This article was originally published on 08/06/2019
Thanks to ever-improving technology, the gaming industry has seen substantial growth. In 2018, video games brought in $131 billion in profit, with mobile gaming being one of the main sources of revenue. According to GlobalData, the industry is likely to become a $300 billion industry by 2025. Although the financial growth is great, there is still a huge diversity problem that’s blatantly obvious in some of the gaming industry’s top companies. As video games continue to impact and shape people’s childhood and society as a whole, that lack of diversity can have drastic consequences.
Across the gaming industry, only 1 percent of professionals identify as Black, according to the 2017 International Game Developers Association Satisfaction Survey. If you take a look at some of the big names in gaming, you’ll notice that Black people — and Black women specifically — often don’t make the cut.
This lack of diversity can show up in the messages that games spread. For example, many called out the Watch Dog series for its anti-Black racism. The series — set in a fictionalized Chicago — seemed to assemble its Black characters from some of the worst stereotypes around. Back in 2015, game critic Austin Walker summed up part of the issue for Kotaku:
“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.”
Video games have also been called out for promoting Islamophobia. Often, games tend to feature Muslim characters as villains. This trope is especially dominant within games meant to simulate war, such as the Call of Duty franchise. With rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes — and the hate of Muslims making up a key component of President Trump’s campaign — continuing to rely on Muslims as a representation of backwardness and evil puts communities in danger.
Unfortunately, gaming platforms have become key gathering points for white supremacists. Discord was used to organize the 2017 “Unite the Right Rally,” where Neo-Nazi James Field ran his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer. It’s not as if the companies running these platforms are unaware of how they’re being used, either.
Steam has come under consistent criticism for existing as a safe space for white supremacists. In 2017, Motherboard reported that the platform was “full of hate groups,” and attributed it to Valve’s hands-off moderation approach. A year later, Reveal reported that Steam had 173 groups glorifying school shooters. After the Christchurch massacre, over 100 profiles on Steam praised the shooter, with some users referring to him as a “saint,” “hero,” and “Kebab Remover.”
Often, people say the key to improving the gaming industry is solving its diversity problem. While having more than just white men creating games may help a little bit, it’s also a long process that not everybody is willing to wait for.
In this lack of diversity and toxic gaming culture, marginalized groups — including Black women — have developed their own spaces. Both Thumbstick Mafia and Brown Girl Gamer Code, founded in 2015 and 2017 respectively, facilitate streaming channels, provide forums for discussion, and even have podcasts.
“There is power in diversity. But nobody gives a fuck unless I can substantiate it in a million different ways,” Keisha Howard, the founder of Sugar Games, told Ozy. “It’s a lot more motivating to work in a space that is so new rather than try to crack a space that has operated the same way for the last 40 years.”