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Diversity in Esports: People of Color in Gaming

In today’s society, issues of racial inequality are woven through all of our cultural institutions, systems, and industries. As time has progressed, our conversations around such issues have become more nuanced and correlations between representation and society as a whole have become more apparent. Although media industries across the board have made varied efforts at increasing representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), there is still a long way to go. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of gaming.

Diversity in Esports: People of Color in Gaming
Cover of ‘Women In Gaming: 100 Pioneers of Play’ book by Meagan Marie

Considering the way in which gaming has continued to blossom as an industry, a lot of attention has been paid to its development. For instance, a number of studies have been conducted to look at the demographics of people working in the industry. One such study, the 2020 UK Games Industry Census, illustrated a clear level of inequality when it comes to race.

According to the report, only 10% of the people working in the gaming industry in the UK identify as “Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME).” The most recent official census data available for the UK, from 2011, reports that about 20% of UK citizens identify as an ethnic minority. This percentage has most likely increased in the near decade since. Considering the Games Industry Census is from this year, it’s obvious that the number of ethnic minorities working in the gaming industry is severely lacking in terms of representing the population of the UK. 

Things are not much better when it comes to North America. In 2019, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) performed their Developer Satisfaction Survey which collected a large and revealing amount of demographic data concerning the professionals behind the gaming industry. As an international association, some of the data comes from countries outside of North America— a testament to the global spread of the gaming industry— yet just shy of 50% (49.2%) of the participants in the study work in the U.S. With 60% of the participants working in North America, that leaves the remaining 10% of North American participants working in either Mexico(1%) or Canada(9%). As such, along with the data from the UK, a rather comprehensive amount of data shows that racial diversity is a problem area for the gaming industry as a whole.

2019’s Developer Satisfaction Survey officially reports that 81% of the participants in the study identify as white. Considering the fact that, according to U.S. Census data from 2018, 60% of the U.S. population identifies as white, there is a clear discrepancy when it comes to representation in the gaming industry. 

Aside from the understanding that equality is an important goal to achieve as a society, representation when it comes to the people creating games matters in a number of important ways. When creators are diverse, the games they create reflect this diversity and does so in important and nuanced ways. This representation matters for the gamers playing these games.

A recent PEW study reported that while only 7% of white people surveyed would describe themselves as gamers, of the Hispanics/Latinx individuals who participated 19% self-identify as gamers. Similarly, 11% of Black/African Americans surveyed self identify as gamers. Looking at these numbers nails home the understanding that gamers who are BIPOC exist and deserve to be able to see themselves reflected in the games they play just as much as their white counterparts do.

Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment, EA

When BIPOC people (and other minorities) see themselves positively reflected in the media they consume, games included, they are able to experience a vital sense of recognition that allows for a crucial affirmation of self. Representation also allows for majority demographics to be exposed to narratives and individuals who are different from themselves, fighting prejudice and bias, while allowing for the development of much needed dialogues about marginalized identities. 

In an essay entitled “Racial Diversity in Games” by Jayden Rathsam Hua, Hua notes that games such as Assassin’s Creed have incorporated the diversity of their creators as an asset to tell more nuanced stories. Earlier, games in the series featured the following message: “Inspired by historical events and characters. This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.”

Courtesy of Ubisoft

As of the popular game series’ installment, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, this message changed. It now reads: “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Courtesy of Ubisoft

The inclusion of such messaging is reflective of the understanding that the more diverse and multifaceted the creators of a game, the more nuanced and multifaceted the story created. As the gaming industry continues to develop and move forward, it’s important to understand that it does so within the larger context of a society that is also developing and moving forward. As such, the movement towards diversity and inclusion, and the fight for equality is all interwoven into the conversations being had and the endeavors the industry is making as it participates and reflects this movement.

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