Video games became an almost $180 billion industry in 2020, which is more than the global film industry and North American sports combined. While there has been major work and significant pressure on those two latter industries to make diversity and representation more of a priority, the same can’t be said for gaming. According to the International Game Developers Association, just 2% of game developers are Black.
A similar lack of diversity can be seen in among gaming’s creator class, the streamers and influencers who drive the engine of gaming entertainment. Now, a new content series is aiming to draw more attention to the fact that while more than 80% of Black American teens play video games, they aren’t seeing themselves in the streams, as game characters, nor in the developer credits of the games they love.
Gaming While Black is a digital series of eight different shows that uses comedy and conversation among popular Black gaming creators like Marcel Cunningham (Basicallyidowrk), who has almost 5 million YouTube subscribers, to explore representation in the vast world of video games.
The series is created by entertainment studio 3BlackDot, which not only works with brands like Netflix, Amazon Studios, Epic Games, Oculus, and Fruit of the Loom, but also produced the acclaimed 2019 film Queen & Slim, and the animated series Alpha Betas last year. CEO Reginald Cash says if you ask a fan who the top gaming creators were, they would maybe say Ninja or PewDiePie. Or if you asked them who some of the top game designers, engineers, or even characters were, there likely wouldn’t be much diversity on that list.
“Clearly there is something missing, from just a representation standpoint, if half the adult population on earth says, ‘I’m a gamer,’ and you can’t think of any diversity, that’s a pretty massive problem,” says Cash.
That’s also reflected in 3BlackDot’s own business. “Every month, on average, we probably pay out about $5 million to creators, whether that’s from a merchandising relationship, book publishing, or a brand campaign or sponsorship,” says Cash. “And only roughly 3% of those dollars go to any creator of color, or any diverse creator. So the problem is really close to home.”
The series is sponsored by Doritos. Stacy Taffet, vice president of marketing for Frito-Lay North America, says the brand’s support is a part of its ongoing Solid Black initiative to bolster the voices of Black innovators and creators and provide them with resources. “Our partnership with Gaming While Black was an extension of that ambition and enabled Doritos to build upon our legacy as a gaming brand by passing the mic to Black content creators to speak to their unique experiences and dispel myths in a clever and engaging way,” says Taffet.
As with most areas of culture and content over the past year, gaming has seen some movement on its diversity issues. Last year, Greg Selkoe, then the president of Faze Clan, left the e-sports and content phenomenon to launch a new gaming organization called Xset, which he said was built on the principles of inclusivity and social good. And earlier this month Faze Clan and McDonald’s announced a partnership that aimed to revolve around diversity and inclusion.
Cash sees this series as an opportunity to entertain while addressing this massive gap in representation and the economy of gaming from a diversity standpoint. It’s also an opportunity to encourage brands and developers to consider the issue in their own gaming investments. The series will live at a Gaming While Black hub, but the bulk of the distribution will come through the participating creators. “We wanted to go where the audience is,” says Cash. “We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to show up. The real goal here is sustainability, and to convince enough platforms, brands, and participants that this is important work and the audience is there.”