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PS3Blog.net | November 23, 2017

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Why are few African Americans working into the video game industry? | PS3Blog.net

N’Gai Croal says that this is due to lack of wealth and assets among African Americans:

If you happened to have a trust fund or your parents were going to give you a credit card or things like that, then you could make it into those professions. Otherwise you would have to look into other fields.

Trust funds? Huh? Most game programmers don’t come from the wealthy, privileged elite. They tend to be introverted, rebellious, self-taught programmers who received extremely little formal education or support and started their career as a hobby of passion while working a traditional day job. Game testers, which is the traditional easy way into the industry, don’t come from the wealthy elite either.

a lot of black students go to college with a different mission in mind. It’s not to find yourself or figure out what you want to do or whatever. It’s very pre-professional. It’s pre-law, it’s pre-med, engineering, business, things like that.

If I was involved in public policy and was trying to improve the well being of a particular group, I’d value careers in medicine, law, engineering, and business well above video game careers.

I think N’Gai Croal is completely wrong on this one. It’s easy to accuse people of elite wealth and trust-funds, and suggest more big government, paternal academia, and public policies. But that’s simply not the answer here.

I would suggest that there are not merely fewer professional game developers from this particular ethnic group, but also fewer hobbyist developers as well which is what feeds the employment pool. And that is caused by culture, personality, and personal preference rather than financial barriers.

  • Rjcc

    This is as well thought out as the Assassin’s Creed-is-bad-cuz-a-girl-designed-it post.

    There is no question that if you surveyed the backgrounds of people working in game development, they would, on average, come from a more affluent background than your average person, of any race. Suggesting that economics and access to technology aren’t the number one contributor to working in the industry is silly.

    personality differences? Please, tell us more.

  • Chemical O

    Real good post. I think things will start to change as gaming spreads exponentially through all cultures, but you’re right i hate the instant/blame society, government needs to interfere mentality.

  • Gideon

    Well, I generally agree… why we can’t, as a culture, figure out how to discuss the fact that subcultures have different values, interests and goals is beyond me. Is it set in stone for any individual? No, but cultures do place their priorities in various places and while “black” isn’t a culture by definition, in most parts of this country it does constitute a seperate subculture. Black schools, black churches, black etc… And yes, there is also white subcultures that exist via economic lines, etc. And I say this as a minority – I’m Jewish and statistics show just what kind of whacky percentages of us go to grad school or college compared to others in similar economic circumstances. Is it because we’re all rich or powerful or any other nonsense? No. It’s because our culture stresses education, it is something we place as a priority in our lives. You see similar situations with many Asian American groups.

    So, yes… cultural priorities probably have something to do with this.

    Secondly, money does too. I spent years doing amateur game design and got right up the edge where my group had contracts with AAA developers…. and then my family’s economic situation disinitegrated and I had to stop because developing takes an enormous amount of time and doing it with a full time job is very difficult.

    And spending years in that scene… that’s not uncommon. It doesn’t mean “rich” but it means “I can go to school without working” or “I can afford a job that isn’t 60 hrs a week.”

    It’s a combination of these things. But if someone were to suggest to me that there is anything underhanded going on I’d call BS on them immediately. But it’s a damn hard business to crack and it absolutely requires time and money to allow for such time.

  • I have to agree with him. Making video games takes smarts or talent. Artistic talent or computer coding talent. Why would a student go into video games if they could go into another field and make more money. Code for a games company and make $73,999. Code for a software developer and make much more with the potential to make more over your lifetime. Games end after 3-4 years and then you’re looking for another project. And how many studios go out of business? Video games aren’t accepted as a legitimate endeavor by many people’s parents. Especially 15 years ago. And those people who entered 15 years ago are the ones being featured today in magazines. Give it another 15 years and i’m sure you’ll see some of the young programmers that are spending 60 hours a week in front a keyboard get more of the limelight.

  • west coast ps3

    I read the article, and to me it was about how a Canadian is doing awesome in the US video game industry.

    Go Canada!

  • derrickgott007

    I’m tired of hearing this guy Ngai Troll cry about african americans. Tell me this Ngai Troll, why are there no WHITE PEOPLE or MEXICAN or ASIAN people allowed to get UNITED NEGRO COLLEGE FUND Scholarships? And the reason there are so many black zombies in RE5 is because of the LOCATION OF THE DAMN GAME!!!

    If it took place in ALASKA i’m sure the zombies would be ESKIMOS…or in China they’d be CHINESE!

  • darrin

    gideon, awesome comment. Yes, finances are definitely involved, but I think the success stories come from the passionate hobbyists who spend endless hours working on this stuff and got a lucky break rather than those with the biggest bank accounts. I’ve never even heard of someone with a massive riches go into game programming/testing/modeling. I’ve heard of rich people buying their own game studios like others might buy a sports team, but that is the closest that I’ve seen.

    rjcc, I never said that. Uncharted was awesome, and I would never dare make a negative comment about the female lead or anyone else on that team.

    mcloki, $74K is a great salary. Most IT programmers that I know work for years for less than that. The downside to game programming is that it’s more competitive, harder to get into, it’s harder to stay in, and somewhat low job satisfaction.

  • Wasn’t the lead designer of Turok black?

  • Nash

    Your post is another example of how taking a small, out-of-context quote can be twisted into saying whatever somebody wants it to. Did you even read the entire article? N’Gai didn’t just say that you need money to get into the profession. He said that because the entry level positions in the field do not pay well, they are not supported or promoted in the black community. He didn’t blame anybody or say that anybody was keeping black people out of the industry. I’m not going to repeat everything that he said because I believe his opinion is quite clear if you read the entire article.

    And derrickgott007, I hope that you’re like 12 yrs old. That is a ridiculous comment. Yes, there are black scholarships. Just like there are other MINORITY scholarships. If you’re white and you want a scholarship, apply to a historically black college and you shouldn’t have a problem getting one. I think it’s pretty funny (by funny, I mean sad) that anybody would disparage a program that promotes education. N’Gai is right about needing to educate more people in this society regardless of their skin tone.

  • Darrin

    Nash, my quote was directly from N’Gai’s answer to the same question that titles this post and it was completely representative of his overall answer. That quote couldn’t possibly be any more in-context than that.

    I read the interview several times. N’Gai is very clear that what he believes is keeping African Americans out of game development is “asset disparity” and lack of a visible and easy entry path. He recommends improving visibility and education and suggests that the more recent development of a traditional academic path as opposed to the hobbyist route or apprenticeship is also beneficial to African American involvement. Am I misquoting or twisting his words? If so, do let me know how so. What is his real answer?

    I agree that game development isn’t an easy field to get into. There is intense competition for a limited number of good jobs (especially at the entry level), and the hobbyist or apprenticeship routes are really, really long and hard. But how is that different for African Americans versus people in general?

  • Jen

    Darrin,

    I see that you understand very clearly what N’Gai gives as examples of the barrier to more African-American involvement in game development, so you’re certainly not twisting words there.

    The breakdown comes in the error of equating his concept of “asset disparity” to only the extremes of say, extreme poverty versus the “wealthy, priviledged elite.” To be sure, most programmers do not come from that kind of excessively privileged background. And yes, you do also acknowledge along with N’Gai that game development is not the easiest nor was it (up until now) the most traditionally rewarding career path to follow. But in asking “How is that different for African Americans versus people in general?” you may be missing the fact that even to be a hobbyist requires a level of access to technology simply not available to underprivileged people, a significant number of which unfortunately both historically and currently has been made up of African-Americans.

    A common experience I hear from programmers who started as hobbyists is that they started when they were young, teaching themselves how to program. Well, I don’t know when you got your first computer, but my family couldn’t quite afford one until I was in my senior year of high school. Needless to say, I am not one of these aforementioned hobbyists, and I expect that experience is the same for people who didn’t grow up with that sort of technology. Please try to remember that technology even today is still a luxury, much less what it was like 10-15 years ago.

    What I think N’Gai is trying to say is that from the mindset of someone coming from an underprivileged background, given your shot at a previously-unattainable education, you wouldn’t consider going into what was at the time a hit-or-miss field populated and explored largely by people who had experiences you just never had. Keep in mind the academic path into game development is only now starting to take shape. Hopefully this will open up the path for more people in the future, but I think N’Gai is pretty accurate in his assessment of why we are where we’re at today.

  • warren longmire

    @Gideon
    While I agree both that subcultures with America need to be viewed as such (and with it’s distinct dialects, artistic history and continued traditions that even now can be traced back to Africa…it’s really pretty short-sighted to say that there is no such a thing as black culture). Further, there to exist focus and values within different cultural groups, the relationship between the written law and jewish education being one of them. Just as with this case, though, these values did not spring from nothing. Just as Jewish values evolved from a very specific history, African-Americans current focuses can’t be separate from their unique (as oppose to “special”) cultural history.

    It was illegal, for example, for slaves to learn to read for over 200 years in this country. It has been less then 200 years since slavery was outlawed. Does it really come as a surprise, then, that that enforced ignorance continues to have an effect? The fact of the matter is that no other ethnic group in mass was kidnapped from there home country and were specified by law to be equivalent to cattle. In our constitution itself this was written. The effect of this can’t be toss off any more then the history of jewish oppession can be ignored when talking about jewish sterotypes.

    Further, there is actually tons of positive values within the black community, just as there are with any cultural group. Culture is not really good or bad when it comes right down to it, it is simply a collection of traditions and histories. Why Americans insist that the vast mix of irish, spain, english, native, mexican, asian, and yes african influnces that make up it’s wide spanning collection of subculture must be mushed and crafted into simply stuff that white people do is beyond me. In truth, no one is really “white” anyway.

  • Nash

    Darrin, I agree with your statements that the hobbyist/apprentice route is the typical path and a very difficult one. What I disagree with is your representation of N’Gai’s statements. In your original post you suggest that N’Gai is using “asset disparity” as a scapegoat. It’s a fact that a large percentage of blacks in America (and I’m sure other places) are lower to middle class families that do not have a lot of disposable income, savings, or “trust funds”. I think what N’Gai is saying is that the path to becoming a professional in the video game industry is not as immediately rewarding as that of a sports star, doctor, or other professional, and therefore is not as appealing to someone who is attempting to escape a struggle. It is also more difficult if you don’t have the support of your family in achieving your goal, or don’t have time to become a programmer in your spare time. Even more difficult when you don’t have a computer lying around to program with. He is not accusing anyone of keeping blacks out of the industry or taking away from the accomplishments of hobbyists who made it into the industry, he is stating what I believe to be valid reasons why there are not more blacks in the industry. I don’t sense any malice.

    I am saying that the quote is taken out of context because the statements that were made in addition to what you quoted are critical in understanding the intention of the complete statement. As you said in your last comment, “He recommends improving visibility and education and suggests that the more recent development of a traditional academic path as opposed to the hobbyist route or apprenticeship is also beneficial to African American involvement.” You didn’t mention this in the original post. I believe a traditional academic path is beneficial to anyone and everyone who has a desire to get into the industry. I agree with what you are saying about the industry, I just disagree with what you are saying about N’Gai’s statements. I get tired of people making excuses and blaming other people for their situation as well, but I don’t feel like that is what N’Gai is doing here. I think what he said is relevant to all people who struggle financially, it just so happens that the person interviewing him asked him about black people!

  • Sickday

    Darrin, I think your response isn’t wrong, it’s just so deeply partisan that you miss the point. The fact that you ended up talking about government programs is a tip-off.

  • Darrin

    Jen + Nash,

    “He is not accusing anyone of keeping blacks out of the industry”

    I agree. N’Gai definitely was not accusing anyone or suggesting overt racism as a problem. I don’t think I implied otherwise.

    “It is also more difficult if you don’t have the support of your family in achieving your goal, or don’t have time to become a programmer in your spare time.”

    I agree, but this is a matter of culture. Some ethnic groups have more respect and tolerance for technology and computer work than others. This is a major factor.

    “even to be a hobbyist requires a level of access to technology simply not available to underprivileged people”

    This is the best counter-point. You’re right, most successful self-taught technology people did have ample access to personal computers at their homes at a young age. First, this applies to the under class in general, which is over represented by African Americans but is not related to them specifically.

    However, even here, I’d suggest culture and choice is more of an issue than simple financial barriers. Today, the poor people of the U.S. typically have cars, multiple TVs, cell phones, and the poor that want computers can get them.

    Lots of low-class African Americans create music as a hobby. These African Americans aren’t deterred by the terrible career prospects (far worse than game dev or programming), they find the money/equipment/time to spend on their hobby, and they don’t require unusual levels of parent or school encouragement to do this (parents and teachers tend to discourage this type of thing). So, why do so some ethnic groups produce high rates of hobbyist musicians while other groups tend to produce high rates of hobbyist programmers? I think the answer is culture, personality, and personal preferences.

    Sickday, Partisan? What party are you referring to? N’Gai suggests more awareness, more education, academia, etc and those are government/policy type suggestions.

  • Jen

    Darrin,

    “Today, the poor people of the U.S. typically have cars, multiple TVs, cell phones, and the poor that want computers can get them.”

    I probably wouldn’t overgeneralize this statement as I don’t think it’s entirely accurate when discussing various levels of poverty, but I think what you’re trying to get at is that these items are increasingly becoming more accessible to a wide number of people and are fairly prolific in our society today. I agree, and that’s why I think that the increased access, along with the raised profile of game-related careers, is going to open up to a more diverse range of people as we continue on.

    As for the discussion of the music versus, say, programming as a hobby… Again, I think it’s a little shaky to speak in generalizations here; I’m not certain of the extent to which high numbers of “low-class African Americans” pursuing music are being studied and documented, nor am I an expert on the economics of music making, particularly with respect to inner-city culture, say, with the “start up cost” to take up rap music. (Although, Nas tells us that all you need is one mic.) I think, too, that this veers off into another discussion of the pursuit of hobbies for self-expression versus as a viable career path.

    “However, even here, I’d suggest culture and choice is more of an issue than simple financial barriers.”

    I think we both can agree that a multitude of factors influence this, although we may have to agree to disagree on the weight associated with each factor. Personality and personal preferences are not necessarily things we can control, but I think it’s unwise to overlook the forces of culture, circumstances, and wealth (or lack of) that give rise to and shape these worldviews. I appreciate that you are willing to look at various points and that you made your points convincingly and with civility, which is more than I can say for many other pockets of the Internet.

  • Nash

    Darrin,

    I agree with Jen and I appreciate you making your points in a civil manner. I just wanted to add that I think you make a good point about the access to technology that is available today. The access to technology is much greater than it was 10 years ago, but 10 years ago is when the programmers in the industry today probably got started!

    When you speak about people making music, visibility is what generates that motivation. Hip Hop and Rap are extremely popular, and when you see a person similar to you doing something fun and making money, it’s a lot easier to pick up that hobby (and Hip Hop is actually VERY inexpensive to do on a hobby level). With the video game industry growing in popularity and more black professionals getting into the field, this conversation should be very different after another 10 years. As I said before, I agree with many of your points but I think that N’Gai was making similar points in a different manner. There are definitely cultural influences, and it takes time for those things to change. Discussions like these are necessary to create the awareness necessary for change so I appreciate that you presented this topic on your blog, even if we don’t agree entirely!

  • Darrin

    Jen + Nash,

    What eloquent comments! It’s comments like these that make me glad to volunteer here. Thanks so much for the discussion. If you have sites you’d like me to post links to, let me know.

    Now, back to regular video games chat 🙂

  • There seems to be an ill proportioned amount of African Americans working in IT or technology type jobs overall. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with overall limited exposure to technically in the home, combined with discription, and lower average family incomes (directly affecting schooling). I hope that the video game industry does a good job of letting high school graduates aware of the demand in their industry, so that more African American individuals will focus on this field after leaving grade school.

    Andy Williams
    GameJobHunter, Inc.

    Get a video game job at http://www.GameJobHunter.com

  • There seems to be an ill proportioned amount of African Americans working in IT or technology type jobs overall. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with overall limited exposure to technically in the home, combined with discrimination, and lower average family incomes (directly affecting schooling). I hope that the video game industry does a good job of letting high school graduates aware of the demand in their industry, so that more African American individuals will focus on this field after leaving grade school.

    Andy Williams
    GameJobHunter, Inc.

    Get a video game job at http://www.GameJobHunter.com

  • Dellon

    I am Black and love games so much and would want a career in game programming, but I am jamaican and no university on the isalnd teaches the art…………. and i cant afford to go overseas