By Karina Valdes
Realizing a need for a reference of African American and African diaspora game makers, Lindsay Grace, associate professor and Knight Chair in Interactive Media, recently released Black Game Studies, an academic and historical book on the contributions of Black game makers to the field of analog and digital games.
“There was a shortage of information about people of the African American and African diaspora and the kinds of games they make. What I did at the start of last year was to solicit stories and aggregate all of the folks who self-identified as African American or African diasporic game designers and bring them into a book, as well as collecting foundational research,” said Grace.
According to Grace’s research, less than 2% of the game production community are of African descent, yet they make up more than 20% of the consumer base.
“And, if you’re looking at teenagers,” added Grace, “more Black teenagers will buy games than any other demographic. So you have a huge consumer base that is barely participating in the production of the media they consume.”
Further, a number of the contributors to the book relayed having a difficult time in the industry due to a variety of microaggressions faced in the workplace.
“A lot of the indies were basically having a hard time finding the kinds of games they wanted promoted within their companies or they didn’t find a good space for themselves in the industry. A lot of the people doing this work are trying to create a new space,” explained Grace.
Several of the game developers Grace spoke with started their own companies in response to their experiences in the field.
“The whole project was designed as a service to the community. What I wanted to do is create something that gave an academic perspective on equity and opportunities. It is not very well catalogued in the general academic space, so I wanted to make sure that we had at least one baseline for academic reference,” said Grace.
The book is divided into three sections with the first introducing readers to Black game studies from Mancala, one of the oldest games still played today, to more contemporary games. The second section gives game designers who identify as Black a space to articulate their experiences in the field. The last section is a collection of 40 digital and analog games from the early 1990s to 2021, all created by Black game designers.
With Grace’s book, educators now have a resource to teach a more holistic perspective on game design.
“Someone who might, for example, want to talk about African American games in a game study course now has a resource that will cover that,” said Grace.
The book’s three sections are woven together by the Black experience that Grace sees as an inspiration for others.
“I wanted to create a resource for hopeful designers, developers, people who think ‘well, I don’t want to be the only Black person doing this.’,” said Grace.
Black Game Studies was written in part as an homage to Grace’s father at 18 years old who, at that age, was trying to figure out his place in the world. At 18, his father didn’t have very many role models and ended up enlisting in the Navy and finding his way through college.
“My father died right at the start of the pandemic and he didn’t really get to make full use of his intellectual capacities and I think it was in part because he didn’t know what other people were doing,” reflected Grace.
Through Black Game Studies, Grace has not only created a reference detailing the contributions of African Americans and the African diaspora to game making, but also developed a community for Black game makers to know they are not alone.
“His death really helped solidify for me the need for people to have a sense of community. Particularly, since the last couple of years we can’t meet in person, it seemed really important to at least say ‘here’s a book that shows you that you’re not alone.’,” said Grace.
Black Game Studies was a top 100 seller in Games on Amazon and is available for download at https://press.etc.cmu.edu/index.php/product/black-game-studies/.