by Kyle Harvey
While all sorts of people are playing the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto V video game, the racial divide between the consumer and producers in the game industry hasn’t evolved over the years.
The video game franchises that are released annually, such as Madden, Call of Duty and God of War, have made the mainstream media aware of how financially lucrative the business of gaming could be.
But how can black and brown faces transition from playing to creating without a traditional computer science degree?
Debunking the Myths
The New York gaming conference has been providing those who have an interest in the field with direct access to CEOs. Unfortunately those who aren’t well versed in the art of networking or do not have the money to attend these seminars are left on the outside looking in.
“New York is one of the most diverse places in the world, yet who do you see on the panels? The racial inclusivity of the industry is rarely talked,” said Shawn Allen, a former Rockstar Game designer and now founder of the independent company NuChallenger. “It makes you wonder why you don’t see more of color on the programing end.”
Shawn, who is of African-American descent, has been on both sides of the gaming aisle. He was featured on a panel to provide much needed clarity to a field that where community outreach to Hispanic and black people is lacking.
The video game industry has become so expansive, that being a programmer isn’t the only option for those who have a passion for the culture.
Finding Your “In”
Linette Harrigan, a former writer, demo singer for Mary J. Blige, and employee of the late Michael Jackson, grew tired of the music business, but her passion for music never wavered. She parlayed her love for song into the field of video gaming and TV licensing where seeing a fellow black face is rare, and where a black woman is almost nonexistent.
“In the beginning it was really tough for people to speak to me but, I don’t think it really had anything to do with my color,” Harrigan said. “I think it was more so based on the ‘trust issue’. This is a business built on relationships. People have to feel like they know you and trust you in order for you to get the information that will help you move forward in this business.”
Though she was on the creative side of music entertainment, she never saw her lack of knowledge of videogames deter her from a transition. She leveraged her music connects to her advantage and found her niche in the field.
Harrigan continued, “I already knew people on many different sides of the entertainment business, I had friends who were in TV production and in film. My brother actually who used to work for MSNBC and BET taught me about the business and contracts behind the scenes. Merging that with my music knowledge made the jump not as hard.”
Looking for support
“The path to game creation begins with education. For all careers, that’s how you preserve the options to what you want to do later in life,” said Gordon Bellamy.
Bellamy, who has worked with Electronic Arts, Spike TV, and Activision, was an early trailblazer for African Americans in the video game industry.
Though he did have a passion for engineering at a very early age, he spent equal amounts of time in the arcades. “Bringing those two interests together converged into a career in video games.”
The Harvard grad is a firm believer of giving back. He’s part of a support group on Facebook called ‘Blacks N Gaming,’ a network that makes sure that people of color who do have an interest in gaming are in the know.
“As long as we’re able to celebrate and cultivate young people of color who are creating content, then they will find their place,” Bellamy states. “Whether that’s behind the keyboards, marketing skills, running the business, I think targeting that interest at an early age is the key to success.”
If your computer science skills are lacking, Bellamy emphasizes the other disciplines that coincide with any thriving business models.
“Social media is such an important part of black digital culture and digital outreach is crucial to video game marketing.”
With Grand Theft Auto V reportedly making $800 million in one day, maybe it’s time to stop purchasing games and to start creating them.