers they watch are white dudes. Guys like DanTDM and Ninja make fantastic content that really connects with kids, but they do it from a white man’s point of view, and don’t represent the diversity that exists among people who actually play games. YouTube’s “recommended” algorithm offers little help, as it tends to serve up videos like the ones you already watch (in this case, more white guys), so I put together this list of five awesome game streamers who are not straight, white, men, but who are appropriate for kids.

There are more than 85 million-bajillion streamers on YouTube, so this list is far from comprehensive, but it’s a place to start. Please add your own favorite streamers in the comments.

RadioJH Games

Photo: YouTube

Audrey is the friendly, funny host of RadioJH Games, a YouTube channel that focuses on kid-friendly games like Slime Rancher, Minecraft, and a ton of Roblox. She also creates Roblox role-play videos with “The Taco Crew” a group of well-known YouTube streamers. RadioJH Games has over a million subscribers, and it’s easy to see why: Audrey’s passion for video games and her friendly personality shine through in all her videos, for example this play through of indie horror game “Granny.” She’s very relatable and unpretentious, and comes across like a regular person who loves games instead of like a person trying to be YouTube famous.

Felicia Day

Photo: YouTube

An O.G. in the gaming and nerd worlds, Felicia Day has broken out of the geek circle and into mainstream entertainment in recent years, starring on shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000, and lending her voice to cartoons like Adventure Time and Three Bare Bears, as well as racking a ton of writing and producing credits. Even with all her work, Day still manages to stream video game playthroughs on YouTube channel occasionally. She might not update as often as some game streamers, but her charisma and lighthearted style are infectious, and the way she straddles the line between creator and consumer of geek media is fascinating. For instance, check out this video of her interacting with herself in Dragon Age: Mark of the Assassin: It’s totally meta. Caution: While Day’s personal style is strictly PG-13, she does stream some M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

GamingWithKev

Photo: YouTube

If your kid plays Roblox, have ‘em join GamingWithKev’s over 4 million followers. GWK updates constantly, highlighting all kinds of interesting Roblox content, with occasional streams of other games like Happy Wheels, Raft, and even Super Mario Maker, and he does it all without cursing or negativity. GWK’s appealing, open style is instantly relatable no matter what he’s playing, but he is at his best when playing Roblox horror stories. Check out this this video of a walkthrough of “The Cute, Little Doll” to see what I mean. A word of caution: Kev’s channel contains some older “prank” videos, and while they’re not especially egregious, if your kid is the type to imitate what he or she sees on YouTube, you might want to steer them away from this content, or your laptop might end up in the swimming pool.

Shubble

Photo: YouTube

I love Shubble! Her charming channel completely ditches “edgy” humor in favor of funny, fresh content that is appropriate for all ages. Shubble’s gaming videos are mostly Minecraft and Roblox, with a smattering of “Let’s Play” videos of weird Internet games and indie titles. Along with the gaming streams and Let’s Plays, Shubble lets viewers into her life by posting videos of her attempts to cook, her cat StarLord, and lots of other fun stuff, all while maintaining a super-upbeat and infectiously bubbly attitude. Check out this video from her “How to Noob” series where she tries to teach a friend to play Minecraft.

Fernanfloo

Photo: YouTube

This one is for older kids, as the games Fernanfloo plays are often mature. Fernanfloo, A/K/A Luis Fernando Flores, is an El Salvadoran YouTube streamer known for his Lets Play videos and comedy sketches. He’s one of the most watched YouTube streamers on earth, with over 32 million subscribers, and 6.8 billion views. Fern only speaks Spanish, but his videos are subtitled in English, so you can tell yourself your kid is learning a second language or at least improving their reading skills while they watch his hilarious videos. Fernanfloo’s over-caffeinated style and frenetic energy isn’t for everyone, but kids seem to love it and it’s undoubtedly made Fern quite a bit of money. Fern has recently switched a lot of his gaming from YouTube to Twitch, where he streams regularly, so check him out there for more up-to-date streams, after you’ve plowed through his hundreds of YouTube videos.

Updated April 24, 4:49 p.m.: [Editor’s note] We identified Markiplier as white, but his mother is in fact Korean.

Source: Kotaku.com