startmenu Meets: Melanin Gamers

startmenu Meets: Melanin Gamers

A little while ago, I attended EGX Rezzed, a convention in London focussing on the more human side of games and their communities. Whilst there, I discovered a group of people with aims and ideas close to my heart, Melanin Gamers. As a woman of colour, it’s been important to me to see diversity in whatever I do, not just for diversity’s sake, but really because I think it promotes a better future for us all. Inclusion means better stories and better understanding. A win win situation for everyone. Melanin Gamers are promoting that diversity I look for and so this is an interview with their lovely founder Annabel.

Tell us a little about yourself Annabel!

Hello, my name is Annabel or creativelyanzy, my gamer tag, founder of Melanin Gamers. Outside of Melanin Gamers I’m a writer – award-winning actually. I won a competition and got my short story: A Conversation with Death published two years ago, I’m working on a fantasy trilogy at the moment alongside another shorter story about a young boy who has sickle-cell anaemia.

How was Melanin Gamers started, was there a prompt where you knew it was needed?

Melanin Gamers is a gaming community that promotes diversity and inclusivity in the video games industry, with a special focus on content creators; whiles also providing a safe space for people of colour to come together and game.

I created Melanin Gamers, not just as a show of support, or as a cry for some desperately needed change but more importantly as a safe space, an online and irl community for people from BAME backgrounds to come together, share ideas and feel represented in the gaming industry.

I have always wanted more diversity in the games industry since I first started gaming twenty years ago, and as the years progressed it went from an annoyance to futile acceptance to outrage. I believe the tipping scale for me was a  few years ago my brother was about to make Grandmaster on OW when he was banned from playing all video games by my parents. My older sister is not a gamer; she told my brother to pause his game - it was a competition match (a live game) and he obviously could not do this - she stood somewhat impatiently waiting for him to finish and heard one of his teammates using the N-word rather liberally, along with other racial slurs. She called me in to listen, I was appalled but not reflecting the level of justified indignation and more importantly surprise she thought I should feel. Why would his team mate treat him thus? And why would our brother continue to play when we could obviously see his discomfort?

My brother assured us he'd tried to complain in the past but to no avail. Upon our insistence he did so again; asking the player to stop using the N-word and to stop being racist, his fellow teammates supported his complaint in a rather lacklustre manner which told us that they preferred for my brother to simply get used to it as he had been doing so they could continue to capture the objective. The player continued to racially abuse my brother, my youngest brother, 14 at the time said with an indifference that rattled me: if one wanted to play online they had to develop tough skin and racism was just part of it. His acceptance of this ideology fuelled my sister's decision to take the matter to our parents despite all, myself included, urging her not to. My brother was banned from playing all video games for a month by my parents and his reaction after putting so many hours to have Grand-master ripped away from him was indescribable and he said something I will not forget: Who loses if I stop playing?

The words stuck with me, who did lose? Certainly not the player who may continue to keep using the N-word and be racist to this day but my brother who never made Grand-master. He was punished for someone else's action, and my youngest brother accepted racism as the norm; had in fact been subjected to an onslaught of racist abuse on multiple occasions but became exasperated with us when we tried to limit his own experience online.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice - bullying has, in fact, become normal, I would go as far as to say expected in online gaming. It is our generations wild west; unpoliced, unsanctioned and ruining the reputation of gaming and gamers everywhere.

As a gamer, I am protective of my community, but I won't support or condone a game or an institution that cannot and will not stand up to something that is so inherently immoral it should be illegal. We have to do something drastic or we as gamers will lose what we love.

With E3 past, what direction are you hoping that big companies are going to take to improve diversity in the coming years?

This recent E3 has been by far more diverse than I was expecting, but then my expectations are generally rather low. In regards to the triple-A games we saw two black leads in Deathloop! Which surprised and thrilled me, the game itself looked amazing and so I was glad that the two characters we saw predominantly during the trailer were black. We saw Nessa (a black girl) from Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. A black Pokemon trainer! It was wondrous to behold, and that they opened with her means we are most definitely heading in the right direction. Cyberpunk as well. Animal Crossing. Watchdogs Legion. We are definitely seeing more diversity.

Saying that this E3 felt like the year where they round up the older consoles, new Xbox Scarlet, though Sony wasn’t at E3 we know there have been heavy rumours for the PS5. Also with the announcement of Google Stadia. 

In relation to Indie games, there has always been more diversity in their games and I believe this is due to the fact that typically speaking Indie Games developers and creators have more diverse team. So it’s rather telling that a diverse team will create a game that has a diverse cast.

Also, would love to make mention of the presenters this year we saw, we need more diverse presenters, more women presenting as well as actual characters in games: Sarah Bond, Ikumi Nakamura and Rahni Tucker.

Surrounding gaming events, all eyes are on some of the biggest developers around. When I saw you talk at Rezzed there was discussion about indie games and the steps they were taking in diversity. Do you think there is a bigger responsibility on either these big games or their smaller counterparts.

The long and short answer to that is: the responsibility should be on everyone. Saying that those who have a bigger platform and can reach a wider audience should be setting an example but as I said before, the responsibility should be on everyone because change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Small pockets of change from the smallest Indie game to the bigger companies can and must do their part to be more inclusive and depict society as it is and that’s diverse.

Abuse is still a large topic of conversation within POC movements in gaming. You can see videos of racist comments and arguments happening in games such as Overwatch and the conversation regularly ends with the developer saying they are taking care of it and that is that. Do you have any comments about how these things should be handled? Do you trust these companies to do a good job in punishing a player for these sorts of comments?

I don’t personally believe that these companies are doing enough to crack down on trolls, even the word trolls isn’t harsh enough, they racist, homophobic, or sexist ignorant bullies. These companies should punish them with the right level of action that they take on those who are cheating at games or work a glitch to get free gear. It’s stunning to see how quickly these companies act when they are being cheated out of their money compared to how slow or lacklustre the response is when a racist/ sexist or homophobic comment is reported. The system in place for reporting is also a long-winded arduous process that it puts people off and at the end of the day, they feel as though not much is really done anyway. I think these companies should be doing far more.

Are there any examples that come to mind with regard to diversity done right, or diversity done wrong?

I would mention Apex Legends here for both right and wrong reasons. It’s a game that has a diverse cast which is amazing. But…the voice actors, specifically the voice actor for Lifeline is, in all honesty, a little cringy.

Any advice to people of colour in the gaming community getting involved in diversity projects?

I would say keep enjoying the games that you play of course, but don’t let your love for a game let you view the developers with rose-tinted glasses. When you love a game it’s very difficult to be objective and call it out for its flaws especially when it comes to the topic of diversity. But I believe talking about something keeps it at the forefront of people’s minds, that’s why diversity panels are important. Knowing there is a problem is the first step to fixing that problem.

Anything else you’d like to discuss or bring up as something companies or players need to be more wary of in the future?

I think people should just keep their eyes open and remember they have the power, these big companies and even the little one are funded by us the people playing the game. If a game doesn’t have the decency to respect you enough to represent you then call the company out on that. As Angela Davis said: ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept’. Now I’m not telling everyone to rally or start petitions, just to report or to mention or to tweet or to post, every time there is something wrong, every time you face racism/homophobia or racism report it, even if the process is long, every time it happens it gets logged into the system and that system can change when we all band together and do something.

And that’s it! Thank you so much to Annabel for talking to me, it was a pleasure hearing what she had to say about diversity and inclusion. If you want to see what Melanin Gamers are getting up to then you can find their Twitter here and their Twitch here.

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