Game Design

black lives matter: diversity resources for gamers and game developers

In light of recent events and the Black Lives Matter movement, I am writing this blog post to help fight against the racism and police brutality against African-Americans that have come to the forefront in the past couple of weeks.

Racial injustice is pervasive, and changes must be made across all areas of society.  The gaming industry is not historically known to be diverse or accepting, and while combating this has been a passion of mine for a long time, it is particularly important now.

It doesn’t surprise me that there’s hardly any information online about this issue in relation to games, but I’ve done my best with the resources that are available and put together this blog post.  I hope there will be more information, studies and statistics available in the future.

I want to share some of these findings, to contribute to the education, awareness, and calls to action required for us to make a change.

Skip to section:

  1. IGDA on Diversity in the Game Industry
  2. Resources, Links and Ways to Support Black Game Developers
  3. What can I do as a Member of the Gaming Community or Industry?

IGDA on Diversity in the Game Industry

The first resources I came across were the International Game Developers Association (IGDA)’s Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS)s.  These reports, created in partnership with Western University, cover a wide range of demographics and opinions as surveyed across developers and game industry professionals in all positions and are usually the “stats” quoted by news articles.

A couple of caveats:

1. The survey data is not perfect, or representative.

  • Participants are a self-selected group, with only ~1000 – ~2000 responses per year, and a large part of the respondent demographics are US-based, white/Caucasian males.
IGDA DSS: Participation and US Representation
  • The “prototypical game industry worker” from the data from 2015-2019 was consistently a 30-something year old white male, with a university degree and no children.
  • The survey highly over-represents the number of people identifying as white and under-represents the number of people identifying as black, so please examine the data below in that context.  This is compared to the US Census 2018 data, since the majority of participants were US-based, but also had participants from outside the US.
  • The IGDA DSS is also held around the time of the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC), though there’s no information on the page on how the surveys get distributed.  If the survey process is connected to GDC participants, it may have more wealthy responders who can afford to travel and attend the conference, and Bay Area-based responders since GDC is held in San Francisco.
IGDA DSS (2014-2019): Average Self-Reported Race
US Census (2018): Self-Reported Race
IGDA DSS (2014-2019) vs. US Census (2018): Self-Reported Race, Non-White

2. I am aware that the term “diversity” does not represent what is going on in the Black Lives Matter movement, and its use here is in no way meant to minimize or cover up the severity of the issue.

  • For the IGDA surveys, responders were told to “consider diversity in terms of demographic characteristics such as sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.”, which is an overwhelming number of categories thrown together.
  • I could not find more specific statistics related to the black community in the games industry, and I want to provide the information that is available through IGDA’s surveys but make it clear that this is a very broad overview encompassing many problems (and perhaps obfuscating some of them), racism being one of them.  Again, this is the only information I could find, so this is only a start.

From the five available DSS summary reports (2019, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014) on the IGDA resources page, I’ve made a summary of the related points.

IGDA DSS: Importance of Diversity
  • From the surveys, the perceived importance of diversity has been increasing over the years.  It’s interesting to see that consistently, the largest percentage of responders consider diversity in game content important, followed by diversity in the game industry, and lastly diversity in the workplace.
IGDA DSS: Game Industry Diversity Compared to Two Years Ago
  • Surveys suggest that diversity (or at least, the perception of diversity) is on the rise, though most recent data in 2019 said that only 57% of participants saw the game industry as more diverse over the past two years, and 26% said that the industry had remained the same in terms of diversity.
IGDA DSS: Policies for Increasing Diversity and Equality in the Workplace
  • The awareness and prevalence of diversity and equality policies in the workplace has been increasing, with new data about safe space policies and retention measurement processes reported in the 2019 survey.
IGDA DSS: Are Diversity Policies Adequately Enforced?
  • Although there has been an overall increase in the number of people who feel that diversity policies at their workplace are adequately enforced, this number at its highest was 59% in 2019.
IGDA DSS: Do you feel there is equal treatment and opportunity for all in the game industry?
  • An increasing percentage of responders feel that there isn’t equal treatment and opportunity for all in the game industry, with 65% saying so in 2019, the largest in the survey’s history.
IGDA DSS: Have you perceived inequity on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, ability or sexual orientation?
  • This chart indicates that more people are noticing some form of inequity towards themselves or towards others.

More information can be found through the DSS summary reports, which are available on the IGDA website.

In addition, here are two Diversity Reports that have summaries and analyses of the surveys on different factors:

Ukie Survey on Diversity in the UK Games Industry

Ukie (United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment) conducted its first UK Games Industry Census, published in February 2020.  It does not have more specific information on ethnicity, claiming that:

10% of people working in games are Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). This is a slightly higher percentage than in the national working population, and higher than both the overall creative industries and specific sectors such as music, publishing and film / TV. However, it is lower than the equivalent figure for IT and software, as well as below the average in the working-age population.

Resources, Links and Ways to Support Black Game Developers

Game Devs of Color Expo

  • The first Game Devs of Color Expo was held in 2016, in Harlem, New York.  Since then, the annual event has grown to host 700 attendees in 2019, more than 60% of whom identified as black.  This year’s Expo will be virtual, held online on 19 September, 2020.  The Expo is seeking sponsorships and donations and you can apply to attend, be a speaker, or show your game.

Rad Magpie

Black Game Developers

  • A list of black game developers across all disciplines (programming, UI, art, audio, production, etc.).  The website reads, “Hire them. Buy their stuff.”

What can I do as a Member of the Gaming Community or Industry?

Gamers and Anyone Who Plays Games:

  • Play games consciously, think and talk about the social and cultural issues within games, and speak up online to the developers if you notice racist or racially insensitive in-game content.
  • Games are great at helping us experience the world while walking in someone else’s shoes.  Play games that help you learn about the issues facing the black community.  For example, the short game Easy Level Life by DE Team captures the struggle with police brutality faced by African-Americans across the US.

“The closest thing to a win condition where police brutality is concerned, is simply not being the wrong skin color. The game is the same way… It’s close to my heart as someone who has to face this violence.”

– yvvy, game designer of Easy Level Life1

  • Actively speak up against racial slurs in in-game chat instead of just muting offending players, and report players who behave in a racist manner.
  • Support black developers and their games, and don’t support game studios who don’t support black developers.

Game Designers and Game Developers:

  • Be aware of how you are using race in your games, and consider what unconscious biases you may be bringing to your game design.  Then, make choices that are anti-racist in your game’s design.  Think about your default character, your visual depictions of the “bad guys”, and even the characters’ costumes, dialogue, music and game environment.  Years ago, I wrote an article addressing how race is an underlying current in video games, which covers many of these points.
  • Playtest your games with people who are not like you.  They will bring perspectives that you will never have had.

“It might have been the exact same game, but it was a completely different game for me… I was a black guy saving other black guys from slavery.”

– A participant at the round table “Black Characters in Games: Debunking the Stereotype” speaking about the Freedom Cry DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, 4 March, GDC 20152

  • Implement systems that combat racism and punish players who behave in a racist manner, whether in their avatar, in in-game chat or anywhere else.
  • Hire and collaborate with black developers.

If there’s anything I’ve missed, please let me know.  I hope this was helpful.  If anything is clear from the events of the past couple of weeks, it’s that we all need to be actively working towards a change.

Screenshot from the game Easy Level Life.


References Cited

  1. Budgor, Astrid. “A Videogame for #BlackLivesMatter.” Kill Screen, 15 July 2016. Web. 5 June 2020.
  2. Kollar, Philip. “Black developers speak out on stereotypes in gaming.” News. Polygon, 5 March 2015. Web. 5 June 2020.

Additional Resources

  1. Hackney, Elizabeth. “Eliminating Racism and the Diversity Gap in the Video Game Industry.” The John Marshall Law Review 51(4) (2018): 863. Web. 5 June 2020.
  2. Deskins, Troy G. “Stereotypes in Video Games and How They Perpetuate Prejudice.” McNair Scholars Research Journal 6(1) (2013). Web. 5 June 2020.