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Seriously Gaming

How can Blacks finally get in the game, and become creators of the games we all love?

Thirty years ago Nintendo brought Game Boy to the United States, where it became an instant icon of the 80s’. Game Boy and Game Boy Color would go on to sell 118.69 million units worldwide.

From Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog to the Call of Duty series, many video games have become household names. Since its arrival on the scene, the video game industry has become one of the fastest-growing industries in entertainment. In 2012, the gaming industry earned $67 billion and was projected to rise to $82 billion by 2017. With such rapid growth, the gaming industry holds many career opportunities for young people who enjoy playing these games.

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) released a report in 2005 detailing the demographics in the industry. In the report, it was stated that Blacks and Hispanics make up less than 5 percent of game developers — African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 average about 30 more minutes of gameplay than Caucasians. Hispanics average about 10 minutes more.

In addition to being underrepresented in the development of video games, minorities are also underrepresented in the content of the video games. Dimitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California, has completed numerous articles on video game content and the effects on society. In one of his studies, Williams reviewed 150 popular video games released at that time and realized that video games lacked persity in their content. The results showed that 80 percent of the main characters were Caucasian, less than 3 percent were Hispanics, and, although Blacks made up 10 percent, they were largely athletes and thugs/gangsters.

This information implies that Blacks and Hispanics represent some of the largest consumers of these games, yet they are barely involved in the creation and development of them, which then results in the lack of representation in the games’ characters.

Joseph Saulter, founder, and CEO of Entertainment Arts Research Inc. and chairman of the IGDA Diversity Board believes the answer to this issue is education. Discussing persity in the industry, Saulter says: “They don’t care if you are black, white, green or yellow, so long as you have the tools necessary so they can go home…there are no guard dogs or water hoses keeping us out of the industry; it’s the lack of education, the lack of knowing, that this industry is so ripe for new developers. The tools, the skills, the level [of knowledge] over the last ten years have become more pliable than they have ever been in the past.”

The opportunities to break into this industry are there for the taking, but we have to let our children know that these opportunities exist. This is what Saulter aims to do with the Urban Video Game Academy (UVGA).

Saulter is the co-founder of the UVGA, which is a program used to teach high-risk youth the art of game design. UVGA’s goal is to give children the tools needed to enter the gaming field because the ideas are there. The program teaches children math and science behind game development. This helps them become more familiar with the mechanics behind the games they love to play, so one day they can tell their stories in a gaming format.

“The ideas that go into designing, developing and implementing a game are ripe [in these kids]…our children have a lot of stories that have not been told, the African American community has stories that have not been told. My company is working on game designs for those stories that haven’t been told,” Saulter says.

One thing that students need to understand about choosing a career path in the gaming industry is there are many paths that come together to complete the final projects. You have programmers, designers, audio and visual technicians, and business administrators, all with different sets of skills, but all work toward a common goal.

To break into the gaming industry, Saulter says, “You must bring something to the table…you must have some toolset,” meaning you have to have some background in one of the needed fields. So, programs like the Urban Video Game Academy can be a great start to get children introduced to amazing careers in the industry.

If you are a college student right now, one of the most important things you can do to better your future is to find a mentor. Saulter advises, “You have to find a mentor…people very rarely say no if you ask them to be your mentor.” These professors or professionals can help ease your travel through school and also help you move into areas of opportunity. “The time you do have with your mentor, you need to use effectively…Ask them questions. Ask them for advice. Make sure you are respecting their time as well as your own.”

Saulter believes there are new arenas of opportunity opening in the gaming industry, such as, what he calls the urbanization of the industry, in which Blacks and Hispanics will need to play a major role. “They [gaming companies] are looking for new arenas, new games, new designs, something that no one has heard of. I know there are a whole lot of African-American stories that have not been heard yet.”

Top Schools in Game Design

  1. University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
  2. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  3. DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, Wash.)
  4. Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, N.Y.)
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.)
  6. Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.)
  7. Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, Ohio)
  8. Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, Ga.)
  9. The Art Institute of Vancouver (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)
  10. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.)