Conversations on blackness in games


If you're a black fan of video games, your choices for representation in video games tend to be limited to "wacky sidekick", "cool gangster" or "evil gangster." Or "athlete in a sports franchise". Even for me, as a mixed-race girl who's usually taken for white, I can rarely find my own hair when I'm making a customizable avatar—and that's a comparatively minor problem to have.

What's more, black characters in games are very rarely created by black people. At Kotaku, writer and critic Evan Narcisse recently gathered other black critics and game developers alike to talk about video games' blackness problem, and it's an engrossing read.

For example, writer Austin Walker offers an informed reflection on how Ubisoft's Watch Dogs oversimplified its source material — it's set in a racially-polarized Chicago:

But, the result, in games like Watch Dogs, is that blackness is presented as pathological. The black spaces are violent, ruined, and dangerously mysterious. The black characters, at best, overcome that violence through exceptional intelligence or talent, or, at worst, give into their darkest urges. Sometimes there's a degree of sympathy in this sort of depiction: "Wow, look at how bad they have it." But what we really need—in games as well as in other media—is something more complex than this image of devastated black lives. And yeah, part of the solution there could be more melanin in game development.

Developer Catt Small talks about ways to involve more black people in game development:

The spread of free and low-cost tools is helping to introduce more Black people to game development, but visibility and transparency in the industry is also helping. For example, Shawn's been speaking at conferences. I've spoken about game development at several colleges in Black and Latino communities. During each presentation, I not only discuss how to make games and tools they can use, but also events they can attend to become a part of the community. I also collaborated with Black Girls Code through Code Liberation to organize a game jam at which 57 girls learned to make games. More initiatives like this will hopefully enable Black people to tell their own stories through games.

The whole roundtable is well worth reading and thinking about — and sending to all those people you know who always ask why race matters in creative fields.