Dr. King's Gaming Legacy

Sorry for missing the update yesterday. I was busy celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by playing a whole lot of Dance Dance Revolution and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. The holiday did get me thinking about videogame journalism, though (as frighteningly many things do these days).

Look over the smiling headshots that adorn a lot of videogame magazines these days, and you’ll see a lot of young, white, male faces. You might see the occasional female editor and there are a fair share of prominent Asian faces, but generally minorities seem of all types seem under-represented in the video game press.

This is a bit surprising, given that “African Americans are the most avid players of video games” according to a recent Electronic Gaming Business article, that “female gamers outnumber boys” according to a 2003 Reuters article, and gamers are playing into their 50s, according to a 2002 State article. Heck, there are even whole web sites devoted to gay video game players. The voices I read and hear most in video game journalism, though, tend to overwhlemingly fit none of these descriptions.

Why should gaming publications be more diverse? Well, there’s the same issues of fairness, equality and justice that affect all fields, but in journalism there’s actually a tangible benefit. The more diverse a video game publication is, the more diverse the writing tends to be. It’s almost impossible for one writer to be experienced enough — both in terms of games and life experience — to write equally intelligently about any game. From NASCAR to Mario, from Katamari Damacy to Bloodrayne, from Bombastic to Grand Theft Auto, the space of video gaming is so varied that it almost demands an equally varied writing crew. And I mean varied not just in a federally-protected discrimination sense, but also varied in personality, in upbringing and especially in gaming tastes.

I realize my evidence on this matter is largely circumstantial — for every gaming journalist I know isn’t a minority, there could be five that I don’t that aren’t young white males. So, instead of commissioning a broad-based cross-sectional study of video game writers (would that I could), I’m looking to benefit from the experience of my readers.

If you’re a game journalist, what kind of experience have you had with diversity in the workplace? How varied was the staff at your publication, not just racially, but also by gender, age and lifestyle (no need to mention the publication name if you don’t want to)? If you’re a game journalism reader, do you feel the voices presented in the video game press are diverse enough? Base your comments on what you know of the authors and on the tone of the articles.

I’m eager to learn on this one, so hit me with an e-mail or use the comments link below and let’s get some dialogue going.

6 thoughts on “Dr. King's Gaming Legacy

  1. I don’t buy the claim that African Americans are the most avid game players. But I also don’t see why this is an issue at all. Why would any person be concerned about the skin color of a game reviewer?

    Is gaming losing its innocence? Where race is becoming an issue with game journalism and companies are giving good reasons to be seen as greedy and evil (EA)?

  2. I write for Netjak.com, and I have to say we don’t fit your profile much. I’m not going to reduce our minority staff (myself included) to trophies that we put up on display when something like this is brought up.

    We’re an indepedent website, as a result, most of us had never actually met each other before starting to write at Netjak. All we had to go on was writing quality. In that sense, we were basically color-blind, because all we had was a nickname and an email address to go with initially.

    I would classify 0% of our staff as young, white and male. I don’t think there’s a single writer on our staff who is under 20. Approximately half of our staff is married. We have females writing for us, and we’ve got African Americans writing for us.

    Minorities are still a minority among our staff, but I think we fit the profile of the average gamer much better than the description you had given.

  3. As I said in the original post, it’s not the skin color of the game reviewer in particular that matters, but the background and life experience of that reviewer. My impression is that game journalists, in general, come very a very narrow subset of the general population. If game journalism is going to resonate with more people, this has to change.

    As for gaming losing its innocence, I’d say that goes part in parcel with its audience losing its innocence, a slow, painful and ongoing process.

  4. I’ve written for a number of websites, and freelance for a print publication. As for your profile of gaming writers, it’s pretty much spot on.

    You can debate what it means to be “young”, but I know few game journalists that aren’t between 25 and 35. Most of the websites I’ve written for skew younger. I’m in my 30s.

    There is a website with an entirely African American staff (www.aagamer.com), and they discuss African American issues in gaming along with the usual review pablum.

    I will agree with Anonymous that reputations are based primarily on writing ability – at least at the volunteer website level – but breaking into the paying gig world depends so much on being in the right place at the right time. Hanging out with the right people helps, and so long as editorial staffs reflect the traditional gaming geek, and push the gaming geek image, I think their writers will reflect that.

  5. Well, no secrets from commercial journalism, I get the same impression you seem to of mostly Asian or White men with the token pretty woman here or there (which isn’t said to demean the great female journalists, many of whom are among the most talented I’ve read.)

    The website I wrote for didn’t differ so much I suppose but we did have a pair of Muslims. We also had one guy from Israel and a few more from New Zealand. Frankly, it didn’t make the journalism feel any different…the people themselves were unique, but game journalism to some degree is an international language, it doesn’t change that much based on regional factors in my experience.

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