Monday, March 1, 2021

On Black Folks and Video Games: Influencers, Creators and Designers Talk Inclusion

*Recently, was in New York City at the Flagship Microsoft Store in New York for a panel discussion featuring some of the biggest, blackest names in gaming that you’ve never heard of.

Titled “Game On! A Celebration of Black Excellence in Gaming,” and sponsored by Unity Technologies, the panelists included Raymond Graham, Technical Director at Unity Technologies, Aziza Brown of Dynamik Focus, COEXIST Gaming CEO and Co-founder Jaye Watts, Khalid Jones, Partner at SourceRock Partners, LLP + Co-Founder of Echo Fox, LP,  world-famous gaming enthusiast and cultural expert HipHopGamer aka Gerard Williams  of Hot 97, Rachel Hoagland, Vice President, Head of Gaming & eSports for the NFL, and other creative and professional contributors to gaming, from ownership, esports game design and more.  

Moderated by Cheddar eSports gaming reporter Erin Ashley Simon, the packed event is something of a rarity in that, unless you’re in a major city, chances are you’ve never heard of Decoy Games, or know of anyone of African descent working on and creating video games.  

Founded by brothers Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah, Decoy Games will be rolling out their premiere offering, Swimsanity,  to be released later this year. And, according to the fellas, this is is only the beginning of their plans to create and expand into other ventures.  

“We’ve always been gamers. We figured that if we wanted to continue what we were doing, we had to make it into a career,” Khalil told EURweb. “The thing that kept me in this space was having someone there who was always going to be there. There’s nothing that we can go through together that’s going to cause us to go separate ways because we’re brothers. Being brothers, and working on the same passion and the same goals, staying on that line was a lot easier because you had someone to rely on and someone to relate to.  Something that a lot of people actually don’t have. Even when I was going to predominantly white schools and programs, I could just look to my left and say ‘Oh, my brother’s still here. As long as he’s still here, I’m still here.’ So, that was huge for me.” 

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“We’ve always wanted to push each other to greatness,” said Ahmed. “It’s something we’ve wanted to achieve even when we were little. Gaming was just something that we really gravitated to. Even from where we are right now, our vision is beyond gaming. We always tell ourselves that this is just the beginning. This is just one of our major passions. We’re pushing each other, relying on each other, those are two of the benefits of working with family. For us, it’s business. But the foundation is family. As long as we have that we feel like we’ll always be okay.” 

“Decoy Games is a team of three; me, my brother and the artist Chris,” Ahmed continued. “But, as you saw, we’re delivering games on all platforms. Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Steam, which is very rare for someone with their first game to do that. So, at Decoy what we like to do is hide the fact that we are unique. We feel like we compete with much larger competitors. At Decoy, you might think we’re one thing, but when you see the game people get confused. They look at us and say ‘Who’s your publisher?’ We’re like ‘This is us! This is what we can do!’ We hope that inspires people to think that you can do it too.”   

  Erin Ashley Simon has become one of the most recognized gaming journalists in the country thanks to her role on Cheddar TV. Here she provides incredible insight into the problems facing minority participants. 

“So, the importance of this event and the overall problem that we’ve been having is, even though the eSports and gaming scene has diversified a lot more, there still are issues in terms of inclusion. Especially when it comes to having black, brown and minority folks to have a seat at the table. And, while I say that, decision-makers decide who have a seat at the table.”

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“Even when it comes to broadcasting. There’s not a whole lot of Black or Latinas specifically, that you see in specific roles. It’s so important that we have these conversations in order to grow and do the things we love so much. Granted, it has it prospered in a way that has been beyond our wildest dreams and goals? Yes, but we have to make sure we protect the things we love. And by protecting it I mean is tackle the issues in the community that continue to divide us and only benefit the people who wanted to use the community as a scapegoat in things such as shootings and imperfect things. That’s why it was so important for us to have these conversations.  But there are many people who are trying to solve the problem from different angles. They’re not alone in this.”  

Panelist and esports influencer Aziza Brown believes entry barriers for console gaming allow for better diversity, but also concedes console gamers have inherent problems to overcome as well. 

“I am the CEO and founder of Dynamik Focus. We’re an eSports team, but the thing is that increasing diversity for me isn’t a thing. I’m doing esports for console gaming. The barrier to entry for that is actually very low. So, many people in this space are already diverse. We have so many people of different colors, different nationalities, different ethnic groups, people we’ve never heard of.   

“It’s increasing the locale for the games and the leagues because there are so many people that are good at the game. All you need is a console and a monitor and you can actually be a legend in that game. Because you don’t need broadband internet to interact with other players. You can build your own community within your own space.”   

“What has become an issue is we have a problem with other esports that have more money. They basically have the equipment to actually dominate. You have to have a great PC and you have to have broadband internet that is fast enough for you to compete in it for you to become ranked enough to even be considered to be good.” 

We are dealing with redlining as far as broadband internet. You go into Harlem and you’re not going to be able to get Verizon fiber speeds.” 

HipHopGamer aka Gerard Williams of Hot 97 is one of the most recognizable black players and influencers out there. Hell, he’s even appeared in some games and done songs for them as well. He had some thoughts on how gaming influencers of color can help those who come up in their wake. 

“You’ve gotta help them too, bro.  You have to help them to help the growth of the industry. If you don’t help them it’s going to be like cutting your nose to spite your face. But if you help them out enough it will show your humility and your growth. I’ll give you a great example of this.  CAA is the company that can take artists and actors to the next level.  But what can they do for Beyonce because Beyonce is already BeyonceSo there’s not really much a CAA could do for them because they’re already them. So, how do you know CAA is really as good as they say they are? Beyonce can make a few phone calls herself. She don’t really need them. In our situation, with the NBA 2K League, it’s still in its infancy.”  

“For y’all, it’s your 22nd year. So, if you did something big that others didn’t, and you’ve been there for less time, you have a blueprint. Look at Jay Z and 50 Cent. Jay Z and Dame Dash had The Blueprint for Rocafella and blew up. 50 Cent did what they did in half the time. Why? Because he already had an example.  Now it comes to skillset, and you’re hungrier and more creative, then you create exclusivity. I can only play Uncharted, God of War and Spider-man on PlayStation. I can only play Gears of War and Halo on those joints. So, if I really want to play those, I got to get the Xbox. When you’re in gaming, what do you have, that nobody else has, that’s going to make them have to deal with you? If you can’t speak on that level, then you’re like everybody else. You’re just a part of the situation.”  


Ricardo A. Hazell began his career in journalism in 1996 as a Research Intern for the prestigious Editor & Publisher Co. His byline has appeared in The Root, Washington Post, Black Enterprise and he helped define culture within the African Diaspora as Senior Cultural Contributor at The Shadow League. Currently working on the semi-autobiographical novel "Remorse".



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