The conversation about lack of diversity in gaming is one that will not cease until women and men of color see themselves in video games that speak to them. Diversity is not some odd notion or an anomaly in the real world, however in the tech industry, there still lies a great deal of disparity between whites and people of color on the development side of gaming.
The website Black Game Developers is working to change that. Created by Catt Small, Arthur Ward Jr. and Chris Algoo, the site was launched after they were tired of getting bitter criticism and push back from white developers who turned a blind eye to their concerns for diversity and its lack thereof.
Cat Small says, “We just got tired of people being negative about diversity in games without actually highlighting the work of Black game developers. We were also tired of seeing people telling others to ‘make your own game’ or asking them to ‘name 5 X black game developers’.”
Jamie: What is blackgamedevs.com?
Arthur: It’s a site made to try to find and list Black game developers so that we hopefully boost awareness and promote their work.
Catt: BlackGameDevs.com is an alphabetized, open-source list of Black game developers, artists, audio makers, and companies.
Chris: Blackgamedevs.com is a growing list highlighting Black game developers and Black-owned game companies.
Jamie: Who created blackgamedevs.com and why?
Arthur: Along with Catt and Chris, we created the site since we often hear the question: “Can anyone name any Black game developers?” and to be honest, I can’t name as many as I’d like to have off hand which reinforced the idea that yeah, there’s a representation problem. So here’s a list where we can see their work, and ultimately support that work ideally.
Catt: Chris, Arthur, and I created the site after witnessing a lot of frustration about the lack of diversity in games as well as game development. People often talk about the problem, but we wanted to give people a way to actually start supporting diversity. The list serves to help people find Black game developers to support. Many of the people listed have games for sale as well as Patreons.
The other reason we created the list was to to show that NUMEROUS Black game developers exist. There may not be nearly as many Black developers as there are developers from other racial groups, but there are some. I think Chris, Arthur, and I were all tired of hearing others say people of color aren’t interested in game development and that if we want change in games, we should make our own. We’re already doing so!
Chris: Catt, Arthur and I created this list. The huge influx of hate on the #GamesSoWhite hashtag was definitely a big push, at least for me. In a broader sense, we’re all game developers and we’re all gamers. We are very aware that game creators are often white men, and create games based on their own experience. We’d like to see more creators and more games that pull from a deeper well of stories.
Jamie: What do you expect to get out of this website?
Arthur: More visibility for Black game developers. We say we want diversity in games which is nice, but priority for me is to see an increase in diversity of content creators. The real solution to the diversity issue is to get more diverse creators into positions that they can have creative agency in. Diversifying content is nice yes, but it’d be nice if it was based on the experiences and such of the creators rather than secondhand where someone does research in order to write a character and such… If you check out that list, you’ll see that many are creating a variety of games that have a different cast of characters than you’re used to seeing from the big devs. Ideally, I’d hope that supporting the work of black devs such as these, it’ll help provide motivation to continue and grow as well as sustainability.
Catt: I expect people to use the website as a gateway to discover amazing Black creators of games. I also hope people who argue that Black people don’t want to make games will realize that we are here, working hard to do our thing.
Chris: For one thing, there’s now an easy URL if anyone wants to find a black game dev. We also want to highlight and celebrate these developers, and let other developers of color know that there are others like them out there.
Jamie: Why do you believe there has been such a negative reaction towards the outcry of diversity in gaming?
Arthur: I don’t know honestly… To me all I see is diversity in games doing is adding more content and not removing existing content. All I see are more stories being told, and cultural knowledge, lore and experience being shared. I’m guessing they’re afraid of losing what’s already there, which won’t be the case. I grew up in very diverse areas, from school till now, and have seen and interacted with people from all over the world, so being against diversity is such a foreign concept to me that I can’t understand.
Catt: People are used to certain kinds of games – their games – and now others are asking for change. Change is scary, and I’m sure the people who are pushing back don’t understand why representation is important. Some of them have always been represented and others just adapted to dealing with the lack of representation.
Many people probably think we should just deal with the way things are, but I don’t think we should if games are to mature. It’s not like there won’t still be “traditional” kinds of games and games with White male protagonists. We’ll also have lots of new games, and overall the hope is that more people will enjoy games. But again, change can be terrifying, and I have a feeling much of the resistance is out of fear.
Chris: Privilege. The people who have been represented throughout gaming and the game industry are noticing that other people want a seat at the table, and this makes them uncomfortable. Combined with people’s tendency to behave online in ways they never would in person, you have a huge amount of hate.
Jamie: What can we do as people of color to support MORE Black game developers?
Arthur: Support. Encouragement. Amplification. Daily you’ll see people pointing out bigotry, racism and lack of diversity and that’s important. However it’s equally if not more important to celebrate the work that Black developers are doing. Make sure they know you see them. Make them feel wanted. Encourage them to continue working on things. Think about time as a currency. Who are you spending it the most on?
Catt: Please buy games made by Black game developers! Support them on Patreon. Share their work. Show the world that they exist and are working to change games by making their own.
Chris: Fortunately, there are quite a few things! You can find Black-developed games (perhaps via our handy list), play them and share them. If you need a new member for your studio, you can look to hire a Black game developer. You can also encourage new developers via mentorship, encouragement and events such as game jams.
Jamie: Any suggestions for Black gamers that are interested in getting started in development as to what they should do?
Arthur: Just get started. I like to point to lists such as http://ludumdare.com/compo/tools/ or http://www.pixelprospector.com/the-big-list-of-game-making-tools/. Checkout some of those tools. Find something you like using and use it to make something. Make anything. Make a tool if you want. You might outgrow your tool after a while, but at that point, you’ll know what you’ll be looking for in an engine, audio too, etc. Getting started is so important. You can’t make something if you don’t make anything. It looks hard, and it is! However if you start small and gradually build bigger and bigger (or stay small, that’s perfectly fine too!) you’ll find it easier and easier to make certain things, however you’ll probably want to do things more complex, and it’ll be tough. But remember, what you find easy now used to be difficult. Keep trying, you’ll get it.
Catt: Start making small games. Your huge ideas will probably be too complex to make when you start out, so write those down and stow them away for a few years. The first few games you make will probably be bad, but the point is to just make things. After a few games, you’ll start to improve.
Chris: Start small, and start easy. Use a tool like Construct 2 that lets you get off the ground in an hour, and make games that you can complete in short time periods like a week. And share them with people! Once you feel up to it, you can join a game jam, which will be an intense but satisfying experience that will leave you with a finished game. One more thing – your first few projects won’t be as good as you like. That’s ok! You’re still learning. Being comfortable in that awkward phase is hugely important to getting better.
Jamie: What do you hope people will take away from checking out this site as a resource?
Arthur: You are not alone. There are more like you out there. In fact, add yourself to the list. Together we can make things better.
Catt: I hope they’ll understand that Black people are making games. I also hope the site will encourage more Black people to get into game development. I used to feel very alone as a Black female game maker, but the list helped me feel a lot better!
Chris: We hope that game developers of color will know that there are lots of others like them, in all positions of the industry. We hope this will inspire them and lead them to create great things!