What it’s like to be a Black Girl Gamer

Black girl gamers have experienced a lot recently. Here’s one such account from Sammy Willbourne aka Sampira.

Gaming

Due to the madness that’s been happening in the gaming community, it brings me back to that age-old question of why Black female gamers don’t claim it, publicly with their chest. There are two answers to this question. Some do, and some don’t but it all comes down to the same thing. In one sense, it’s a fear of what you know will come. As soon as you claim yourself as a gamer, you’re put under higher scrutiny than most people who claim as such.

It can feel like you’re doing your GCSEs. Questions about date releases on games, who developed what and what company did what game and who voiced who, can come into the arena and you realize really quickly that other people don’t get asked the same questions. It’s all down to tired power dynamics. I don’t think you belong here, so I’m going to grill you to prove my point.

Seeing the success of Black Girl Gamers and NNESAGA and various others has been nothing short of watching beauty in motion. The care, vision and thought that is put into their platforms are second to none. Why? Because they’ve been through it, they know exactly how that feels. The restless sense of not belonging. The wish for something better, and the wisdom to know that nothing will change unless we do it ourselves. Seeing them blossom has been an emotional thing because it really stems from childhood.

The first video game I ever played was Resident Evil 2. It’s probably responsible for the deep love of horror I have now, but also, the way I want to mesh tech, horror and art together. That game has a lot to answer for in my life, and my entire identity. I’ll never forget the adrenaline of rushing down the streets of Racoon City just to be ripped apart by zombies. Because being a Black gamer, often feels the same.

Read: Black Names in Video Games #1: Iris

Black gamers know the dangers of playing online

Racial slurs and intimidation are commonplace, and this goes further with the rise of live streaming. Hyper-visible Black female streamers are not only operating in an often unsafe space, but they’re leaving themselves open to online abuse, flagging campaigns and vicious videos done to discredit them, under the guise of “a difference of opinion”.

One really visible example happened recently when NNESAGA and live streamer Zombaekillz started a rightful campaign for more visibility on reviews for the new Playstation 5. They correctly pointed out that there was a lack of Black women and women of colour reviewers for the console and with the rising prominence of Black female streamers, it was a bit of a lazy roll out. They went through the proper channels (which is REALLY key to remember), just like everyone else, and then reviewed the consoles.

What ensued, was what, sadly, we all knew was coming. Streamer, Griffin gaming released a video that was way too long to repeat the same opinion, calling both women “stupid” and made references to them being the lowest forms of humanity which was disgusting and is never acceptable, whilst he spouted his opinion that they had falsely accused Sony of being racist. He went on a tirade of making very incoherent claims that were honestly just excuses for bullying, under the guise of the old tired trope of “woke” or the world becoming too “diverse”. For us watching as gamers, it was infuriating but it also drew out a collective sigh. We’ve all been through this, for too many years.

Read: UMBRAkinesis: The Anti-Black Imagery of Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad

Gaming as escapism

The joy, euphoria and sense of escape that gaming can give you can’t be understated. That’s why we love it. We’re addicted and it feels like a home we should all have access to. It’s just some people are safer than others. Whenever there are visibly Black female gamers, they get some of the most heinous and evil comments. Zombaekillz had death threats. This is never okay and the silence from a huge industry was sad to see. Although there were allies who rallied around, seeing prominent streamers and other gaming heavyweights not saying anything was something we all expected but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

It drives back the notion that if we have interests outside of the scope of what white consciousness tells us we can have, it malfunctions violently. The dissonance turns into something that has impacted so many Black women’s mental health. Sometimes it’s at violent as what NNSEGA and Zombaekillz went through. Completely undeserved. They are two of the kindest, sincere and hardworking women in the industry and I know they’re going to go from strength to strength. But it doesn’t make it okay.

Sometimes it’s more subtle. When I pitched an exhibition about the history of Black women in gaming, I was met with sighs and warnings of “alienating” audiences and was even advised to “diversify” to include white female contributions. There is still an attitude, that we can’t celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments unless it involves or is centred whiteness.

No more.

Conclusion

The work of these two phenomenal women is so needed because we’ve found a home. A belonging. A safe space to be our ultimate gamers. For every time we’ve been called any racial slur, told to get off games, had people try to shut us down or tell us our work isn’t worth it, or that people can’t invest in it… NNESAGA reminds us we’re worth it and we should keep fighting. Her work is miraculous and essential, and we’ll continue to be our best selves.

We’re not putting down our controllers. Not now. Not ever.

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