How the Black Girl Gamers Community Became a Lifeline

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Jay-Ann knew Lopez She could have done better. She was in college, and two of her friends were racking up views on YouTube with a gaming channel that was mediocre at best, mediocre at best. He used African American vernacular English for cool points, made jokes that turned femininity into a punchline, and usually just churned out one clichéd bit after another. It was disappointing to see him achieve fame. Lopez decided it was time to start a channel of her own. What she built grew into a platform connecting black female gamers all over the world.

Born and raised in London, Lopez started playing video games when she was just 6 years old, after receiving her first console, a Nintendo, from her uncle. She was hooked, but – like in movies and TV – she rarely saw herself represented. “On screen, I rarely see black characters. When I did, they were there for comic relief. They were macho black men or black women with attitude problems, the sassy black woman trope,” she recalls. “Growing up with the absence of [Black characters] Among the games I loved playing, I felt like gaming was not for me. Lopez tried to find a niche in gaming with her YouTube channel, but eventually gave up. She felt annoyed, excluded, invisible — and so were a lot of gamers like her.

In October 2015, Lopez started black girl gamers, a Twitch channel that has since become an online safe space and platform to increase the visibility of black women in gaming. BGG currently has . More than 7,000 members in its Facebook group And there are about 35,000 followers on Twitch. The group runs IRL events and creates online content to support diversity in the gaming industry. What was once a small Facebook page with four community managers has grown into a dedicated and growing team of 184 members. The organization now offers events, workshops, mentorship, mentorship opportunities and a talent agency to represent streamers. Most recently, the group partnered with Facebook Reality Labs to offer members a three-month mentoring program for professional roles in augmented and virtual reality.

According to Entertainment Software Association (ESA), currently approx. 227 million gamers in the US, The majority of those gamers are white (73 percent) and identify as male (55 percent). For players who are not in those groups, gaming is not easy. a 2020 study by the Anti-Defamation League found that 64 percent of online multiplayer gamers in the US aged 18 to 45 experienced some form of harassment, with the majority of harassment linked to gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or ability. “Women and girls do not play sports like men and boys and not for lack of interest or ability,” says Ravindra (Robby) Ratan, associate professor of media and information Michigan State University, “Despite the stereotype that women and girls are not as good at gaming as men and boys, when we look at skills over time, women and girls do the same.” Ratan’s research, which focuses on harassment in gaming culture, shows that women do not spend as much time playing on online platforms because of toxicity.

And it’s not just harassment. Black female gamers also have what is known as stereotype threat, which Ratan described as “the idea that when you are reminded of a stereotype that applies to your group, you try to conform to that group.” more likely, as long as the reminder is subtle.” This is the kind of thing that can not only cause black women to perform poorly in sports, but also cause many people to eventually move away from tech careers or STEM fields. can. Black female gamers also face the dual discrimination of racism and misogyny, as well as backlash for trying to address them. “When we started BGG, people always said, ‘Why do you need a page for Black Girl gamers? What if I made [one for] White male gamers?'” Lopez says. “If I had a pound every time someone would say” [that] I would be rich now.” As her channel grows, it becomes more and more clear why this is so important.

When it debuted, Black Girl gamers was one of the first Twitch channels to feature a variety of streamers instead of one person being the lone face, an approach that has since become common. Having multiple streamers allows for greater collaboration, and BGG uses it when a specific player is not online. stream team, a list of group members’ personal accounts that give people a chance to learn more about BGG and connect with different streamers who go live on their own channels. While Lopez is the founder of the organization, she is not rigid about how the community is run or what sports can be played. Those choices are made collectively by members of the stream team, and this freedom of choice rarely goes unnoticed.

In 2018, A.T. twitchcon, a convention for Twitch streamers, “A white woman came up to me. She told me ‘I love what you do with BGG, but I see you all like playing violent games,'” Lopez recalls. The woman was trying to make a connection between race and the games played by the group members, but Lopez struggled to see what it was. Like movies and music, Lopez understands that video games Everyone has their own taste in the sport, but the notion that there is a connection between race and game preferences couldn’t be further from the truth. “Black women play all kinds of games,” she says.

While the majority of BGG members live in the US, the group has become increasingly global. Its basic rules are – be respectful; No racism, queerphobia, competence, hate speech or sexism allowed; no backseat gaming; And only moderators can post links in chat. Such rules help foster positivity within the space, and if problems arise, Lopez has no problem blocking users to ensure the safety of the community. “Not only did I feel represented, but I felt safe,” says Brianna Williams, a member of the Stream team, better known as Twitch. StoryModeBae, While Williams is still relatively new to streaming, she has gained thousands of subscribers. When she first started out, Black Girl Gamers was one of the first groups she met. For Williams, BGG “is a wonderful platform for black women to really come together and be themselves. There are different areas where you can meet and talk about your problems, whether that problem.” redress or something.” Williams wants to advance the narrative that there’s room for more girl gamers—they just need to keep playing.

probably most Impressive proof of BGG’s resilience is where the organization has left its mark: Twitch. In the decade since launch, the platform has struggled with moderate harassment and toxicity, but has shown some signs of improvement. Following #ADayOffTwitch, a one-day boycott of the service to raise awareness about “hate raids”, the streaming platform filed suit against two users who shared black and LGBTQIA content with racist, homophobic, sexist and other disturbing content. + Targeted streamers. Over the years, the company has implemented a variety of policies including banning accounts and the ability to act on all instances of hateful conduct and harassment in hopes of reducing similar practices. The most serious violations can result in an indefinite suspension on the first offense. To help reduce hate raids, Twitch has also added controls that require a viewer to have a verified phone number for streamers to chat.

Beyond combating harassment, Twitch claims it is striving to connect with creators in underrepresented groups, according to a spokesperson, “find new and interactive ways to promote their streams” and eventually the platform. But be able to earn a living. Last year the site partnered with BGG for a summit to address the issues that black female gamers face when they stream. For Twitch it was informative; For Lopez it was an opportunity to present some brutal truths “because people had been neglected for a long time.”

However, those issues go far beyond Twitch. “It’s the publishers,” says Lopez. “It’s also consumers and streamers who want to promote a negative and toxic environment and remember the good old days when white people were the main audience. Companies have to catch up.”

Jay-Ann Lopez

Photo: Jay-Ann Lopez

To make it perfectly clear what Lopez is talking about, look no further than the bulk of popular gaming releases, all of which demonstrate how game developers are still catering to the white male demographic. While some popular games have made new additions to their character collections, many continue to completely ignore black people, especially black women. a 2019 survey It turns out that only 2 percent of developers identify as Black, African American, African or Afro-Caribbean, which largely affects the type of game being made.

There are ways to solve these issues. For example, Niantic Labs recently launched some of its pokemon go The revenue and used it to launch the Black Developers Initiative, a five-month program aimed at empowering Black game and augmented reality developers and providing access, resources and support for their work. The program was launched in February of this year with the goal of funding and getting more Black creators to prototype. “It stemmed from need. We weren’t just seeing Black developers in the pipeline,” says Trinidad Hermidas, Niantic’s head of diversity and inclusion. “We wanted to bridge…


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