Black Developers Face Challenges And Change In Video Game Industry

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Just like how video games are diverse, so are the people making them. With that said, Black people are still the minority when it comes to crafting the fun experiences that fuel this multi-billion-dollar industry. According to a 2021 survey from the International Game Developers Association, only 5% of respondents were Black while nearly 80% were white.

NPR delivered this illuminating fact while putting the spotlight on five Black developers with varying expertise in the space. One of the featured experts, Xalavier Nelson Jr., said video game companies and publishers are playing catch-up when it comes to hiring Black talent.

The games journalist-turned-studio head writer told reporters that employers are struggling to hire for senior positions when juniors aren’t given the space or opportunity to grow. Then, when it comes to potential Black candidates, they’re usually “survivors” of hostile work environments.

“Once people are in, what you’re looking at for all the people who are Black who have survived, is that they’re survivors. They have existed in toxic environments,” Nelson explained. “They are flowers in the desert. If you bring in a group of 10 people and one survives and becomes a standout, it is not an acclamation of your recruitment efforts, it is an indictment that this one star exists because you failed to preserve the other nine.”

While several major developers and publishers have faced lawsuits for gender-based discrimination and harassment, very few have been accused of racism in the workplace, such as the bombshell allegations against Activision Blizzard (Call of Duty, Overwatch) in 2021.

Previous IGDA surveys found that the number of Black developers has increased slowly in the independent (indie) side of the industry, but that leaves a huge gap for the rest of it. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and calls for racial equity, more gaming companies have pledged to hire more Black talent.

Niel Jones, a Detroit-based indie developer who created running game Never Yield, says he’s been seeing more people of color entering the gaming workforce, but Black developers are lagging behind after decades of being overlooked.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fix the original sin of these massive studios who have hired people over the last 20 years actively not hiring Black people. We can never make up for the lost time,” he said.

Despite these issues, Black developers said they find much joy in creating something and sharing it with others. Some of the experts featured in NPR‘s article encourage young people to become video game makers, whether they love coding, create art, or compose songs.

“There are scholarships, there are lots of programs that usually offer lessons for free,” Geneva Heyward, who released a queer dating simulator ValiDate in 2022, recommended. “I know there’s Code Coven, I know Black Voices in Gaming is a thing, I know the Game Devs of Color Expo is a thing. You do not have to go through everything alone. There are communities out there that can help.”

Other developers urge Black people in the gaming industry to find their community and uplift each other for support and inspiration.

“Find your people, because your community is going to be the thing that gives you energy to keep going,” Catt Small, a product designer in Brooklyn, New York, told reporters.”Your community is going to be what inspires you and helps you to keep pushing to learn and grow.”

You can read more about these Black developers’ experience on NPR‘s website.

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