For many gamers, playing video games is more than mere escapism – it is a way of life. An average gamer plays games not just for the thrill of competing, winning and immersive storytelling – they also do it for a sense of community. That sense of community is healthy as it helps in creating social bonds.
However, Black gamers are often excluded from this community. The majority of gamers in the U.S. are male and white. In this monolithic environment, Black gamers get treated like an unwelcome minority. For Black gamers, online multiplayer modes are a toxic environment where they have to hide who they are in order to save themselves from harassment and verbal abuse.
There is causal use of racial epithets and other racist behavior that makes these hostile spaces for minorities. Even with tools like moderation, it is difficult to stop harassment from bad actors that derive pleasure in spewing violent, racist ideas. In March 2015, a cop on Xbox Live went on a racist rant in which he described getting paid to beat Black folks. He lost his job when a recording of it went public. This instance is just one of the many in which Black gamers are the target of a hot-headed gamer’s rage.
Besides this ongoing harassment, Black gamers get no support from gaming platform either. Whether streaming playthroughs on Twitch or playing online on gaming networks, Black gamers have to do heavy moderation to ignore racist behavior. They choose to ignore rather than report because there aren’t adequate measures taken to curb hate speech. The institutional lack of support extends to another problem faced by Black gamers: lack of representation.
Most games are designed and developed from the viewpoint of the average gamer. This means that game developers make games to validate the white male POV. This issue is felt most when one looks for games with Black leads, only to find out that there aren’t many. Even the games with Black characters with a somewhat prominent role don’t get featured on the box art. All of these things subtly discourage Black gamers to follow their passion and maintain the oppressive status quo.
Gaming offers a great opportunity to let people experience other people’s point of view and address societal ills. On example of this is Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2, which not only condemns the recent rise of nationalism and the alt-right but also presents the struggle of Black revolutionaries. In light of the issues faced by Black gamers, one can only hope that in the near future Black people get to make their own games and tell their story. It’s time that we get to play the hero of own stories.