Alone but surrounded, making the industry more diverse and welcoming

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How can we make the game industry a more diverse and welcoming place? Our industry is a place where people come together to create and build beautiful and engaging experiences for the world. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this industry since I was 19 and it is the love of my life, but as an African American it is neglectful at times. I’ve had a chance to be on some extraordinary teams and meet many wonderful people over the years ever since I started.

Unfortunately the thing that is always a wake up call to me no matter what studio I’m with, team I’m on or even GDC I attend. When I look around I feel detached and alone as one of the few people of color making games. With a community of so many different types of disciplines, artists, programmers and designers. No one should ever feel alone in the game industry.

The culture of making games is a strange one and is different with every studio. But it is consistent in the sense that, to work with us you have to be like us. Which is near impossible for some African Americans to do. For many like myself we come from urban communities and completely different cultures than the industry is use to. There has to be a give and take, our industry needs to be more willing to accept change as well as welcome culture blending and be more accommodating to that. Many studios are way ahead of me and already achieving this at a large rate with women in games. But without a legion of diverse people with different backgrounds, cultures races and experiences making games we are limiting ourselves. As well as doing a disservice to developers of future generations.
Now before talking about how the industry can attract more African Americans we need to understand what the problem has been thus far.

The main problem, no representation in games. An example of this conversation, a panel I was a part of at GDC 2015. The topic, “Black Stereotypes in gaming”, covered by Polygon, and representation was a focus. (Polygon quoted me a few times in the article and encourage  you to check out, *I’ll have link below*)

“ He told a story about talking with a major triple-A developer about how much he liked the Freedom Cry downloadable add-on for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. “But it’s just more of the same,” the developer said.

“It might have been the exact same game, but it was a completely different game for me,” the audience member said. “I was a black guy saving other black people from slavery.” “

With more representation (In game) comes more interest with younger African Americans. One thing I wish I added during that talk would be bring culture into the character. The best example is Franklin from Grand Theft Auto 5. Though not my favorite, his character has all  the feelings and culture of the people I grew up around and I love him for that. Bring characters and culture into games is only the first step to better outreach the next is where we are reaching.
This article has been mostly about diversity for African Americans in the industry because that has been my experience and what I know most about. Everyone has their own unique view on the subject but can all agree that with the current state of the industry it’s a major problem. The word diverse itself mean different and that is the point of it all. If there is one thing people get from this article I hope its this. There are a countless number of amazingly different people in the world and the word different shouldn’t be held against them but celebrated and welcomed. The Ideas in this article are just that, ideas. Much like game development itself, a good idea is pointless if you don’t act on it.

-Neil Jones

*Black developers speak out on stereotypes in gaming: