While you are reading this article do me a favor.
- Open up a new tab in your browser
- Visit your favorite major gaming outlet
- Find the staff section
- Count the number of African-American writers on staff
How many Af-Am writers are employed at your favorite gaming outlet? If you aren’t satisfied with your answer you can visit another site and follow the steps listed above. Did you find any this time?
I have often wondered why I do not see more African-American writers on the staff of popular video game websites. I know that we exist. There are plenty of gamers who are intelligent, articulate, and have a passion for games. Yet, when I looked at the staff list for 10 of the most popular gaming websites—I only found 2 African-American writers! It was a truth that I did not want to accept; “we” are not as actively involved as other races. Why is our presence almost nonexistent? What is keeping our numbers low? I caught up with Mike Williams, staff writer for GamesIndustry, to get his opinion on this “crisis.”
An Insider Perspective
How did you get into the games industry?
I answered an IndustryGamers (the US site that merged with GamesIndustry to form GamesIndustry International) ad for an intern. I was lucky enough to be accepted for a trial period and then worked until I reached my current position as Staff Writer.
Was your journey into the field of videogame journalism any harder than your white counterparts?
I don’t think so. There may be some who have reached positions in game journalism because they knew someone higher up (a situation that will usually benefit white applicants), but it’s a tough road for the most part. There are so many people willing to do your job for peanuts that you have to work really hard to stay in the game.
What has your experience been as an African-American journalist in the video game industry?
Positive. Everyone I meet is enthusiastic to talk about their newest projects. In fact, I probably have a leg up as the number of black game journalists is relatively low, so people tend to remember who I am.
Google ‘black game journalists’. You’ll see more about ‘Black Ops’ or ‘Black Friday’ than African-American game journalists. Googling ‘African-American game journalists’ brings up N’Gai Croal, an excellent writer who left the journalistic field to become a consultant a few years ago.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about Af-Am gamers/journalists within the industry?
Honestly, we’re such a rarity that I’m not even sure there’s something to misconceive. Google ‘black game journalists’. You’ll see more about ‘Black Ops’ or ‘Black Friday’ than African-American game journalists. Googling ‘African-American game journalists’ brings up N’Gai Croal, an excellent writer who left the journalistic field to become a consultant a few years ago. That’s not to say we don’t exist in the field. There’s Kotaku’s Evan Nacisse and The Koalition’s Richard Bailey to name a few. But, certainly not in the same numbers as the 1835 year old white male.
Why don’t we see more African-Americans writing for bigger gaming outlets? Is the pool to choose from small?
Games Journalism is not necessarily the career you choose if you want to be completely self sufficient or provide for your family. It takes awhile to get to the point that you can draw a substantial salary from a single outlet. Many freelance at numerous places to make ends meet. Starting out can be be vicious, and you’ll find that journalists tend to come from middle and upper class backgrounds.
For working class families, journalism isn’t a high profile career option and Games Journalism is even worse in that regard. Being able to work for free in the beginning is almost a hardset prerequisite for the field. Money constraints lead many game journalists to eventually transition to PR work or community manager positions at developers and publishers. Without the working class entering journalism, you’re already presented with a strike against the number of black applicants.
Add to that the lack of visible representation in the industry, and you lack young African-American kids with sufficient role models. Without role models, young children are more likely to focus on other pursuits. Careers in television, music, and film are far more enticing than journalism.
What could be done to see an increase in the number of Af-Am writers in the field?
Get African-American kids interested in the field early on. This lead to more applicants, which leads to more hires.
If you were to look at the staff of popular gaming sites one would think it’s “members only.” Would you agree or disagree? And why?
When sites get launched it’s going to feel that way, because you’re more likely to choose applicants that you already know or come from similar backgrounds. Giant Bomb is a good example of this, being originally comprised of former GameSpot editors. Polygon’s original announcement crew was mostly white men because that’s what was available at the upper echelon of other outlets. Despite that beginning, Polygon has done a good job of hiring women and minorities on its team, even if it lacks an African-American writer at this time.
Most sites are open to new writers who have proven themselves elsewhere, which usually means smaller sites or personal blogs. Freelance pitches are a strong option and repeat freelance work is one way onto a site’s permanent staff. Of course staff positions require those in current positions to move on, which is difficult if they’ve spent years just getting there. You’re not going to be a senior editor at IGN until that editor leaves, and even then, you need experience elsewhere.
Do you believe a gaming site staffed with Af-Am writers would change the industry’s perception of us?
Of African-American players? Possibly. Not all African-American players stick to just Madden and NBA 2K. I’m personally more at home playing something like Dragon Age or Mass Effect instead. For others it could be Pokemon, Killzone, or Harvest Moon. Sky’s the limit.
I’d be more inclined towards a diverse group for starting a new site. More voices from various backgrounds leads to a more creative environment. It also shows developers that players don’t necessarily fit into neat stereotypes, which relates to my statement above.
Will You Accept The Challenge?
I issue a challenge to all my Af-Am gamers/writers. Will you be the one to change the status quo? No representation can easily equal misrepresentation if we allow it. This is one of the few areas in entertainment where we can shape our identity before publishers decide to do it for us. It’s time for us to add our culture into the industry. When I listen to podcasts there is a part of me that knows I am not always the target audience. Yes, we are all gamers but there is something subtle that separates you when you are the minority. It can be as simple as the jokes shared between pod casters or the style of the conversation. The nuances that we subconsciously attach to.
As Mike stated, the gaming industry would benefit from an increase of writers from diverse backgrounds. There is a grind to break into the industry, but we cannot let this be the obstacle that keeps us away. It’s time for us to define our voice in this community. I ask again…will you be the one to change the status quo? Will you help to define our image in the industry? Or will you sit on the sidelines, waiting for the next woman or man to do it? I hope to see you on the front lines…