February 25th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

This special edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging is curated by Zolani Stewart.

The fallacy of Black History Month is that its existence negates the need for a extensive discussion of what it means to be black. I find my voice boxed in a cell whose locks are controlled by the temporal forces of white boredom and guilt. I find my signature on a social contract whose paper my hand has not touched. I find the white man, with his property documents and his contracts, towering over me:

“You have your month, we have our status-quo.” he tells me, with a smirk.

Yet what does that mean, a “real discussion” about blackness? A real discussion implies an honest engagement with the realities of black peoples, with the goal of instigating positive change for black peoples. Blackness is best undefined here as I risk undermining it, but to me it always implied a question: I am a black man who lives in an environment colonized and controlled by whites, yet how can I live a life of love and aspiration, where I have the means to achieve the goals I set for myself, and the tools to love myself, in spite of those who despise my skin? What are the forces that keep me and those like me from humanity, and how can they be dismantled?

I’m noting these rhetoricals because I want you to understand what this is, and what this is not. This is not a post to compensate for the need for more extensive discussions of blackness and videogames, that goes beyond one month. And this is not a post to convince you that things are ok. I can assure you, with the utmost confidence, that things are certainly not ok.

Rather what I’ve done for you today, is curated several links to critical engagements with videogames done by black people. But I don’t have as many links as I would have liked. This concerns me. I shouldn’t have to travel across the mountains and forests of the internet just to find a black person talking about videogames, like men searching for water in the Sahara. I’ll admit, I’m slightly ashamed about this circumstance. Why are black voices so rarely sought out to the point where many of them are pushed into the furthest of obscurities? This, of course, is a question bigger than just videogames or criticism, but it’s a problem that can be pushed back, turned ever slightly, broken down progressively, within videogames. This curation is not a reassurance; it is a call to be attentive, to be perceptive, and to be active in who you pay attention to, and whose voice you bring to your circles. I’m doing this with the hope that next year there will be more links, more talented, crucial voices like these that will be circulated wider, and will reach further.

Now, onto This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Black Games Criticism

Last Month, Isaiah Taylor interviewed voice actress Amanda Strawn for her role as Letitia in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is amazing! Why did this piece get no traction? It’s crucial that people like Strawn have their voices heard. Too often we idolize the words of the industry successes instead of those who work in its systems, and get so little from it.

Next up, TJ Thomas spoke at IndieCade East about creating a diverse and flourishing indie game scene. As a critic, I have much respect for TJ’s work, but I’m also deeply appreciative  of how he challenges the white capitalist hegemonies of indie culture. Listen to him:

really, “indie” has turned into nothing more than a buzzword, and it’s the way we perceive videogames and our community and shun truly interesting works that have turned our identities into something that needs to be marketable and agreeable, which, as you can imagine, naturally excludes minorities 95% of the time. we stifle our own creativity, we stifle the creativity of our peers, and we stifle the development of our culture as a whole. we cultivate a culture where the established continue to reign above all, and the smaller continue to be shunned and silenced.

I now want to point to streamer and Voiceover actress Tunesha Davis, who has been streaming to raise money for her friend Albert’s kidney surgery. Davis’ streams are great, they’re super energetic and fun to watch, and it’s a good example of critical engagement with games that goes beyond writing.

Meanwhile, Nathan Blades on OnePixel makes a sound argument for a queer escapism, an exploration of agency that diverges from white hetero-patriarchal dispositions.

I’m totally enamoured with the insight that Jordan Minor brings with his piece on The Escapist. He tells us his experience tutoring a camp of mostly young black girls to make videogames.

And earlier this month, Austin Walker discussed the nature of permanence in EVE Online, arguing against the game’s decision to mark a ship graveyard on one of its largest battles.

Now, let us now go to SheAttack.com. SheAttack is a games site completely written by women, with a large collection of black writers. This should be enough to warrant your attention, but I want to point to two pieces from here. One is a piece by Emerald who goes over her thoughts on the Nintendo Girls Club, and the second is Krystal Carr, who took the time to highlight 12 black videogame characters and explain her interest in them. Given that many of these pieces concern mainstream games and the big industry, I’m wondering why none of these writers are being picked up for larger sites.

And lastly, I’d like to highlight Dr. Kishonna L Gray, who has written extensively on the experience of being a minority gamer on Xbox Live. You can download her paper on the racism and stigmatization faced by minority gamers here.

A Conclusion

I want to thank dearest Kris Ligman and the wonderful folks at Critical Distance for giving me the opportunity to do this. I also want to thank the people who I was able to highlight on this year’s list, for the work they do. And I want to give a message, to black people who are engaging with games critically, whether it be in writing, video, or games themselves: Thank You. Thank you so much. Your voices are important; they always have been, and they deserve to be heard. You do a service to this industry, and to games. And of course, if you created something that isn’t on this list, it is only a sign of my incompetence, not a judgement of your talent.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about me, I run a magazine called The Arcade Review, where we write critically on experimental, avant-garde titles. Take a look if that interests you!

I’m also editing the next issue of Memory Insufficient, a games history e-zine run by Zoya Street. Take a look at its older issues if that sounds neat to you.

As always, we greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

Take care all,
– Zolani