Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story by journalist Charles Moody III.
BY CHARLES MOODY III
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
While you are reading this article, do me a favor:
Open up a new tab in your browser
Visit your favorite major gaming outlet
Find the staff section
Count the number of African-American writers on staff
How many African-American writers are employed at your favorite gaming outlet? If you aren’t satisfied with your answer, you can visit another site and follow the steps listed above. Did you find any this time?
I have often wondered why I do not see more African-American writers on the staffs of popular video game websites. I know that we exist. There are plenty of gamers who are intelligent, articulate and have a passion for games. I know countless people who use Windows downloads to learn and enjoy games, too. Yet, when I looked at the staff list for 10 of the most popular gaming websites, I only found two African-American writers.
It was a truth that I did not want to accept. “We” are not as actively involved as other races. Why is our presence almost non-existent? What is keeping the numbers low? I caught up with Mike Williams, staff writer for GamesIndustry, to get his opinion.
An insider perspective
CM: How did you get into the games industry?
MW: I answered an IndustryGamers (the U.S. site that merged with GamesIndustry to form GamesIndustry International) ad for an intern. I was lucky enough to be accepted for a trial period and then worked until I reached my current position as a staff writer. The gaming industry has lots of different branches and areas that people can get into, with gamers now even being able to access websites for extra game elements such as d2items. The gaming world is forever adapting to new surroundings.
CM: Was your journey into the field of videogame journalism any harder than your White counterparts?
MW: I don’t think so. There may be some who have reached positions in game journalism because they knew someone higher up, but it’s a tough road for the most part. There are so many people willing to do your job for peanuts that you have to work really hard to stay in the game.
MW: What would you say is the biggest misconception about African-American gamers/journalists within the industry?
CM: Honestly, we’re such a rarity that I’m not even sure there’s something to misconceive. … Googling ‘African-American game journalists’ brings up N’Gai Croal, an excellent writer who left the journalistic field to become a consultant a few years ago. That’s not to say we don’t exist in the field. There’s Kotaku’s Evan Nacisse and The Koalition’s Richard Bailey to name a few. But, certainly not in the same numbers as the 18-35 year-old White male.
CM: Why don’t we see more African-Americans writing for bigger gaming outlets? Is the pool to choose from small?
MW: Games Journalism is not necessarily the career you choose if you want to be completely self-sufficient or provide for your family. It takes a while to get to the point that you can draw a substantial salary from a single outlet. Many freelances at numerous places to make ends meet. Some supplement writing about games by broadcasting themselves playing games on twitch. To do this, using something like UseViral might be a wise idea for anyone looking to kickstart their twitch career.
Starting out can be vicious, and you’ll find that journalists tend to come from middle and upper class backgrounds.
For working class families, journalism isn’t a high-profile career option and Games Journalism is even worse in that regard. Being able to work for free in the beginning is almost a hard-set prerequisite for the field. Money constraints lead many game journalists to eventually transition to PR work or community manager positions at developers and publishers. Without the working class entering journalism, you’re already presented with a strike against the number of Black applicants.
Add to that the lack of visible representation in the industry and you lack young African-American kids with sufficient role models. Without role models, young children are more likely to focus on other pursuits. Careers in television, music, and film are far more enticing than journalism.
That being said, personally, I also think we need to see more representation of black role models on television and in the film industry too. Although things are definitely changing and television is a lot more diverse than it used to be, there is still a lot of room for improvement. As this source here highlights, huge numbers of people tune into cable television every single day, and therefore it is crucial that black viewers see themselves reflected in the shows and movies that they see on screen. The entertainment industry plays a huge role in promoting inclusion and diversity and therefore I think we are going to see even more changes going forward.
CM: If you were to look at the staff of popular gaming sites, one would think it’s “members only.” Would you agree or disagree?
MW: When sites get launched it’s going to feel that way because you’re more likely to choose applicants that you already know or come from similar backgrounds. Giant Bomb is a good example of this, being originally comprised of former GameSpot editors. Polygon’s original announcement crew was mostly White men because that’s what was available at the upper echelon of other outlets. Despite that beginning, Polygon has done a good job of hiring women and minorities on its team even if it lacks an African-American writer at this time.
Most sites are open to new writers who have proven themselves elsewhere, which usually means smaller sites or personal blogs. Freelance pitches are a strong option and repeat freelance work is one way onto a site’s permanent staff. Of course, staff positions require those in current positions to move on, which is difficult if they’ve spent years just getting there. You’re not going to be a senior editor at IGN until that editor leaves, and even then, you need experience elsewhere.