If there’s one word Black Girl Gamers founder Jay-Ann Lopez wants to focus on when it comes to improving equity in the gaming industry, it’s longevity. In her experience, unfortunately, that’s not often the case. “We live in a world where marketing is the way we show that we care. But it cannot be the only way we show that we care,” she said during Thursday’s Refinery29 Twitch stream. “How else are you [the brand] showing that you care other than, for instance, having more [diverse] content creators in your campaigns? That’s something that’s been increasing, but that’s just marketing. That’s the face you want to produce to sell your product. It’s still a means to an end to benefit you.”
When R29 first launched Good Game in December 2021, the multi-hyphenate (she’s also a speaker and COO of JumpButton Studio) penned an insightful essay about what it’s like for Black women in the industry, detailing how they’re often underestimated, overlooked, or blatantly ignored whether as a community of passionate gamers or as people who want to be more involved working behind the scenes. And while Lopez has noticed an uptick in representation in front of the cameras, as she told R29 Entertainment Director Melissah Yang, any stats that would demonstrate truly meaningful progress haven’t really changed at all. The majority of the highest paid gamers are white men; about 76% of game developers are men (almost 68% are white); and, as of 2021, 84% of executive-level positions in the industry are held by men. And that’s because not enough people are thinking about longevity.
Of course, the Black gaming community is making its own strides in the industry, regardless of the obstacles it faces. Black Girl Gamers, for example, has now grown to include 10,000 members in its safe and celebratory space to share in what they love. And, earlier this fall, Sarah Bond was appointed president of Xbox, becoming the first Black woman to hold the role. While Lopez is hopeful Bond’s promotion will have a positive trickle-down effect (without putting responsibility for every Black woman gamer on the exec’s shoulders), she also notes that the community can’t — and shouldn’t have to — do it all alone. There needs to be concrete action from stakeholders across the board. “For the most part, it’s still a struggle. For the most part, it’s still the industry thinking they know what they don’t, not knowing what they don’t, and not being bothered to ask,” Lopez says. “What are you doing to actually benefit the people who are asking to be correctly represented … and create a more equitable industry?”
Part of how she does that herself is by hosting a Gamer Girls Night In event in the UK for women and nonbinary folks. Now in its second year, the annual get together combines beauty, fashion, and gaming as a way to show that people can be enthusiastic about all of these things simultaneously. The event has been such a success that Lopez is planning the first ever Gamer Girls Night In edition for the US, which she hopes will take place in late 2024 or early 2025.
And even if you’re not as directly involved in the gaming industry or want to do more to improve equity within it for Black women and other marginalized people, you can be an effective ally, Lopez says. Start by learning to decenter yourself, especially if you come from a place of more privilege. A group like Black Girl Gamers isn’t necessarily for you, but that shouldn’t matter if the entire industry is built around you. Then learn how to listen to understand — an ally, Lopez says, shouldn’t be someone who has a rebuttal to every point someone brings up. Instead, you must afford others space to share their truth in an unencumbered way. “Decenter, listen, understand, then support,” Lopez says. “That’s the key mantra any ally should have.” From that point-of-view, longevity and true equity seem less impossible to achieve.