When it comes to the gaming industry, oftentimes Black women are completely left out of the conversation, but not Cierra McDonald.

McDonald has worked within the Xbox organization for 13 years and has experience in everything from billing to achievements to documentations.

For her, the love of gaming started at a young age when she was first introduced to the world of technology by purchasing a floppy disc of Monkey Island. From there, she learned to navigate DOS through the installation process and the rest is history!

Now, as the Principal Program Manager for Xbox at Microsoft, McDonald is on a mission to shift the narrative of Black female characters in the gaming industry.

“I think too often folks start with ‘male’ and ‘white’ as the default when envisioning game characters or stories, even if it’s not intentional or done explicitly,” said McDonald in an email interview with AfroTech. “So, that becomes the baseline. When they want to add a female character, she is likely created very much on purpose as a ‘female character’ versus simply being an interesting character in the game that is also female. That often means that she is designed with some stereotypical purpose in mind, such as being the background motivation for the central male hero or being the charming and flirtatious badass sidekick. The same is commonly true of Black characters.”

Throughout her years within the industry, 17 total at Microsoft, with over 12 years of those being at Xbox, McDonald has played a role in assisting with a lot of amazing programs and features — most recently, Smart Delivery.

“We launched our Xbox Series X|S consoles last holiday, which marked the beginning of a new console generation,” she continued. “Smart Delivery was designed with the player experience at the forefront of our minds, especially as we thought about how players would transition between Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S and how they could bring their game content and their game progression and history with them across the console generations.”

She hopes that the Black community can continue to understand ways that they can see themselves within various STEM industries.

“STEM is a major and standard part of society now; it’s built-in at the root of our daily lives. If you’re young and have an interest in science and math, society needs you to come work in STEM to help push us all forward,” said McDonald. “You might contribute to amazing breakthroughs that move the industry itself forward or you might help to translate all that under-the-hood complexity into something more that is approachable and beneficial to non-STEM folks. And if you’re not really into math and science, there’s plenty of room for you, too! As engineers and scientists, we typically work in partnership with one another to do our work, and we usually team up with non-technical people on a regular basis as well. Depending on the specific business or field of research, interdisciplinary teams are crucial to our success: lawyers, doctors, artists, musicians, writers, therapists, accountants… we need diverse skills and knowledge in the room so we can move technology and science forward together.”

Today, McDonald continues to work to elevate Black gamers as the organizer of the “Blacks in Gaming” event at The Game Developers Conference (GDC) — an international event for gaming professionals where over 200 Black game creators, innovators, and industry leaders convene to reshape the landscape of gaming.