How can I possibly write about video games right now? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now.
Featured image credit: Tyler Tomasello/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock via The Guardian.
How can I possibly write about video games right now?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. With the world seemingly burning down around me, writing about video games seems like the least important thing in the world. And, to be fair, even before 2020 started, most of this job felt somewhat superfluous.
I mean, I obviously value games criticism and love getting to add dumb jokes about Waluigi being grown in a vat at Nintendo, but I don’t place some huge level of importance on my job. It’s good work. It’s (usually) fun work. But I wouldn’t call it strictly necessary.
While this has been something on my mind for a few months now, the events of the past few days have really brought it to the forefront. Does the world really need me to talk about the Sega Game Gear Micro when so many people are out protesting against police brutality every night? Do I even want to publish an impressions article for Bug Fables when it could, theoretically, take eyes away from important news taking place around the country?
The easy answer is undoubtedly, unequivocally no. In the grand scheme of things, video games aren’t that important. However, in 2020 there really aren’t any easy answers.
As I struggle to answer the question for myself and decide the best course of action to take, I can’t help but think back to my childhood. Growing up in rural Oklahoma, racism was pretty common. My graduating class had around 185 kids and only one of us was black. The only other black kid in my high school was his younger brother.
I remember very vividly showing up to a Halloween dance off-campus and seeing a group of seniors outside handing out forms to join the KKK. Hopefully, it was just a bad joke, but, given some of the other stuff I witnessed, I wouldn’t be surprised. At one of our after-proms, a few kids showed up in white hoods. In my first year of college, a good friend told me, in great detail, his plan to shoot President Obama if he got elected.
And the most terrifying thing to me is that I just had to see it. I never had to live with that fear that I can only imagine every single day of my life.
It’s weird thinking back on growing up in such a backward place. Like, how did I come out of that not being a complete racist? A lot of it probably has to do with my parents being decent people, but I think I owe a decent amount of gratitude to video games.
I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and got bullied for being overweight quite a bit. So, like many, I turned to video games to escape my reality. Sure, there was only one person who would talk to me in homeroom. But if I could click buttons well enough, people loved my barbarian in Diablo 2.
One of the most formative games from my childhood is, without a doubt, NBA Street Vol. 2. But it’s not the gameplay that has been so incredibly influential on my life, it’s the soundtrack.
Featuring tracks from artists like Black Sheep, Talib Kweli, Pete Rock, and CL Smooth, that collection of music shaped most of my musical interests to this day. While everyone else in my school was listening to Garth Brooks or Britney Spears, I was downloading every track from Nas, De La Soul, and Mos Def I could find on LimeWire (y’all remember LimeWire?). I was actively engaging in learning more about a culture I would never in a million years encounter inside my own little bubble.
That’s not to say that listening to hip hop made me understand the plight of being a black person in America. I could never do that. I’m also not saying that knowing all the lyrics to most of Common’s library makes me not a racist. I am still a racist. Don’t doubt that for a second. It might not be overt racism, but it’s still there.
Case in point, over the past few days several of my colleagues at DualShockers, people I love and respect, are getting opportunities to jump on a bigger platform and talk about what all this means to them. 99% of me was immediately elated for them. However, there’s that little voice inside saying “hey, I work just as hard as anybody here, and I never get asked to be on podcasts. What the heck?”
And in that moment, I know I still have so much work to do. I absolutely work hard, and if I keep doing it well, I’ll get my own opportunity, but me internally whining about not getting on a podcast is such a joke. “Come on, dude,” I have to exasperatedly say to myself.
So, NBA Street Vol. 2’s soundtrack didn’t magically cure me of my racism. But, it did make me see it. It made me know it was there. And, most importantly, it made me recognize how easily ingrained it is. Which is something that never would’ve happened without the game.
That’s why I think it’s important to keep writing about video games. Because there are some incredible creators out there, making things that more people need to see. And the only way I see for us to move forward as a people is to start to actually recognize and empathize with people who are “different”: whether that’s skin color, sexual orientation, or whatever.
If I can put somebody on to their own NBA Street Vol. 2, then I’ve done my job as a games writer and a human being. Plus, it’s not like my personal journey to become not just an overt racist, and instead actively anti-racist, began and ended in 2003. That’s obviously a battle I’m still fighting today by seeking out these games and other media for myself. It’s a fight that I want to continue to fight each and every day.
One of my unspoken goals at DualShockers has always been to highlight smaller games. If you take the time to go back through my published articles, you’ll notice I cover a lot of indie titles. That’s on purpose. In many ways, those games are more important than much of what the AAA side of the industry is putting out. Those titles are highlighting underrepresented creators or telling stories that probably wouldn’t sell a million copies. But they’re meaningful. They’re needed. They push us as people forward.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t always been on purpose for me is looking for games made by or starring people of color. Sure, I’ll highlight them if the game looks cool, but I don’t actively seek them out. Most of the time I really don’t pay attention to the person behind the games I’m playing or writing about. I think it’s time to change that.
So, look for more of that in the future out of me. In the meantime, check out Umurangi Generation, Dandara, and Afterparty. Those games are rad and worth a look. I also think we’ll have a separate article up soon that will be of interest.
And if anybody reads this and wants me to come on your podcast, I’m not available. That said, I know a few excellent people who are.
Additionally, here are some resources and a select few gaming-focused forms of media to share. Bear in mind that there are many more scattered around social media and websites.
- Black Lives Matter has a resources page that you can visit that will take you to numerous PDFs, for example, the Healing Justice Toolkit was created to “collate, condense, and share the lessons we have learned in ensuring that our direct actions are centered on healing justice.”
- Jesse Sparks published a blog post titled, “7 Virtual Mental Health Resources Supporting Black People Right Now” In a time where there’s a lot of tension and activity, this could prove useful for those who may need some support.
- This document titled, “Anti-Racism Resources” is a list of various types of media that act as a “resource to white people and parents to deepen our anti-racism work”. It’s extensive, but very detailed and worth reading.
- The Spawn On Me Podcast looks to spotlight people of color in the gaming industry and is hosted by Kahlief Adams.
- Gamertag Radio is a podcast about video games hosted by Parris Lilly, Danny Peña, and Peter Toledo.
- Spotify also released a Black Lives Matter playlist featuring songs about empowerment and pride featuring a lot of Black and POC artists.
- Game Devs of Color Expo has tweeted for Black game developers who may need support.
- Black Game Developers is a website that showcases Black game developers across the world.
Here are some charities and movement suggestions you may wish to consider supporting.