BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!

by guest contributor Cori Roberts

Cori Roberts is founder of Gameinatrix.com and remaining founding member of Gamer Girls Radio, and has been involved in gaming media for over 8 years. She’s currently obsessed with the MMO Fallen Earth and anything involving vampires in the world of Second Life.

African American (black) woman from the recent Call of Duty commercial. One of the very few times a black woman has been used in the marketing of any game.

African American (black) woman from the recent Call of Duty commercial. One of the very few times a black woman has been used in the marketing of any game.

While several gamers are fighting for the right to game with all the controversy surrounding the community as of late, there are a few of us women gamers waging another kind of war in our own respective communities. It’s not just the standard girl gamer war, where there is incessant name calling, references to genitalia or even the normal male chauvinist crap. The battle is having to defend why we are even playing games, in the first place. Why would “we” be playing games, because black women don’t play games.

I’m one of these elusive, mythical, Black (African American for you new kiddies) women gamers who purportedly do not exist. While this particular battle is not a boss battle for me, it is an annoying and repetitive battle. It’s one I have to wage most every time I encounter a new “sistah” who can barely operate her iPhone, but thinks she is somehow more versed in games and who should be playing them, than I am. The first thing I’m asked is how I ended up even playing games, like it’s a disease I somehow contracted. Then I’m told how “different” and “odd” I am. My mother bought me my first console at age six and I never knew I was any different from other little girl. Never knew I was a geek, a nerd, or any other derivative until I was much older. However, after I realized I was one of these beings, referred to as a geek, I kept it secret and tried hard to suppress it. I can tell you I use to rent games at Block Buster and often lied about who they were for. Once out on my own, gaming became part my regular daily routine. Get up, school, work, come home, game. When I couldn’t afford to go clubbing, you’d find me on the floor of my furniture-less apartment, head propped up with pillows, faithful dog at my side, playing games. The only thing I bought other than games was clothes. Come on, I’m still a girl! It should suffice to say, I obviously don’t fit the mold of fat white guy, with glasses. I was a thin shapely black chick with glasses (use to wear glasses anyway), who spent her free time perusing not only Cosmo magazine, but strategy guides in now defunct Electronics Boutique. The guys began to love when I came into EB every Friday, because other guys followed me in and they stayed to chat when they realized I actually loved games just as much as they did. Me, wearing my designer perfume and clothes, could take a guy down in Tekken in 30 seconds flat. After getting over the shock of being beaten by me, I always had a new friend and finally there in EB I stopped feeling odd and out of place. I fit in somewhere. However the older I got, the more dissonance I noticed with other black women once I mentioned video games or anything geeky for that matter. All of those silent lunches finally lead to me speaking up and a mini-battle royale about the Lifetime Network and gaming where I schooled my “sistah” on the world of gaming and technology. I also shared with her that technology is an area where black women were being left in the dust. Most of us are still taught and truly believe as black women, it’s just our not our place to be “smart”. Before the eye rolling begins, this is not true of all women of color, but it’s true enough. So true that I still have yet to pick up an Essence, Ebony, or Jet magazine and see an entire tech section (not to pick on Essence, this is true of a lot of women’s magazines). Hip Hop mags like XXL do share some tech info with its readers, but tend to have more male readers than females. It’s also still true that most black women tend to steer clear of the whole technology thing and can barely use an iPhone, let alone know which cables go where on their Xbox. While we’re excelling in other areas, still some black women view the gaming industry as a childish and MALE one. As a result, our presence in the world d of tech and gaming is lagging far behind the rest of the world.

As a Black woman (I prefer being called Black to African American, I didn’t move here from Africa and become American, I was born here), I find it disheartening that even so many of our notable Black public figures and role models don’t even acknowledge the gaming culture unless it’s the latest fad. For instance Oprah Winfrey has had a show or two about gaming addiction and how horrid gaming is, only to give away the Kinect on her show later. As a gamer I was not impressed or fooled. I once heard Tyra Banks say on her show something akin to she thought men were so childish playing games, and she hated when her man did it. Women don’t wanna play games, chile! These women are considered great role models and several young women look up to them. I wonder if they know the message they are sending to young black women. Yes you’re teaching them that beauty is subjective, but are teaching them that technology is for those other folk. This, in my opinion, will lead to a nation of beautiful black women who are technologically dumb. They will know the best way to maintain their weave but not how to change out a faulty hard drive. Or even how to do something as simple as defrag a hard drive.

Take note, most of the women you’ll see fighting for a place in the gaming industry usually are not of ethnicity. I explained to my friend the facts and figures of the gaming industry, and how our lives as black women should not be all about being a nurse (this is a common thing in the black community, pushing daughters to be nurses or get into law, go after the money), but instead embracing a new culture, a culture that does in fact make a LOT of money, a culture that, though considered controversial at times, is indeed the future. A culture where most times, our differences are celebrated, not hated. Ok, perhaps I’m pushing the Utopia envelope here, but aside from a very few assholes, I’ve NEVER been called out for the color of my skin. Admittedly, I hale from several racial backgrounds, but I identify as being your average garden variety, Diva, black, woman. I pointed out to her that I’ve never been told I wasn’t dressed appropriately to game. That my manicure to was too old to game. That I wasn’t black enough to game. The only thing that has ever held me back is not having the SAME game as a gamer buddy.

Said friend turned her head to look out the window and quietly said to me, “I just don’t get it…you gamers…” But she did call a few months later sounding bubbly and told me she’d bought her first console. Yes it was a Wii, but she was planning on getting an Xbox, as well. She’d seen some ‘interesting’ things at Game Stop that she actually wanted to play. But I dare say if I hadn’t opened my mouth, if I hadn’t in essence said that gaming as entertainment is okay, she would never have played. Though I’ve managed to bring some of my friends to the dark side, I still have to deal with strangers form assumptions based on the fact that I’m a gamer. If I’m in Best Buy or any store’s PC section, I still get the tech behind the desk who feels the need to try to explain to me every detail of my video card and how it works, where to install it on my motherboard. I hate the condescension in their voice and this is after I’ve told them a million and one times that I’m a gamer. I have every console, (except the 3DS, but give me time) and even a gaming PC, that I built myself, from scratch, even after I tell them I run a gaming website and podcast and have for 8 years. They don’t hear me until I get a little belligerent and then they are shocked and awed. The next thing is to test me, because it’s just impossible to them that black woman as a gamer exists. I am always told that of course I must not be hard core, no woman is. I can tell you that I am indeed as hardcore as they come. And just because I may wear a weave, wig, extensions or like shoes, doesn’t detract from that. I’d like to tell my fellow “sistahs” that yes, you can be fabulous, and play games, and know how your iPhone works. I do not find it cute or charming when you have a beautiful piece of technology and you use it more as a status symbol and can’t even figure out how to make a simple call. You can be smart, and know how to fix your own PC, iPhone, or hook up your own HDTV and then feel extra proud to sit down and watch your Sex in the City re-runs, without having to call your man over to do it for you. I am hoping one day to be in the store and not have to tell a another black woman to buy games for her daughter, not just her son, and not hear the mother say she won’t like it, when clearly the little girl is interested. I’d like to see more black women put their daughters in front of a computer and push them to learn more math, science and physics. But sadly I see this particular battle as a very long one. While I am graced to have a few black women who do share my passion for gaming, my white girlfriends (whom I love just as much) far outnumber the black ones. I do wish I had more black gaming girlfriends (and in the same city would be nice) so this black girl can stop constantly LFG.

29 thoughts on “BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!”

  1. Yes! More like this! Thank you for giving us a little slice of your experience. I’d love to hear more.

  2. This post is totally badass; thanks so much for posting it!

    Gaming is my main hobby, and a big part of my life; it’s awesome to hear about it being appreciated outside of its main demographic. It’s really too bad that there’s this stigma attached to being into geeky things like gaming and comics, especially if one’s outside the “expected” demographic for such things. Please keep on fighting that notion; there should be room in the gamersphere for everybody and anybody, and it’s up to us gamers to make it as welcoming as possible. I’ll be doing my part too.

  3. Thanks for the article, Cori. I thought it was interesting.

    “I once heard Tyra Banks say on her show something akin to she thought men were so childish playing games, and she hated when her man did it. Women don’t wanna play games, chile!”

    Nothing angers me more than that patronizing “Women aren’t into Nerd/Tech Thing X, am I right ladies?!” crap. I’m sorry to hear it sounds like black women get targeted with such a disproportionate amount of it.

    “I am hoping one day to be in the store and not have to tell a another black woman to buy games for her daughter, not just her son, and not hear the mother say she won’t like it, when clearly the little girl is interested.”

    Man, that breaks my heart.

    1. <3<3<3 Coriiiii! It has been so long since i have interacted with you ladies! <3 I am glad to see you are still doing the show! Keep up the awesome work! :D

  4. “It’s also still true that most black women tend to steer clear of the whole technology thing and can barely use an iPhone, let alone know which cables go where on their Xbox.”

    That is a bit of a generalization. To me there is very little difference between Tyra saying that black women don’t game and saying that “most” of us don’t know much about technology. I know a lot of tech-savvy people. However there are people who are into tech and people who aren’t, on an individual basis.

    I can tell you, as a black female gamer, I have a group of like minded black female friends. We all game (I’m a PC gamer). That being said, it’s always nice to hear about black female gamers out there in the world. I have no shame in liking what I like but I also get stares from friends and acquaintances who aren’t into gaming. You have a point that there is an image associated with gaming. I’d say that, as in life in general, we black women tend do have to deal with not only the stereotypes that women face but also the stereotypes that blacks in general face.

    But we have to live our lives in the way that makes us happy. I’d be miserable if I traded my interests in order to fit the image set by society at large.

  5. Cori, what a great article. You’ve been a spokeswoman for girl gamers for so many years–I love that you keep communicating your thoughts and that your goal is always to empower women everywhere–and to show how awesome gaming is to people who might not know. :)

  6. Great article! I’m white, but I’ve run into the same crap frequently too. The patronizing stuff at computer stores can be the worst, I usually counter it by acting annoyed and talking about parts in great detail.. although sometimes they seem to get pissed if I prove I know more than them.
    I hate the idea that women can’t or shouldn’t understand technology and I hate it when celebrities reinforce that idea. I think hearing this sort of thing put me off going into game development, Im not good with confrontations and couldn’t handle coming home pissed off every day :/

    I’m also sorry to hear that black women seem to get targeted with this crap even more, glad there are awesome people refuting that crapola.

  7. Excellent article. I really enjoyed it. Most gamers I know only exist on the internet (as opposed to living anywhere near me) and the few times I get to talk to gamers is in videogame stores. Your mentioning EB (I really liked that place as a kid!) brought back some memories.

    I’ve discussed gaming with two black women in game stores, one a mother shopping for her kids who gave me the low-down on WoW about 5-6 years ago when I was first picking it up. The other a young woman who was picking up Sims 3 on the release day (same as I was.) We were both so giddy about the new game we were practically hopping up and down in line. Sadly, I didn’t like Sims 3, but those rare chances to talk to gamers in the flesh are always fun, and having some of my own pre-conceptions about gamers shattered is always a pleasant treat!

    I’ll make sure to check out your own site soon as well!

  8. as one fellow editor to another, i greatly appreciate the message conveyed in your moving post. what bothers me however, isn’t this post in particular but whats in your “About Us” section

    as a fellow Black/ African American/ Negro whatever you prefer to call it, i find it quite odd that you have sanctioned and created these ‘sub-catergories’ to characterize those who ya feel are gamers or types of gamers.

    Gaming or its process, knows nothing of its participants. therefore why would choose to label classes of gamers as if we the games themselves somehow recognized those by who controlled them?

    What if i was mixed? Is that a marginalized group? I understand your statement and its acknowledgement of appealing to a certain kind of ppl. but its almost equivalent to saying that only Black people in this nation follows Obama because of his ethnicity or disposition.

    I really admire the mission statement of your site, but I would hate for the world not to acknowledge your talented team because of a similar disinterest in your short-sightedness or possibly even in theirs

    1. Hi, Durell. I’m not quite sure I understand your comment, but given that your comment isn’t actually about the post, and thus, off-topic, I would love to discuss your thoughts privately over email. You can contact the editorial team at editors@borderhouseblog.com. Cheers.

  9. @Durell Firstly, *I* am not the editor of THIS site, I’m the editor of Gameinatrix.com, a gaming site for WOMEN, period. You seem to have confused my guest post for my being the editor of this site.

    Secondly, while you make take offense to her About Us, you’re missing the point that Border Houses Blog is making. It’s not that she/he/they have created ‘subsets’ for a type of gamer. It’s that they are saying this site is for those who are considered cast offs in the world. As woman in this industry I can assure that there are still several companies who do not deal with sites like mine and several other wonderful female gaming sites simply because we are female. EA being one of the worst for this type of behavior.

    In the early days of my site when trying to get into development I had a producer flat our refuse to hire me for his team, and he flat out said it was because I was a woman. So while yes, gamers as a whole are rather accepting of all archetypes, the other side of the fence is not. I see that Border House is showing that these people that may be considered cast offs in society, do have a voice too. I personally LIKE their about us. It spoke volumes to me, which is why I agreed to do be a guest and hope I did a good job writing this piece. It was HARD to write.

  10. Hello Cori -

    I really appreciate the sentiments behind this piece. It can be very, very lonely when other folks treat your experiences as something so far outside of the norm, its unfathomable.

    That said though, I’ve also found in my history as a black girl gaming, (started at 6 as well, with my dad’s NES) that for me ro find other black girls to game with, I needed to find other folks who didn’t necessarily identify as gamers who still play. Most of my gaming buddies when I was a kid were other black girls- I was just the only one who IDed as a gamer. (I should also mention here that my teens were spent in predominately black neighborhoods in DC. Can’t speak for other regions.)

    Now, my gamer crew is Latina, mixed race, Asian, and black. Most identify as gamers but some still don’t. I see it as my mission to get more folks to adopt the gamer mantle, so I had to reframe some of what I had internalized from game culture (i.e. Only the hardcore).

  11. Cori,

    Awesome post.

    I’m not a “gamer”, but I’m a geek (woman of colour, Asian), and I’ve also experienced other women of colour (Asian) saying derogatory things about geeks, even if they are the social-justicey types and otherwise intelligent. Even if they are women, of colour, Canadian, feminist, and anti-racist, similar to me, the anti-geek prejudice puts a barrier between us and I end up feeling alienated.

    Anyway, I couldn’t find your contact info on your site. I was wondering if you would like to also cross-post this at the Geek Feminism Blog.

    You can email me at email.restructure (at) gmail (dot) com, or reply here if it’s not too off-topic or inappropriate…

    1. @Restructure

      Please all feel free to re-post this if you please. Just make sure my name remains and send me a link too! :)

      Game Today, tomorrow is not promised.

      Cori

  12. OMG thank you for this! I am one of the elusive black female gamers that you speak of, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the crap I get for it. And because I play games like D&D as well, I get ostracized for having the nerve to want to be represented in games.

    I can count on one hand the number of black female video game characters out there right now. It saddens me, and I do my best to cope, but still… It’s discouraging.

  13. I loved reading about your experience, Cori. It’s intriguing. My parents were baffled about why I love gaming until I got them some shooter games and a console. Convert the masses! :D

    I went to http://www.gameinatrix.com/ and tried to find a way to sub to your blog posts but couldn’t find a feed for them. Wahhhh! (If you want some help with troubleshooting some stuff and adding feeds let me know, that’s what I do!)

    Cheers,
    Chel

  14. Hi Chel!

    That would be because we’re traditionally not a blog. Our feeds are for the entire site, but we can always use an extra pair of eyes. My PhP sucks, lol! We’re a news/reviews/articles site, something akin to Gamespot. We just don’t have their backing, but that’s a whole other struggle, lol. Perhaps I’ll write an article about that as well.

    -Cori

    1. Aye I can see that. Ah well, I’ll subscribe. :D

      Well if you ever need any quick tweaking just let me know. I’d be more than happy to help you out even for fun. I need a little more girl gamers in my life too.

  15. Excellent post. Lost me a bit in the parts that pertained to “your man” and the fashion thing, seemed a bit like trying to throw out the “sloppy” “unattractive” female gamer stereotype, but generally speaking loved it. I know exactly how it feels to not see another black female player. All my female gamer friends are white. I have one friend of Mexican decent so i guess that’s as close as I get to diversity.
    Everything in this post, about feeling left out and “weird” when it came to relating to other black females, is right on the nail. Good Stuff. Yup, Yup.

  16. This was really nice to see. I can relate to this on so many levels, and it really does present a challenge from within and outside the Black community.

    When I was growing up, a lot of my girl friends were gamers, but I was just about the only Black one, and when I got into middle school and high school, it remained the same. The nice part was, there were a lot of Black girls who did enjoy technology and could probably have told me a thing or two about devices that somewhat escaped me, but it does get to a point where other Black women look down on gaming and technology sometimes. But it is refreshing to see young, black women that are not only fashionable, academic and simply successful, but who enjoy their share of game.

    When the Sega Genesis first came out, it was bought for my uncle and I had to play when he wasn’t playing. But once the N64 and PS rolled around, I asked my grandmother and she got them for me (and did her best to surprise me at Christmas with games she thought I’d like, she got me Viewtiful Joe for my GC, which I should have played at the time). And when my grandpa bought me a computer, he made me set up and fix it on my own. Hopefully one day, we will have that perfect future where Black families actually encourage their daughters (and sons) to enjoy games. And not just game based on their gender or what the parents assumes they’d prefer.

  17. I was glad to read this.

    while there are a lot of black male gamers, the majority of the ones i have met and played with restrict themselves to the spots, shooters, and mabey kingdom hearts box.

    Sometimes it seems there are few of us black nerds in general so it always hightens my spirts to see another one.

    …and to be honest, i’ve never even [i]seen[/i] a black girl gamer in rl. Now if only i could find one whos single and about my age…

    1. LOL, Really? We exist, love. We’re out there. We’re just not common unfortunately…

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