poc in play

“It’s illegal to discriminate based on race. So why does it still happen in the games industry?” – POC in Play explains how to make real change.

This article was written by representation and inclusion Movement POC in Play, find out more here.

While we watch events in the US from the other side of the ocean, we still find many issues facing Black people there present within our own society. Equality for Black people within the games industry is still a problem

It’s illegal to discriminate based on race. So why does it still happen in the games industry?

“Hiring the best person for the job” and being “colour-blind” are terms that are easy to hide behind. Their intention is to show that you’re hiring based on ability and objective traits. 

But what we perceive as the best fit is flawed. It’s based on our own knowledge and experiences. How we perceive the job to be done best. It ensures failure to give Black people the same opportunities because they don’t match our existing definition of what it means to be a good developer. 

Hiring managers and team leads ignore an individual’s unique experiences because marginalised candidates often don’t follow the clear career path that takes them from red brick university to summer internship, to junior role straight after their degree. This unconscious bias at the hiring stage sees games companies miss out on perspectives and creativity that could enrich their team and drive real change in the industry.

Team leads need to value all ideas and individuals, not just ones that fit into their preconceived picture of what an effective team looks like. It’s hard to admit when you don’t have all the answers and need help making the best decision. That uncertainty can make people defensive. Nobody wants to feel like their expertise is questioned and that they can’t hire the best people for their team, but sometimes the best people don’t look like or sound like all the other members of the team.

Offering equal opportunities to everyone who has the skill and qualities to do a job is the right and decent thing to do, yet so often companies need a business incentive to make change. There are well researched reasons for increasing the diversity of a team, yet these benefits are lost when we only hire people from different backgrounds when they fit an existing mould.

How can employers expect people to shine when they don’t allow them to actualise their unique ideas and qualities in the work they do and the games they create? How can people reach their potential if they are held to expectations that suppress change from the status quo?

Games we create may be political, but providing equal opportunities and a safe workplace, both physically and mentally, to all employees is not a political statement.

It’s a legal right.

Actions against the Black community have a psychological toll on individuals. The events in the US affect Black and POC across the world. Most people really don’t appreciate the shared trauma of slavery, colonialism, racism, brutality shared on social media and the effects of white silence.

Games companies need to be aware of this and how it’s affecting their employees in order to effectively support them and address how issues of race within society are present within their places of work.

Employers and the broader industry must learn to ask questions and to not give up if they’re informed that their questions are insensitive. There’s no short answer to this problem. It’s a dialogue around the experiences of millions of people which cannot be condensed into a one sentence solution.

It’s not just Black developers who are on the receiving end of unconscious bias. POC and other under represented groups are affected within our industry. But it is important to not overlook the extent to which Black people deal with these issues and the importance of the current Black Lives Matter events.

People of all skin colours, ethnicity, and gender must stand in solidarity with Black developers to make the games industry a more inclusive place to work and enable us to create outstanding games.

Put the effort in long term to educate yourself.

Understand the challenges that Black people face in our industry.

Support them in the workplace so they don’t have to stand alone.

Contribute your energy to improving the workplace and the industry so that Black developers can put the time and energy they’re currently spending fighting against the status quo into their work.

Supporting Black Lives Matter movement now

Make space for Black Lives Matter.

Delaying announcements and releases allows focus to remain on these monumental events.

Fund games by Black developers

Even better is putting your money where your mouth is.

This starts the virtuous cycle of telling Black stories, which represents Black people beyond stereotypes and also brings in more Black developers.

“Words of support alone have little effect and are more self-serving to the company. Change takes ongoing action to fix”


Enacting long term change

Hire more Black people in senior/leadership positions.

It’s often argued that there aren’t Black people within the workforce to hire from, but if we are looking for the right person for senior management that might not come from your existing workforce or your personal pool of contacts.

Without increasing the diversity of who is in positions of power we’ll continue the status quo or drag out the rate of change to far greater than we need to.

While there may be some risk associated with someone with less experience, we give disproportionate weight to it and ignore what is gained in new ideas, a fresh approach and enacting real change. The cost of not making change is already being paid by companies in time, money and losing good staff.

Mandate change & make it measurable

Providing unconscious bias training is a start to fixing hiring issues, but managers aren’t continually hiring new staff so information that isn’t put into practice regularly isn’t built upon and may be forgotten. Without the company ensuring that expectations are documented, measured and followed up on, it is easy to return to more familiar habits that won’t see change being made. 

Don’t rely on underrepresented employees to tell you how to solve diversity issues.

Change requires a long term plan, expert skills and knowledge that skin colour doesn’t qualify someone to have answers for.

Providing HR and management support

If an issue arises, regardless of how serious it may appear to you, know that it is serious to the individual.

Believe Black experiences

Accept that what they are feeling is real and indicates that something needs to change in the workplace to make it feel safe and ensure all employees can focus on their job instead of using precious energy mentally navigating these situations.

Don’t view it as Black individuals needing more support, realise you’re already offering adequate support to other employees and a different kind of support is needed to provide equally to everyone.

How conferences can support Black delegates

Make diversity of speakers a higher priority – reach out on social media and contact organisations such as POC in Play early during planning the event to find Black experts.

Ensure Black people are talking about their expertise and not just about diversity.

Have clear codes of conduct and staff enforcing them.

How individuals can support Black developers

Expand your network – follow and interact with Black people in the industry on social media.

Recommend people for opportunities – job roles; internal responsibilities; public speaking; conferences and training.

Provide mentorship and support Black people to become mentors.

Call out problematic language. Keep doing this. Make it normal and part of the work culture

Highlight employees who fail to be inclusive to your Lead and HR. Don’t leave it to those on the receiving end. 

Representation in games

Review the game’s design early & often by a diverse group of people who will provide a range of perspectives.

Representation in games is problematic when it only reinforces negative stereotypes.

Representation is not just for your hero characters. Background characters should reflect the depth and diversity of life.

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