How the Black Girl Gamers Community Became a Lifeline

Jay-Ann Lopez knows he could do even better. He was in college, and two of his friends were watching YouTube using a gaming channel that was worst, best not good. They use African American Vernacular English for cool points, make jokes that turn femininity into a punchline, and often just drop the clichéd sequence. It is discouraging to watch them become famous. Lopez decided it was time to start his own channel. What she did became a platform that connected black female athletes around the world.

Born and raised in London, Lopez started playing video games when he was just 6 years old, after receiving his first console, a Nintendo, from his uncle. He enjoys it, but — like movies and TV — he rarely sees himself represented. “On screen, I can barely see the black characters. When I do, they’re there for comedic comfort. They’re the macho Black guy or the Black girl with the behavior problem, the sassy Black girl who trope, ”he recalled.“ Growing up without [Black characters] in the games I like to play it doesn’t seem like it’s for me to play. ” Lopez tried to find a place to play on his YouTube channel, but eventually abandoned it. He feels frustrated, rejected, invisible — and there are many players like him.

In October 2015, Lopez started Black Girl Gamers, a Twitch channel that has since become an online safe space and platform for increasing the visibility of Black women to play. BGG now has more than that 7,000 members of its Facebook group and about 35,000 Twitch followers. The group runs IRL events and creates online content to support the diversity of the gaming industry. What started as a small Facebook page with four community managers has become a dedicated and growing Twitch channel with 184 team members. The organization now offers events, workshops, consulting, teaching opportunities, and a talent agency to represent streamers. Recently, the group partnered with Facebook Reality Labs to offer members a three-month mentorship program for commercial augmented and virtual reality roles.

According to Entertainment Software Association (ESA), there are now 227 million US players. The majority of players were white (73 percent) and identified as male (55 percent). For players who are not in groups, playing is not easy. A 2020 study of the Anti-Defamation League found that 64 percent of online multiplayer players in the U.S. ages 18 to 45 have experienced some form of harassment, with most of that harassment being related to gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or ability. “Women and girls don’t play like boys and men and not because of lack of interest or ability,” he said. Rabindra (Robby) Ratan, associate professor of media and information at Michigan State University. “Despite the stereotype that girls and women aren’t as good as boys and men at play, if we look at skill increasing over time, women and girls are as well.” Ratan’s research, focusing on harassment of gaming culture, showed that women do not spend much time playing because of the toxicity they experience on online platforms.

And it’s not just harassment. Black female players are also subject to the so -called stereotype threat, which Ratan describes as “this idea that if you are reminded of a stereotype that applies to your group you are more likely to agree with that group as long as the reminders are tricky. ”This is the kind of thing that not only makes Black women do worse in sports, it can also cause many to eventually stray from technical careers or STEM fields. Black female athletes also face double discrimination of racism and misogyny, while simultaneously facing backlash for trying to address it. ”When we started BGG, people were always going to -say, ‘Why do you need a page for black female players? What if I did [one for] white male players? ‘”by Lopez. “If I had a pound every time someone would say [that] I should be rich now. ” As Black Girl Gamers have grown, it has become clearer why this is so important.

When it started, BGG was one of the first Twitch channels to feature multiple streamers instead of having a single person face to face, a trend that has become commonplace. Having multiple streamers allows for more collaboration, and if a specific player is not online, BGG uses stream team, a list of personal accounts of group members that gives people the opportunity to learn more about BGG and connect with individual streamers who live on their own channels. While Lopez is the founder of the organization, he is not strict on how to run the community or what games can be played. Those choices are made collectively by stream team members, and this freedom of choice is almost imperceptible.

In 2018, in TwitchCon, a conference for Twitch streamers, “a white woman approached me. She told me ‘I like what you do at BGG, but I’ve noticed that you all like to play violent games,’ ”Lopez recalls.The woman seemed to be trying to make a connection between the race and the types of games that played by members of the group, but Lopez has a hard time seeing what it is.Like movies and music, Lopez understands that everyone has their own taste in video games, but the assumption is that there is a connection between of those who like to race and sport couldn’t be further from the truth. “Black women play all kinds of games,” she said.

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