Video game industry needs a reset for Black developers

by Ezekiel J. Walker
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Video games are about as diverse as NFL Head Coaches.

On December 28th, 2021 football legend John Madden died. While pigskin fans knew him as a coach, many Black gamers recognize him exclusively from playing NFL Madden Football.

Even still, game developers have historically ignored one of their most loyal fan bases. Well, that’s not completely true. There was 2020.

Suddenly games like NFL Madden ’20 displayed “Black Lives Matter” in bold fonts, vowing to reform. Yet, they predictably fumbled.

Like many businesses in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, prominent gaming companies including Sony, Naughty Dog, and Electronic Arts published messages of hope, solidarity, and change within their own practices. Yet, as we fast-forward to the present, little has been changed at all.

White guys make video games for white guys

In a 2022 Games Developer Conference survey, nearly a quarter of developers said their studios had not focused any resources on diversity or inclusion initiatives within the last year.

It’s not only Black people who have worked tirelessly to break into the gaming industry, but also women.

Female game developers are often mistreated, harassed or abused and according to a new GamesIndustry.biz report, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is also at fault for the existing toxic bro-culture.

“Despite the IGDA’s pledge to support victims, it mishandled multiple formal complaints against its own Women in Games Special Interest Group Chair, and failed to follow its own policies on how to properly handle such complaints on more than one occasion.”

Representation matters. A lot.

Neil “Aerial Knight” Jones, an indie Black developer said, “One of the hardest things to deal with is talking about the real struggles Black game developers have, knowing that people are going to dismiss you,” he told The Washington Post. Jones referenced instances where he was essentially told to “be better.”The IGDA reported in 2005 that just 2 percent of their respondents identified as Black.  The 2021 report showed, 16 years later, that number has only grown to 4 percent. We’ve seen over time the value of quality representation and video games are no different – the players need to change.

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