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

Esports, game designers and executives of color discuss the road to greater industry inclusion.

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Raymond Graham Technical Direcgtor Unity

*Recently, EURweb.com 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.”  

 

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** FEATURED STORY **

Pastor Cal Keeps Love Alive on ‘Married at First Sight’ (EUR EXCLUSIVE!)

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Pastor Cal - Calvin Roberson

eur mafs poster

*For 11 seasons, “Married at First Sight” (MAFS) has been the ultimate experiment in matchmaking as couples who have never met – complete strangers – tie the knot.

If you are not familiar with the popular Lifetime series, people looking for love are matched by relationship experts (Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Dr. Viviana Coles, and Pastor Calvin Roberson-known as Pastor Cal) and agree to tie the knot before meeting their mates.

The show follows the couples for a few weeks as they experience their first meeting at their weddings, their honeymoons, meeting each other’s families, and other milestone events all the while being counseled by the experts. At the end of each season, the couples are given the chance to continue in their marriage or get a divorce.

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eur CalvinRoberson_MAFS_S6

Pastor Calvin Roberson (Pastor Cal) is one of the experts matching couples on “Married at First Sight.” (Photo: Lifetime)

While some may question the show’s premise, the EUR spoke to Pastor Cal recently and he said the series is genuine.

“My job on the show is to get these couples, put them together, and make sure they stay together,” said Pastor Cal. “My goal is to look at their differences, see where they’re compatible, counsel them and in some cases, threaten them, to make it work. All the experts, our focus, is simply making sure the couples stay together.”

As for a method in which the couples are matched, he added, “There isn’t a solid formula we apply to every couple. It has to be tweaked as we find out people’s peculiarities. It can be nerve-wracking but it’s rewarding in the end.”

Like many MAFS seasons, there are surprising revelations and this one, featuring couples from New Orleans, is no exception.

“Season 11 has brought us so many surprises,” Pastor Cal said. “Even in casting, one of the couples we thought would get along much quicker is one of the ones lagging behind. And one couple we thought would move slower to intimacy are moving ahead. And that’s with Miles and Karen being the slower and Woody and Amani being the faster of the two.”

EUR MAFS-S11-Couples_Woodrow-Amani

Woody and Amani in current season (11) of “Married at First Sight.” (Photo: Lifetime)

He continued, “Also, by my own admission, I fall on the sword on this one, I was not expecting Bennett and Amelia to get along so well. I thought she would be put off more by his lack of profession. It was a big surprise to me.”

The next MAFS season will include Atlanta couples and after that the show heads to Houston, which is casting now. Pastor Cal told the EUR that the show adapts to the couples from each city.

“I believe that every city we film in brings a certain flavor and the participants from that city take on the flavor from that city,” Pastor Cal said. “New Orleans is laid-back, they party, and it’s a very fun city as opposed to a city like D.C. that is very political, buttoned up, and tight. But definitely we found that every city influences the participants. We definitely see different personalities coming out of each city.”

MAFS Houston Flyer

Speaking of Atlanta, Pastor Cal is the lead pastor at Progression church in the peach city. He and his wife Wendy have a marriage coaching organization that offers marriage and relationship conferences, boot camps, and seminars worldwide.

While COVID-19 may have slowed down the in-person events, that has not stopped people from contacting Pastor Cal for love connections, “Because of COVID, we’re online. I get more people through DM’s, email, etc. asking me to match them.”

And how does the church feel about the show?

“My church actually loves it.” Pastor Cal said. “They are so supportive and such an incredible group of people. They tell people about the show. Our church was actually founded on relationships, so it was an easy fit. Our church was founded on positive marriage and positive family.”

Look out for Pastor Cal’s book, “Marriage Ain’t for Punks,” slated to come out next year.

If you are interested in being on “Married at First Sight” and live in Houston, click here to apply.

For more information on MAFS’ current season, click here.

 

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Nigerian Bread Seller Lands Modeling Contract After Photobombing Rapper’s Shoot

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Olajumoke Orisaguna

*27-year-old former bread seller Olajumoke Orisaguna captured the world’s attention a few years ago when a photo of her carrying a massive bag of bread loafs ontop of her head went viral.

She was discovered on the streets of the city of Lagos by international photographer Ty Bello, who was shooting with English rapper Tinie Tempah. Unintentionally, Orisaguna came out in one of the images.

Days later, Bello shared pictures from that shoot on his social media but with interest of finding out who the bread seller was in the photo.

“WHO IS SHE? Everyone has been asking if this lady is a model… She definitely SHOULD be a model… I’ll find a way to track her down somehow. You guys can also help,“ the photographer captioned the post.

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As PEOPLE notes, from that moment on, her life changed forever. In less than a year, Orisaguna managed to sign contracts with recognized agencies. Earlier this year, she wrapped up her tour of South Africa and she also launched a vlog and reality show.

“I never expected this would ever happen to me,” she told CNN. “My friends have told me they saw me on the TV and they are really happy. My parents cannot believe their own child can become such a success.”

In March, she celebrated the one year anniversary of her discovery. In an exclusive interview with Pulse in January, Orisaguna spoke about the people who have been influential in her rise to fame. During the interview, she thanked Azuka Ogujuiba of ThisDay Newspaper, as she was instrumental in Olajumoke’s success story.

Orisaguna, who left her two children and husband to sell bread, is now being offered by a bank to pay for her kid’s education through college.

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‘Origin of Everything’ on PBS Sparks Interest with Controversial & Everyday Topics (EUR Exclusive!)

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Origin of Everything

*“Origin of Everything,” available on PBS.org, has been exploring topics since 2017 that run the gamut. The show jumps into a variety of subjects by investigating daily life like the words we use, pop culture, and why we are hooked on technology.

The show does not shy away from controversial topics such as slavery, race and ethnicity, and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Danielle Bainbridge, Ph.D., the host and lead writer of “Origin of Everything,” told the EUR in a recent interview that the series is about making people think beyond the restrictive ways we have been taught to view history.

“It’s a show about our collective story and how we are envisioning history,” Dr. Bainbridge said. ”How do we think about history that includes all of us and just not the figures and facts that we were taught in school. So, it’s a show about under told and underrepresented history. We’re trying to make history feel very present to the people who watch it.”

She continued, “One of the reasons to watch it is if you’re curious about how did we get to our current moment? How do small things such as why do we eat popcorn at the movies or what is the origin of ethnicity and how do these things still impact the way we think about the world?”

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EUR PBS Danielle Bainbridge

Dr. Danielle Bainbridge, host of “Origin of Everything,” available on PBS.org. (Courtesy of PBS)

Deftly equipped to talk about controversial topics, Dr. Bainbridge holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and American Studies from Yale University and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in English & Theatre Arts. She is also a faculty member at Northwestern University in Theatre and African American Studies

In early 2017, when she was a graduate student, she was contacted by PBS about working on the show and thought it was a joke.

“When they first reached out to me, I thought it was a hoax,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “I was thinking how would they even know who I am because I was a graduate student? But I think they found me through a since defunct janky website that I had set up. They reached out to me, I auditioned, did a screen test, and a writing sample and after that I was hired to help develop the show.”

Viewers are encouraged to be interactive with the series because it is digital. With instant commentary from the audience, the show knows immediately what viewers think, which for the most part is positive. However, when it delves into controversial subject matters things can get sticky.

“I would say overall people are pretty positive about the series because most of the folks who watch it are longtime watchers who tune in every week for episodes,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “The only exception is if we cover more sensitive topics like, race, gender, or sexuality we will get some pushback. I think that’s just the cost of doing business with open discourse.”

One of the most controversial shows was about the transatlantic slave trade.

“We did one episode on why Europeans enslaved Africans and that was probably our most viewed episode as well as our most critiqued one,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “I think often times if you view yourself as pretty well versed in history from what you learn in school and then you learn something that goes in the opposite direction it can be jarring or for some people upsetting. We think of it as our value or service to our audience to present accurate history or history that doesn’t get told that often so that people can be informed with the whole picture.”

She added that she has an answer for those who point out that Africans sold slaves to Europeans.

“Slavery was not invented with West Africans and Europeans,” Dr. Bainbridge continued. “Some form of enslavement – whether through war, becoming a prisoner of war, or through different systems – goes back to ancient societies from around the world. So, it is not distinct to West Africa or Europe or any other region of the world.”

Dr. Bainbridge added, “But the difference with this particular moment in slavery was that it intersected with capitalism in a way that was very different with slavery that preceded it. People were taken into the system and their children inherited their status as a slave and that is where the differences started to emerge. We have to think about these things as distinct only because the system that existed with chattel slavery was so radically different than the slavery that existed around the world beforehand.”

With the ongoing protests against police brutality, “Origin of Everything” has also tackled the racist beginnings of United States law. Dr. Bainbridge breaks down the discriminatory history by looking at colonialism, slavery, the Jim Crow era, and mass incarceration.

“I decided to write this episode about legal discrimination, and I didn’t have a particular agenda in mind,” she said. “As I started doing the research it was overwhelming. I started to find (material) that just dealt with legal discrimination about black people in this country from its origin to now. I thought it was something that people needed to know.”

“I was never taught in any history class that I took through high school any of the information from that episode. I was taught that things are fair and that a lot of the blame was placed inadvertently or inherently on black communities, impoverished communities, or communities that struggle. When I saw that in some ways the law was stacked against black people and certain other populations, I thought that was important to bring to light. In this moment, people are looking for reliable sources and this could add to the conversation.”

New episodes of “Origin of Everything” are available on PBS.org and the PBS Digital Studios’ YouTube Channel. Join the conversation by visiting Twitter-@PBSOrigin and Instagram-@pbsoriginofeverything.

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TV Calendar: Coming to Small Screens

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