The Game Devs of Color Expo has quickly become my favorite post-E3 video game industry ritual. This third year of the show, and the second held in Harlem’s historic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, was like a whole event made up of the good human-focused elements of GDC. And not only that, the humans being focused on are the Black, Brown, Latinx, Arab, Asian, people of color very much a part of the game development community despite the under representation at every other event.
This year’s GDoC was especially cool for me though because in addition to playing the games on display I was also invited to moderate one of the panels. In “The 128-Bit Personality” I hosted a talk featuring fighting game streaming personality Sheila “DaPurpleSharpie” Moore, YouTube Policy Enforcement Specialist Mona Aiyed, and game developers Tyriq Plummer and TJ Hughes of Catacomb Kids and Nour respectively about what it means to be a video game person on the internet in 2018 and how to use it to your advantage.
My panel starts around 3:08:45 but I highly recommend watching the entire collection of interesting, insightful Game Devs of Color 2018 panels.
Of course, the Game Devs of Color Expo is also a place to actually play games made by people of color. It’s where we first experienced the sassy glory of The Ultimate Clap Back after all. So I tried out some of the wares on display, and here are a few of the highlights.
Boyfriend Dungeon (KITFOX GAMES) is a dungeon crawling dating sim in which you improve your romantic relationships with sexy swords and daggers in order to slash through rooms full of monsters more effectively.
So Obscure (STARDUST★SODA) is another entry in the hot new interactive fiction trend of playing out stories inside of chat room interfaces. You don’t even need to see the fake 2005 date on the desktop to know you’ve transported yourself back to the technology and taste of 2005.
Xob (MRTEDDERS) manages to be a puzzle game about moving blocks that actually feels fresh. As you roll a hefty box around each stage your weight shifts the gravity and rotates the environment. Anticipating the next change is the difference between going where you want to go and falling to your doom.
Neon Krieger Yamato’s (LIONPLEX) deceptively simple art style makes it all the more revelatory when you realize the speed the and depth of its combo-heavy fighting action.
Museum Multiverse VR (MADE IN BROOKLYN GAMES) has the surrealness of a kid-targeted 90s 3D mascot platformer amplified by the fact you’re playing in virtual reality. It also recognizes that Crash Bandicoot-style hallways are a better fit for VR than full open space.
Becker Derby (MAXIMUM CRASH) is a mobile baseball game with intuitive one-handed thumb swiping motions for hitting the ball at the right time. Different shot speeds and patterns, as well as your ability to charge swings up to a point, gives it a little extra going on. We also dug that it was made for the real Becker College complete with mascot Hank the Hawk.
As I attend more diversity in video games events like this I like to hope I’m gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to be a person of color on the development side of gaming, not just the media. After GDC I spoke more with Microsoft about their Blacks in Gaming initiatives at Xbox (a big sponsor/recruiter at Game Devs of Color Expo) and how they cooperate with surprisingly numerous similar Black employee collectives at nearby gaming Seattle companies like Valve and even Nintendo (another major Game Devs of Color sponsor), which is led by confirmed Black man Reggie Fils-Aime.
It’s great learning this stuff, but it makes me disappointed I didn’t know it already because of how hidden gaming’s minority representation all still is. Beyond being a place to play fun games and hear insightful talks, the Game Devs of Color Expo is valuable in just how much more visible it allows these talented marginalized people to become. Imagine this event not just in New York but also Oakland and Chicago and Nairobi. It sounds like a dream, but so did the Game Devs of Color Expo itself just a few years ago. Now, I’m confident I’ll be going back next year and years after that.
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