Meet Minnesota Gamers and Game Developers of Color Working to See Themselves on Screen

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Video games are a way for gamers to escape to another world, but for gamers of color it still lacks a representation that helps both on screen and in real life.

Step into the world of Seraph 7 Studios and you’ll find video game characters born from the imagination of Minneapolis-based developer Jules Porter.

In one game, elderly fighters from around the world, voiced by some members of Minnesota’s senior community, engage in a war of the gods.

Porter creates indie console games that challenge stereotypes and humanize marginalized communities. The Marine Corps veteran also wants to promote social justice movements against racism and sexism.

“Video games are a way to really build empathy and teach people things in secret,” she said. “Because you only need to learn this environment to be successful in the game.”

Porter emphasizes the importance of things as simple as hair texture to skin tones and the way his characters speak. But Porter says every aspect of game development matters.

Negative portrayals of marginalized groups in various forms of media irritate Porter. She said they are often portrayed as criminals, monsters or through stereotypical tropes. But she also sees video games as a way to inspire the people who play them and that “it just gives them other narratives and stories but also what it means to our kids.”

Jules Porter, lawyer and entrepreneur, is the founder of Seraph 7 Studios, a video game development company starring the protagonists and storylines of BIPOC. She also runs a work-study program for local students. Credit: Image courtesy of Jules Porter

A recent gaming diversity report by Diamond Lobby, a gaming blog, found that out of 100 of the top-selling games over the past five years, nearly 80% of the main protagonists are male and more than half are white. Only 8% are women and are not white.

Despite some progress, there are still issues with color character representations. Porter said the “Assassin’s Creed Liberation” video game, in which one of the main characters players can play as a black woman, was groundbreaking for her. But, she was still irritated by the game developers’ choices.

“The problem with the game, although I loved it, is that they force you to dress like a slave,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Didn’t they have black people on their team? Their fantasy is not to be slaves to their game. We want to do things. We want to time travel. We want to kill dragons, save villagers who wanted cool stuff, but we don’t want to be slaves.

Jules Porter is working on a character model as part of his game development studio Seraph 7 Studios. Credit: Image courtesy of Jules Porter

Data from the International Game Developers Association showed that only about a quarter of game developers are women, and only 2% identify as black. Porter seeks to address this disparity by offering paid high school internships to develop STEAM skills, as well as community apprenticeships to help local game developers of color gain a foothold in the gaming industry.

“We need to be able to tell our own stories from our perspectives, our imaginations and our folklore,” Porter added.

Proponents argue that without various developers, writers, or voice actors at the table, there are risks that the game’s story or characters will end up lacking agency and players become disconnected.

Beth Korth, who chairs the Twin Cities chapter of the International Game Developers Association, said that’s why some games can feel one-dimensional.

According to Korth, representation at all levels of game development adds value to player experiences.

“If you weren’t written to be someone with all of these different motivations and thoughts and feelings and experiences, it’s pretty hard to convey that if you haven’t experienced it,” he said. she stated.

Bloomington, Minn.-based professional video gamer Alesha Horn agrees. Also known as MinnesotaMocha, she created a career playing on Twitch, a live streaming platform where viewers can watch video games for entertainment.

Alesha Horn is a full-time Twitch streamer using the handle MinnesotaMocha. Credit: Courtesy of MinnesotaMocha

“I actually chose gaming and streaming to stay out of trouble,” Horn said. “I was kind of running with the wrong crowd in high school, and I wanted to find something to fill my time that was positive, and get me out of trouble, and that’s where I found Twitch.”

People are paying to watch her play first-person shooters including “Call of Duty” and “Valorant.” She chooses the games she plays and the games she promotes to her subscribers.

Some scoff at diversity in video games. But for Horn, who identifies as lesbian and black, seeing herself in characters or stories is powerful — and furthermore inspires others to dream big, which is why representation is important to her.

“For kids who haven’t had their whole life ahead of them yet, who are looking to capture that superhero they can, that they can look up to, or that character that inspires them to be better, gives them like the courage to stand up to the bully at school, gives them the courage to live their dreams, like “Oh, the character in the game can do it,” says Horn.

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