African-American Journalists and The Gaming Industry Part 1


 

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…

Charles M.

Blogger.Gamer.Morehouse Man

12 thoughts on “African-American Journalists and The Gaming Industry Part 1

  1. Interesting choice for an article! Though I don’t know why it should ever be an issue – some people may take this article to mean that black people aren’t allowed or accepted in the games industry, but we all know that’s not the case.

    Googling “white games journalists” doesn’t come up with a list of journalists either, in fact the 6th one in my results was a Facebook page titled “Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits” haha

    Seriously though, I had never thought about it in the past but it doesn’t seem to be an issue – it’s like wondering where the women are. It’s not that women or black people don’t like games enough to want the job, it just so happens that there aren’t that many prominent ones on massive sites.

    It does kind of bug me when people say things like this though. It’s like looking at Google’s staff list and saying “there are only four people who regularly wear hats. And out of those four, only one of them has blue eyes. Why aren’t there blue-eyed hat wearers working at Google?”

    It’s making an issue out of nothing imo! I’m not attacking your article, it certainly made me think. But there’s nothing sinister behind the fact that there aren’t that many non-white people working in games journalism.

    1. The origin for the article spurred from curiosity. I researched around 10 sites and out of those 10 I only found 2 African-American writers. So I decided to find out the cause behind the it. The “issue” is that there isn’t enough us in the space. I know we are accepted as a people within the industry, but culturally playing video games isn’t widely accepting as it might be for other cultures. Thus we have to hide our hobby. Having more “faces in the place” would break down some of the negative connotations that we have within our community.

      Also, we have a chance to make sure we have control over our image in the industry. Without getting into an entirely separate conversation we don’t have the best image in television, music, etc. this is a chance to make sure we put our best foot forward.

      1. Honestly that sounds like… I don’t know how to explain it.

        Black people are no different to white people. In the games industry, in the movie industry, in the music business, in work, in school, in life. There’s no reason that there should be more of any one type of person in a certain job. It kind of reeks of “lets balance this out so it doesn’t seem racist” imo

        I know plenty of black gamers, I see a hell of a lot of them doing their own Youtube reviews of games, live streaming their gameplay and generally hyping up their hobby very publicly. I don’t see anybody hiding it, and I’ve never seen any negative connotations regarding lack people in the gaming community.

    2. I also believe that we have to wonder where the women are as well as other races. We as gamers shape the industry and it is important to make sure all our voices are heard. As a minority in the gaming space I will look for us because I want us to be in the space. I want to see what someone has to say from our point of view

      It is an issue because the view looks one-sided. Now that doesn’t mean the industry is keeping black people from becoming games journalist but it does make question why things are the way they are.

      Race is always a tough issue because as gamers we never think about who creates our games or writes our reviews. However, as the industry grows I will be looking for more African-American journalists.

      I am glad the post made you think and created this dialogue because it is important to the health of the industry

      1. Depends on the shop. I think the differences of opinion on this topic stem from our cultural backgrounds.

        As I stated before in the black community gaming wasn’t always something that was smiled upon. It was something you had to hide. Having black people in the major publications would help to break down negative associations with gaming within our(meaning black) community.

        I find the dialogue interesting because I believe you view this from the eyes of the majority while I speak from the minority. Not to say that one is better than the other it’s just different. Where I see a lack as a negative you do not.

        But I do appreciate your open-mind! And civil dialogue

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this read as it relates to a similar question which I asked myself some years ago. My results, much the same as your own, when looking at the influence of non-whites in the gaming industry, I clearly saw a definitive culture slant perpetuated in the games I love to play. In fact, as the article points out, I have also researched multiple gaming media network only to find them dominated by white males with a clear absence of blacks, woman and even other minority groups as well. However, I also believe the article and interview does shed the proper light on the matter as it relates more to social and economical structuring as opposed to being something purely based on prejudices in nature.

    Regardless of the reasoning, I still would like to see more black men and woman and people of color embrace the gaming industry from the inside as writes and developers instead of as only consumers. I also believe we (yes I’m a black man) should begin blazing our own paths in the gaming industry, creating our own unique platforms of expression instead of waiting or expecting a hand out if we do face opposition from the gaming establishments.

    C. Moody, a great read indeed my friend – My name is Derrick Smith editor in chief of Game Insider magazine, a free annual digital video game publication which is developed from a place of passion for the gaming industry. We wanted to create our own media platform and so we have.

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